Digital Agriculture Training Workshop: Managing Input Using On-farm Data

Final report for WPDP21-008

Project Type: Professional Development Program
Funds awarded in 2021: $76,365.00
Projected End Date: 12/31/2023
Host Institution Award ID: G334-22-W7903
Grant Recipients: Washington state university; Montana State University
Region: Western
State: Washington
Principal Investigator:
Dr. haiying tao
University of Connecticut
Dr. Sanaz Shafian
University of Idaho
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Project Information


Digital agriculture integrates technology, big data, analytics, computer science, machinery, automation, and decision-support systems. Innovation with these tools is at the forefront of optimizing inputs and financial resources while reducing environmental impacts in agricultural production. However, adoption of digital agriculture by farms in the western states are far behind. One major reason is lack of variable rate recommendations provided by land grant universities. To develop such recommendations, large amount of field-scale on-farm data collected from many years is required. On-farm precision experimentation (OFPE) is a cost-effective method to generate such required data. The OFPE is also an effective extension tool since farmers and consultants are heavily involved in all aspect of research. However, the OFPE is not widely used in the land grant universities in the western states. The objective of this project is to increase adoption of OFPE, which in turn leads to development of digital agriculture-enabled variable rate recommendations using on-farm data. The ultimate objective is to increase adoption of digital agriculture. We are proposing a training project (a 2-day in-person workshop and a 3-hour online work session) that leverages three multimillion dollar projects: multistate Data-Intensive Farm Management (DIFM) led by University of Illinois, On-Farm Precision Experiment Framework (MT-OFPE) led by Montana State University, and multistate project recently funded by NRCS-CIG-On-farm Trials (CIG-OFPE). Scientists and consultants involved in these three projects have been conducting hundreds of OFPEs and developed various automated tools, which will be taught in this proposed training workshop. We anticipate the outputs of this project is to increase involvement of land grant universities to boost OFPE trials on the western states farms, which leads to development of decision-support systems for digital agriculture-enabled variable rate recommendations. Farmers and consultants will be empowered to answer their own nutrient management questions using data from their own farms. 

Project Objectives:

Objective 1: Increase knowledge of digital agricultural technology and how to use it to collect on-farm data.

Objective 2: Increase capacity to conduct OFPE trials using digital agriculture technology, awareness of new tools and software available for OFPE design, methods for data cleaning and analysis, and reporting.

Objective 3: Empower land grant universities in western states to develop digital agricultural-enabled variable rate recommendations.



Teaching knowledge and lessons learned as well as tools developed by DIFM, MT-OFPE, and CIG-OFPE projects to key players at land grant universities and industry will result in OFPE trials being conducted in western states, which will empower land grant universities to develop digital agriculture technology-enabled recommendations for western state. Ultimately, increase adoption of digital agriculture-enabled variable rate recommendations by consultants and farmers.


Washington State University will invest in a project coordinator. The DIFM, MT-OFPE, CIG-OFPE will provide expertise, technical support, and training at no charge. PIs will provide materials (i.e. sensors and software) for hands-on training.

Methodology and activities

We will host a 2-day in-person workshop in January 2022. The audience will be faculty, students, consultants, and farmers participated OPFE in MT and WA for sharing their OFPE experience. Activities include: OFPE trials and data handling (1st & 2nd day), networking (1st day evening), software training (limit 20 people per room in 2nd day), and road mapping for emerging research needs in digital agriculture area and how OFPE can play a role (2nd day). The workshop will be recorded to make the content available to a broader audience after the conclusion of the event. We will have four rooms with 20-50 participants in each room. We will employ Liberating Structures (Lipmanowicz and McCandless, 2014) to host a 3-hour online work session in spring, 2022. The purpose of this work session is to understand what does it take to adopt digital agriculture and variable rate recommendations from those who can make an impact on research and adoption of digital agriculture (i.e. researchers in various disciplines, consultants, extension specialists, NRCS, conservation district, the nature conservancy, state department of agriculture, and farmers). The PIs and collaborators of this proposal will determine a key faculty in each western state who has active research and extension in digital agriculture and invite them to serve on a core group for future networking activities that will last beyond this project period. We will reach out to other stakeholders via PIs’ listserv, Western Nutrient Management and Water Quality (WERA-103) listserv for recruiting more participants.


