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Field trials – agricultural research for a sustainable future

Field trials - agricultural research for a sustainable future
Field trials – Agricultural research

12,000 years ago, humans first began to cultivate plants – the beginning of modern agriculture. Today, agriculture faces challenges such as climate and nature conservation, population growth and the increasing demand for sustainable and nutritious products. Modern agricultural research examines these challenges and develops new technologies, methods and products to meet them.

What exactly are field trials?

Field trials are an essential part of modern agricultural research. They are conducted under practical conditions to collect representative data. They can be used to test hypotheses, gain new knowledge and draw informed conclusions.

The advantages of field experiments are that they are highly valid because they are carried out under real conditions and the results are often more transferable to real situations than laboratory experiments. They also have a high degree of practical relevance, as the knowledge gained can be used directly to solve practical problems and make informed decisions. However, there are challenges associated with field trials. One of these is controllability, as it is difficult to keep track of all the influencing factors. The natural variability of the environment can make it difficult to identify clear cause-and-effect relationships and interpret results. In addition, field trials are often costly and logistically challenging, especially when conducted over long periods of time.

Eine regelmäßige Bonitur der Pflanzenbestände durch Drohnen- und Bildaufnahmen.
During and after treatment, regular assessment of the plant population using drones and imagery.

How do the field trials work?

Das System ist ein Zusammenspiel vieler Bereiche.

The process of a field trial in often starts with an idea, which can come from any department in the company. The system is a collaboration between many areas, so for example, design engineers may be testing a new applicator, IT may be introducing a new software version, or biology may want to test the hybrid herbicide system on a new crop.

This basic idea is worked out together, hypotheses are formulated and an experimental plan is developed that should be of use to all departments. Once a suitable field is found or has been found and the conditions are right, the practical part of the experiments begins. These are carried out according to biostatistical principles, i.e. the experimental elements are repeated several times and randomly distributed over the area, and the experiments are repeated under different conditions whenever possible. The trials are closely monitored by technicians and machine data, such as electrical data, is fed directly into the farm’s own database. Before, during and after the treatment, the biology department regularly assesses plant populations using drone and imagery surveys, assessments and sampling. These observations are documented in a special field trial application. Once all the observations have been made, the data is processed and analysed together to understand the complexities and develop our work.

The range of trials carried out by and with is very broad and includes different types of trials:

  • Technical development and optimisation trials: These trials are carried out in the field to test feasibility and further develop applications. New target crops, applicator types, speeds and software versions are tested and optimised.
  • Validation trials: Specific process characteristics such as ecotoxicology, drying efficiency and quality characteristics are tested in collaboration with external test centres such as LWK NRW and Rifcon. In some cases, these tests are carried out across national borders to validate the results.
  • Demonstration tests: These are used to demonstrate technology and are carried out, for example, at field days such as PotatoEurope or the Weuthen Potato Days to demonstrate performance to a wide audience.
  • Field trials: Large-scale trials with a small number of varieties to test technology and agronomy in the field.

The results of our agronomic research and field trials form the basis of our management recommendations for a sustainable future.