Farmers Urged to Take Reins With On-Farm Research

1/5/2013 7:00 AM
By Paul Post New York Correspondent

LATHAM, N.Y. — Fast-changing technology and challenging economic conditions make on-farm research an increasingly important option for today’s farm operators.

Fertilizer, soil quality, seed and tillage are just some of the areas that farmers can study to increase productivity and efficiency.

Nearly two dozen farmers, primarily dairymen, in New York’s Capital Region turned out for a Dec. 18 program, “Improving Your Business with On-Farm Research,” hosted by Cornell Cooperative Extension in Latham, N.Y., near Albany.

“There’s a lot of new products out there and university budgets are shrinking,” said Aaron Gabriel, senior Extension resource educator. “There’s so much research to be done. We’re trying to teach farmers how to do their own research on-farm and how to connect with Cornell faculty to be part of statewide research projects.”

In short, farmers must be responsible for more of the work previously reserved for research experts.

“It does take extra time and effort,” Gabriel said. “You have to be pretty committed. But the results you get and the things you learn is what’s going to keep your business moving forward. If you’re not moving forward, you’re falling backward because there is no standing still nowadays.”

Gabriel led a presentation, “Tools, Skills & Management Needed for On-Farm Research,” one of several discussions during the day-long program.

Tools could be anything from a yield monitor on a combine or chopper to soil testing equipment. Skills involve things such as planning, record keeping, communication and basic statistics.

Research management is another key ingredient.

“Making all that happen, but also knowing what important questions to ask and how you’re going to use that information,” Gabriel said.

Farmers will most likely have to pay for some research themselves. However, other funding sources are available, such as grants from the USDA’s Sustainable Agriculture Research & Education program or the Organic Farming Research Foundation.

In the Midwest, the sole purpose of a group called Practical Farmers of Iowa is to conduct research and develop ecologically sound agricultural methods and direct farmer-to-market systems.

Quite often, agricultural companies work with farmers to test new products.

“Farmers have always done things with seed companies, like Pioneer,” Gabriel said.

The micro-brewing industry is booming in New York state. However, barley doesn’t typically grow there, so research is needed to see what grains will work.

It’s also important to be hooked into a statewide research network to get a more accurate interpretation of test results. For example, a new fertilizer might yield highly positive results at one farm, but not elsewhere. So other factors might have been involved, such as weather, soil differences, disease or damage from animals and insects.

Also, farmers shouldn’t jump to conclusions when trying out a new product or piece of equipment, Gabriel said. For example, if planting a new seed variety or trying a different fertilizer, a portion of the field should be planted the same way as before. This provides a base, a way to measure new practices against the old.

The goal is to develop good, science-based recommendations.

Gabriel said there are several benefits to on-farm research.

“It keeps farmers on the cutting edge, they can learn things for their particular farm and it’s a fun thing to do, too,” he said. “It’s intriguing. If you like to learn, then do it.”

The New York On-Farm Research Partnership is currently looking for farms to take part in a number of different projects. These include Liquid Manure Method and Rate of Application, Sulfur and Potassium Status of Alfalfa, Updating of the New York Corn Yield Potential Database and Whole Farm Nutrient Balance Assessment.

For a complete list and more information, email qmk2<\ //

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