Start with the question you want to answer.
Perhaps you want to know whether something you’ve done for years actually provides enough benefit? Or whether a new product, technique or management option could provide more benefit than your current practice?
Choose a field for the trial.
Design the trial to keep keep everything the same between treatment and the non-treatment areas. For trial design tips, the Canola Council of Canada has protocols at www.canolacouncil.org/research/#onfarm-research
Take notes all season.
Track the environmental conditions and everything you do on that piece of land and how you do it, so you have some factors to consider when assessing the results. Side benefit: This will help you think more critically and objectively about all management choices (and which decisions to test in future trials). To make note-taking easier, www.canolacouncil.org/research/#onfarm-research has data collection sheets.
Follow the trial through to harvest.
This is easier said than done, especially when the favourable harvest window is always an uncertain length of time. To make it easier, involve an agronomist and ask them in spring to help you harvest it. Or put a research-minded employee in charge of the trials. Or get neighbours involved and offer to share results in exchange for some harvest help.
Compare your results with similar experiments.
Check to see if your results align with other similar comparisons. This could include quality trials from local research centres. Search for results from completed projects at Canola Research Hub (CanolaResearch.ca).
Talk to others about what you found.
Share your experiences and findings with your farm employees, your agronomist, other farmers and researchers. This can help put results into context, assess the quality of the trial and implications for the results on your farm.
Reflect, congratulate and decide.
Trials are challenging. If you get through it, give yourself credit and reflect on the value of experience. If you concluded that you need more data to make a better decision, you can plan the same trial in another field or two the following growing season. If you are done with trials, you likely have a better perspective on what makes a quality trial and apply that to all future research you look at.
Repeat this process as many times as you like!
Just like the vacation that you’re still looking forward to but haven’t taken, the additional benefits of learning from conducting an on-farm trial are valuable – whether they lead to a change in management decision or not.