Agricultural Field Trials Remain Essential

Even though many countries are battling a second wave of COVID-19 infections and returning to stricter lockdown conditions, field trials must go on, writes Belchim’s Dennis Long at AgriBusiness Global. This is the second part of an article discussing the importance of field trials and independent research for the agriculture industry. In our first article, we focused on the work universities are doing. Now, we turn to research groups, and learn about the trials and tribulations that has affected them over the course of the past year and how they view their all-important job during these unprecedented times.


Research Institutions

We spoke with Dr. Frank Sances, National Director of Research for Ag Metrics Group, Inc. and Roger Batts, Field Research Director at the NCSU IR-4 Field Research Center and Principle Weed Science Biologist for the IR-4 Project on why field trials and independent research must remain a core focus for the agribusiness industry, as well as the insights they have gained from the unusual nature of 2020.

“Each field study targets a question regarding a product, a potential market, effectiveness, environmental issues, or safety in use,” Sances says.. “We have been doing this work since 1980 and have come to understand how essential, accurate, and timely data are to manufacturers of crop protection and other farm products. The adage that ‘decisions make themselves when enough is known’ is clearly the case with agricultural product development and stewardship, and in this respect, the field trial is key to management’s decision-making process.”

Batts echoes this sentiment.

“I consider conducting field trials that help identify safe and effective pest control products in specialty crops to be paramount,” he says. “With increasing scrutiny on existing products, these efforts are essential in providing specialty crop producers with viable options in situations where current products may be lost or restricted.”

With that being said, Sances notes that protecting staff has also been a key concern, with some employees having to work remotely and others being provided with a separate office onsite during the peak lockdown periods.

“The COVID-19 pandemic was most disruptive during manufacturers’ spring 2020 trial placement period,” he says. “Many universities and USDA field stations had shut down at this time, sent the scientific staff home to work remotely, and stopped accepting new projects at their labs. At the same time, many CROs laid off or furloughed employees in anticipation of a downturn in the research business.

“By contrast, since we started early with our policies and crisis management activities, we had pre-purchased planting supplies, prepared land early for planting, firmed up off-site projects with cooperators, and rotated lab employees to night shifts or separate rooms to continue their work. We also had notified clients of our intent to continue business as usual and offered help with their difficult to place experiments,” he adds.

Continue reading at AgriBusiness Global.