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University of Nebraska program allows producers to try new management strategies in a low-risk environment

What started simply as a new way to engage producers, the University of Nebraska-Lincoln Testing Ag Performance Solutions (UNL-TAPS) program has become an innovative way for producers to try new management strategies in a low-risk environment and achieve a deeper level of engagement among stakeholders in production agriculture – all while encouraging a little friendly competition.

The UNL-TAPS program is a unique farm management competition that promotes profitability and efficiency through peer-to-peer interaction.  The competition, which was started by a group of UNL specialist and educators, is housed at UNL’s West Central Research and Extension Center (WCREC) in North Platte, Nebraska.

Daran Rudnick, irrigation management specialist at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln (UNL), who was one of the original innovators of the program, said the original idea came from discussions with Matt Stockton, Ag Economist at UNL, Chuck Burr, Nebraska Extension Educator, and Rodrgio Werle, former cropping systems specialist at UNL, on how to best engage growers, industry, ag service providers, and others on identifying efficient and profitable crop production practices.

Unlike a common yield contest, TAPS teams compete for three awards with first prize for top profitability, followed by highest water and nitrogen use efficiency and a third prize for greatest grain yield.

Participants are responsible for decisions including hybrid selection and seeding rate, irrigation, insurance selection, marketing strategy and fertilizer management.  Each team’s decisions are made utilizing an online portal (www.taps.unl.edu) and are implemented on three randomized plots within a field located at the West Central Research and Extension Center in North Platte, NE, or at the Oklahoma State University McCaull Research and Demonstration Farm near Eva, Oklahoma.

Partnerships with a number of ag technology providers allow competitors the opportunity to try new and emerging technologies such as sensors and imagery, to aid their decision-making process in real-time.

Currently in its third year, widespread support from a number of partners including ag service providers, regulatory agencies and financial institutions, has allowed the program to expand its competitive offerings.  Originally just a sprinkler irrigated corn competition, TAPS has grown to add two competitions in North Platte, NE, including pivot irrigated sorghum and subsurface drip irrigated corn as well as a sprinkler irrigated corn competition in Eva, OK in partnership with Jason Warren, soil water conservation extension specialist at Oklahoma State University. Over 150 participants located across Nebraska, Kansas, Colorado, and Missouri are competing in the 2019 competitions (Figure 1).

Although primarily targeting crop producers, the TAPS competition offers a unique chance for those not otherwise involved in day-to-day crop management to gain a better understanding of the complex decisions producers must make when growing a crop.  Teams from the Nebraska Department of Environmental Quality and Nebraska Department of Natural Resources competed alongside producers in 2018. Inclusion of these teams sparked valuable discussion between producers and regulatory agencies on identifying win-win solutions for more environmentally and economically sustainable agricultural production.

Location of the 2019 TAPS Farm Management Competition sites and participants.

Location of the 2019 TAPS Farm Management Competition sites, participants, and boundaries of the Nebraska Natural Resource Districts, Colorado Groundwater Management Districts, and Kansas Groundwater Management Districts.

Daran Rudnick, Assistant Professor: Irrigation Management Specialist at University of Nebraska

Daran Rudnick is an assistant professor of Biological Systems Engineering at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln, specializing in irrigation/water management. His appointment consists of developing and conducting relevant and responsive irrigation/water management research and extension programs for crops grown in the Central High Plains. His specific research interests include: full and limited irrigation management, precision water management, fertigation, concurrent management of irrigation and nitrogen fertilizer, economic feasibility of irrigation practices, and plant and soil water monitoring technologies.

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