Compelling Reasons Why Farmers do On-Farm Experiments
For over two centuries and around the world, farmers have been conducting on-farm experiments. This has allowed the translation of experimental research into real-world agronomic practices at the individual farm level. It has also connected farmers, researchers, and other agriculture industry professionals in mutually beneficial collaborations.
On-farm experiments, while not formalized, are taking place on an estimated 30,000 farms around the world. That means on-farm experimentation today is driven by a diverse set of goals, approaches, locations, and sociotechnical ecosystems.
The on-farm experiment process involves close collaboration with farmers to change a management value, observe the outcome, and discuss that outcome with the major goal of driving evidence-based learning and decision-making. Farmers bring deep knowledge of local production practices and experimental mentality. But effective integration between science-based and farmer-based knowledge can be a challenge.
Farmers say what they need to improve their business is information that’s specific to their field and location, not just within their state or region . Agriculture research today is often reflective of best practices that are generalized across a wide range of farms rather than the specific challenges and considerations of one individual farm. This has been driven by reduced funding for local research.
So, many farmers have turned to on-farm experimentation to gather information on their own fields to supplement academic or industry-sponsored research. Digital agriculture has the opportunity to unlock more value from these on-farm experiments. Standardized data collection and easy data analysis can increase the ease of conducting on-farm experiments and using the outcomes to make decisions. Field research software can support this.
In fact, involving an agricultural research management software or experiment monitoring tool from the beginning of the trial has major advantages. Setting up the trial for replication and randomization enables sound decisions from on-farm experimentation. This is because it allows the data to be statistically verified. Digital tools can help farmers design the trial, and GPS guidance, yield maps, and aerial imagery can help pinpoint and execute the trial.
The ROI with On-Farm Experiments
The reasons for doing on-farm experimentation may be specific to each farmer. For example, one grower might use the trials to understand yield gain or loss on a given production practice. Another points to the learnings from both successes and failures. And yet another uses trials to determine what inputs are absolutely necessary – and which ones can be cut. Amongst all of the farmers interviewed on their reasons for doing on-farm experiments, profitability was a common theme. Because of this, we’ve highlighted some of the main return on investment opportunities associated with on farm experiments.
Understanding locally-relevant knowledge
Variability is common within a single field – imagine how varied growing conditions and climate can be across a county or even an entire state. For farmers, understanding the impact of a production practice in their specific growing conditions and climate is critical.
Farmer-led on-farm experiments typically have more replications than those of agricultural scientists. Coupled with the specific soil types and weather conditions that are of interest, there’s a particular power in the vast, local data collected from on-farm experimentation.
While these experiments may be less precise, they are an excellent complement to scientist-led research. A farmer’s local knowledge combined with a researcher’s product-specific knowledge work well together to conduct these experiments and ensure the outcomes will be relevant and impactful.
Test research questions for the broader benefit
Understanding and evaluating new products or practices on a small scale can help minimize the initial risk. Farmers can assess early, local, and small-scale results before going all-in and adopting something new.
Farmers can use the outcomes of on-farm experimentation to fuel profitability-focused decisions and understand yield impact on their farms. These outcomes can also apply to other local farms – and have the potential to improve profitability and crop yield for others, too.
Test questions also open the door to technology adoption. When new products and technologies arrive on the farm, growers have to explore how they work in their environment to determine the return on investment. New technology is also available to aid farmers in their decision-making, such as agricultural research management software. Not only is this technology being tested through on farm experimentation, but it also unlocks additional potential for on-farm experiments to be doubly powerful.
On-farm experimentation directly provides data to help farmers make decisions that impact the bottom line. Whether it’s improving crop yields and maximizing production, reducing the number of inputs like fertilizer that are needed to cut costs, or reviewing overall profitability, financial gains are possible from on-farm experimentation.
On-farm experiments also reduce the risk of wasted time and money on new products or production practices. By understanding how that specific product or practice performs on a farmer’s own land, the chances of wasted time and money are reduced – even if the product or practice doesn’t work out.
On-Farm Experiments with Agmatix
At Agmatix, we support agriculture professionals globally to overcome obstacles in the journey to grow sustainable food production and quality. One of the ways we walk beside producers in this journey is through the tools we provide to assist with experimental collaboration.
Agmatix mobile is an easy data collector for agronomic trials to address one of the most critical aspects of any experiment. This field research software enables timely reporting, minimized errors, and secure processes for storing and aggregating the data for analysis. Farmers can see the true value of the data they collect from field trials, and work collaboratively with others through easy sharing to maximize its impact.
The Agmatix field research app also allows farmers to leverage legacy data from published research or from local trials conducted near them. Data standardization helps unearth insights from multiple data sets. And pre-built analytics speed up the process of transforming big data into impactful insights.
Tools like the Agmatix mobile application are designed to make OFEs easy. Experiment monitoring tools with intuitive user interfaces allow farmers to check in on their trials and manage them throughout the growing season. Experiencing results in real-time is possible, too!
Planning on-farm experiments can be challenging, too. Trials must be designed with treatment combinations that are flexible but keep trial outcome integrity at the forefront. Agmatix’s Agronomic Trial Management mobile app has customizable treatment combinations and trial layouts. With the app, it’s easy to visualize the trial design and layout and create data collection forms based on the parameters needed for each trial.
On-farm experiment tools have incredible power to support farmers in conducting on-farm experiments. From supporting data collection and standardization to enabling fast and easy analysis, farmers can truly experience the return on investment of their on-farm experimentation through digital tools. Agmatix is proud to offer on-farm experiment platform that helps farmers and their collaborators with these important trials.