How to do your own on-farm research
On-farm research isn’t a practice that can only be accomplished by professional researchers. Up until recently, research data on alternative crops, organic production systems and sustainable treatments for crops and livestock has not been widely available. Often the most useful research for you and your operation can be conducted on your own farm, as long as you remember a few basic steps.
If you have a specific question about a new crop or a new treatment you want to try, you can run your own tests in your own fields and draw your own conclusions.
Be sure to start small. If you are trying out a new crop or treatment, do not place hundreds of acres in the test, particularly when you do not have a handle on your expected outcome.
When our family planned to raise sunflowers for the first time, the first year we planted a 3-acre plot, away from the road, so our neighbors in corn, soybeans and alfalfa country would not think we had lost our minds. We wanted to make all of our mistakes on a small scale — and out of view from our peers. So they key is to keep things simple. There is less pressure that way.
You probably will want to seek help from professionals in designing your experiments and trials, and in analyzing the data you collect. Not only can professional researchers add insight to the studies you are conducting, they also may want to use your work as a springboard for further research on the same topic, and help more producers.
Be sure that everything is uniform. If you are conducting crop trials, try to find ground that is uniform in soil type, slope and cropping history, so your experiments will produce the most valuable data possible.
Even if you have an unexpected outcome, remain objective. Results may or may not turn out as you plan, but that is why studies are done. Especially if the results are surprising, you may wish to run the same research project over several years, so treatments or applications can be tested over varying conditions.
No matter the experiment or the questions you are testing, you are sure to learn more about your own operation and your own methods of production by conducting research that is specific for your farm conditions. By becoming a researcher yourself, you are also bound to gain important insight into other research being conducted on similar questions.
This article published in the March, 2012 edition of DAKOTA FARMER.