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Adding on-farm research to the rotation

News from Ag Days 2019: Farmers are already expected to wear many hats, from mechanic to grower, but it may be time to add “researcher” to that list, according to one Ag Days speaker

Greg Bartley wants more producers to take research into their own hands.

An on-farm specialist with the Manitoba Pulse and Soybean Growers, Bartley has been working with farmers to develop research trials in the commercial field, rather than the research plot.

That research may become a producer’s greatest tool in measuring the actual value of a product or management practice for their specific farm, he argued Jan. 22. Bartley helped open this year’s Ag Days speaking schedule in Brandon with his pitch for on-farm research.

Why it matters: Farmers rely on research to maximize field performance, but testing products and practices on-farm may also give some farm specific insights and fill in the gaps left by the usual research streams.

Not all products will behave as promised on every farm, he pointed out, and there are also a wealth products on the market that have little to no third-party research backing up their efficacy.

“We still need small plot research,” he said. “It’s really important and it allows us to really understand the fundamentals of why or what is going on in the trial. In many cases, you can test multiple different things and you can figure out maybe a combination of treatments…when you’re doing on-farm testing, you need to keep it simple.”

Producers looking to stress test a specific treatment or product, however, would be prime candidates to launch their own trials.

Taking in the basics

Planning will be crucial to successful research, the Ag Days speaker said.

“I think the first thing to consider is, are you randomizing and replicating your treatments?” he said. “The replication is really important for on-farm trials, just to manage the variability in the field and allow you to do statistical analysis.”

Replication and randomization will be critical to manage changes in topography or soil and to avoid data bias, he said, although he also advised producers to choose the most uniform field they have available to further bypass those issues.

Farmer perspective

Bryce MacMillan of Marquette, Man., says his two years of on-farm research have been largely complication free.

“When we first got into it, I was a little bit hesitant,” he said. “I was sort of concerned by how much time was going to be taken putting in the crop and taking the crop off, but after our second experience doing it, (it was) virtually flawless—no problems as far as harvesting the crop in the fall.”

In retrospect, MacMillan says he might have spent more time cleaning plots up in fall his first year, something that might have sped up harvest.

Harvest delay might stem some enthusiasm for on-farm trials, Bartley admitted. At the same time, he argued, the few minutes’ delay needed to properly take in harvest and measure yield might lead to bigger profits when it comes to future management decisions.

Both Bartley and MacMillan advised farmers to start small, but not to back away from the scientific process if they want to start their own trials.

Watch for the full story, as well as more Ag Days coverage, in the next edition of the Manitoba Co-operator.

About the author

Reporter

Alexis Stockford is a journalist and photographer with the Manitoba Co-operator. She previously reported with the Morden Times and was news editor of  campus newspaper, The Omega, at Thompson Rivers University in Kamloops, BC. She grew up on a mixed farm near Miami, Man.

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