Time to consider your own on-farm research trials

2012-02-26T07:58:00Z Time to consider your own on-farm research trials Minnesota Farm Guide
February 26, 2012 7:58 am

Many of the farm meetings this winter have had a segment of their programing dedicated to enlisting growers to take part in on-farm research trials.

All farmers are familiar with the small plot research that takes place at the Land Grant universities – it is what farmers have grown to depend on for a wide variety of topics ranging from production trials for the various plant varieties, to testing different methods of weed control and fertility practices, to name just a few.

But with the wave of precision agriculture sweeping across the land, farmers have the capability of conducting research on their own farm and come up with some very reliable results. On-farm research is certainly no replacement for the small plot, university trials. But on-farm research can complement small plot research and validate small plot research in a large field environment.

The Minnesota Wheat Council has actually launched a program in that state to encourage growers to participate in on-farm research. They tout the following reasons for taking part in such a project on your farm:

– It will provide in-field and hands-on learning and discovery, meaning growers will begin to ask the right questions to make better decisions.

– If done correctly, these on-farm research trials will provide statistically sound results.

– It will provide new and unique communications and education opportunities for all growers – in essence, an in-field laboratory.

– It will assist in identifying and prioritizing research ideas, questions and needs.

At the recent Precision Ag Summit in Jamestown, Terry Griffin, associate professor and University of Arkansas Extension economist, spoke about the economic benefits farmers can see from this new ag technology. One of the first things he mentioned was the ability for growers to do on-farm research, noting that growers with their own research plots will be able to glean information on a number of items that are particular to their own farm.

Pointing out that on-farm trials are a circular process, he listed the stages as: 1) plan it out; 2) implement the plan; 3) collect the data; 4) analyze the data you obtained; and 5) make decisions based on that data. Then it’s time to start the process all over again.

Taking it a step further, this new concept in research will really start paying dividends when growers taking part in the project start comparing their efforts with other growers in their vicinity. By combining this data, everyone gets better information.

Those taking part in the organized Minnesota project will be working with a coordinator who will help make sure the trial gets done and the data is collected. Those participating growers  will be part of a communications system that brings growers and scientists together to better understand and answer the most important production questions all growers face.

This concept isn’t new to growers. For many years farmers have been conducting their own crude research trials by doing things like planting different varieties of seed or tinkering with fertilizer rates in a field to see how the various crops responded on their farm.

What is new is the ability to come up with precise results due to precision ag methods and the beginning stages of a network that will share the results from your farm with others and vice versa.

If such an opportunity presents itself to you ... don’t pass it up. After all, where else can you find research data that’s so site specific? That’s geared to your soil type, drainage conditions and management style?

Taking part in such a project may require a little more effort on your part, but there can be a potentially large payoff in the end.

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