It’s a unique combination of virtual farming and real life—with the winners claiming some very nice cash prizes. It’s called TAPS, Testing Ag Performance Solutions, an innovative competition created by Nebraska Extension that pits farmers against each other as they manage a real corn crop from the comfort of their home office.

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“Farmers are making management decisions without really knowing just how well they are doing in relationship to other farmers,” said Chuck Burr, Nebraska Extension educator. “As a participant in TAPS, they can compare themselves to their peers—and it challenges them to up their game a bit.”

Photo of two men standing in a corn field

Roric Paulman (right) of Sutherland took the prestigious award for “most profitable farm,” due in large part to his effective grain marketing strategies.

Nebraska Extension established pivot-irrigated corn plots at its West Central Research and Extension Center in North Platte. The results for each plot were extrapolated to 3,000 acres for competition judging results.

The “players” log on to a password-protected website twice a week
to make their decisions regarding everything from hybrid selection to
planting population; from crop insurance to marketing; from fertility
to irrigation scheduling. Farmers can also select from a variety of
precision farming technologies to use on their plots.

Nebraska Extension educators take care of implementing those
farmer-directed strategies on each farmer’s plot. Several farmers
never visited their plots, relying instead on photos and updates
provided on the website.

“Every decision they make is directly relatable to what they would do on their own farm, though the specific agronomic responses may not be depending on their location and other factors,” said Dr. Daran Rudnick, assistant professor and irrigation management specialist for Nebraska Extension. “Farmers are able to use new and emerging methods and tools and determine what might work on their operations.”

In the inaugural year of TAPS (2017), a total of 17 farmers and teams from Brule to Lincoln competed, including students from UNL and the Nebraska College of Technical Agriculture in Curtis. The contestants competed for three possible awards. Each with cash prizes: 1) Most Profitable Farm; 2) Efficiency of Nitrogen and Water Use; and 3) Productivity (Highest Yield). The Nebraska Corn Board helps fund the TAPS program.

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In 2018, more than 70 individuals will be competing in TAPS, some competing as a team.

“We actually treat the TAPS competition as a research experiment. We collect a lot of data to help us understand not only who won, but why they won,” Rudnick said. “This information will be shared with other farmers in our continuing effort to improve irrigation efficiency, nutrient management and overall farm profitability.”

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