Follow these expert tips to make your test plot visits more productive this year.

With crops in the ground for this season, it’s time to walk your local outdoor classroom to see what’s new about seed selection and learn the latest in crop production for next year. Test plots can be a great educational tool for growers to assess crop production results this season and start planning for next year. The key to reaping the most benefit from time spent at these events is twofold: know what to look for and ask the right questions.

Gary Nowaczyk, regional product manager for CROPLAN GENETICS seed, oversees 18 Answer Plot program locations for the Land O’Lakes Seed Division in eastern Minnesota, Wisconsin, and central and northern Illinois. Here are five tips for make the most from your test plot visits.

1. Visit locally. Look for a plot in your area with soil and growing conditions similar to those in your own fields. Find plots that showcase how various genetics perform under your local conditions. Look for sites staffed with agronomists who can help you sort through genetics, new seed technologies, environmental challenges and production practices to help you position the right hybrids and varieties on your fields.

2. Watch the genetic story unfold. If possible, make several visits to the test plot throughout the growing season to gain a true understanding of how hybrids and varieties with varied genetic backgrounds perform from planting to harvest. By observing crops at emergence, pollination and maturity, you will see how different genetics respond to various soil types, plant populations, health and disease packages, and in corn-on-corn and corn-soybean rotations. This knowledge will help you select a package of hybrids to handle variable weather, pest and other challenges to better manage your risk next season.

3. Ask the right questions. Be an active participant at test plot visits by asking questions that will help you understand what you’re viewing. Some questions that might help are: What type of soil does the plot have and is it the same throughout the plot? What production techniques have been used? Which crop nutrients have been applied and at what rates? What seed populations were used? Which crop protection products have been applied?

4. Learn what information applies to your fields. It’s also very important to ask questions that relate to your own operation, such as: What are three reasons I should plant these hybrids or varieties in my fields (beyond yield)? Can this soybean variety handle the stress load (soil types, diseases, fertility challenges, etc.) on my fields? Do the corn hybrids carry the disease packages needed in my rotations and fields?

5. Get your hands dirty. A good test plot program will allow you to actively participate by digging up corn roots to learn more about the different types, husking corn to check for flex or fixed ears, checking out corn stalks for healthy rinds and staygreen conditions, or digging up soybean roots to learn how to identify cyst nematode. While identifying in-field crop problems, be sure to ask how to handle these situations in your own fields.

By following these tips, Nowaczyk says growers will bring home new ideas and tools from each test plot visit to help increase production results.