In person workshop:

  • Event and travel planning: Oct.-Nov. 2021
  • Curriculum development: Oct.-Dec. 2021
  • Invitations and advertisement: Oct.-Jan. 2021
  • Event: Jan. 2022
  • Video editing: Jan.-Apr. 2022

Online work session:

  • Planning, Curriculum development, advertising: Jan.-Mar. 2022
  • Event: Mar. or Apr. 2022

Evaluation: Jan. 2021-Sept. 2022

Extension paper preparation: Jun.-Sept. 2022


Click linked name(s) to expand/collapse or show everyone's info
  • Dr. David Bullock (Educator and Researcher)

Education & Outreach Initiatives

On-farm Precision Experimentation

(1) introduce what we have learned through conducting on-farm precision experiments; (2) Introduce the use the automated tools to conduct on-farm precision experiments; (3) invite participants to introduce their programs related to precision ag to facilitate conversations and future collaborations; (4) invite participants to join our on-farm precision experiment project, seek input in experimentation, data analysis and reporting, development of tools and software to make on-farm precision experimentation more adaptable.

Outcomes and impacts:

Educational & Outreach Activities

3 Consultations
2 Online trainings
1 Workshop field days

Participation Summary:

5 Extension
27 Researchers
1 Nonprofit
1 Agency
9 Ag service providers (other or unspecified)
6 Farmers/ranchers

Learning Outcomes

19 Participants gained or increased knowledge, skills and/or attitudes about sustainable agriculture topics, practices, strategies, approaches
10 Ag professionals intend to use knowledge, attitudes, skills and/or awareness learned

Project Outcomes

1 Grant received that built upon this project
Project outcomes:

The workshop was to support the three objectives proposed, we focused our workshop on the following: (1) introduce what we have learned through conducting on-farm precision experiments; (2) Introduce the use the automated tools to conduct on-farm precision experiments; (3) invite participants to introduce their programs related to precision ag to facilitate conversations and future collaborations; (4) invite participants to join our on-farm precision experiment project, seek input in experimentation, data analysis and reporting, development of tools and software to make on-farm precision experimentation more adaptable. Please see the agenda (Appendix 1) for details. The workshop started with a structured “meet n greet” in the evening of December 13, 2022. It was a great format for participants to network and learn why each of us conduct on-farm research and how we do it. The following are what we learned from the participants via structured (used liberating structure method) breakout sessions. Please see appendix 2 for the summary of learning outcomes for conducting OFPE.

We conducted in-person informal survey during the workshop. The participants strongly agree that the workshop is very useful learning OFPE and they indicated that they've conducted this type of OFPE. They are interested in learning more and working with us conducting OFPE in their states with their farmers. Only one participant wished that we could have some OFPE examples in weed management.  We have designed an online survey to learn more about the learning outcomes. 10 participants responded the online survey. In addition, we recorded all the presentations which are edited and posted on Youtube channel for future training purposes ( 

Two 1.5-hour online symposiums “Harvesting Insights with Data-Driven On-Farm Precision Experimentation (OFPE) online symposium” were hosted online on February 13 and 20, 2024. The goals of the first section (Feb. 13, 2024) were to (1) give a brief introduction of OFPE methods, (2) Q & A for using trial design software to design a OFPE research trial, and (3) brainstorm on potential improvement for trial design software to meet the needs of participants, potential usage of OFPE in research and extension, potential obstacles to conduct OFPE. We sent the participants instructions and five example fields to practice designing OFPE trials one week prior the symposium. During this symposium, the OFPE were briefly introduced in the first 20 minutes, followed by three 20-minutes breakout room discussions: (breakroom 1: feedback on potential utility of the OFPE design software; breakroom 2: briefly teach how to use the OFPE design software for those who had difficulties during pre-symposium practices; breakroom 3: feedback on suggested improvement for OFPE design software). We predesigned questions for each breakout room to facilitate conversations. We conducted a pre-symposium survey so that we assigned the participants to the breakout rooms at the best sequence. The participants were assigned to breakout rooms by the moderator to ensure each participant was in all three breakout rooms during the one-hour discussion period. The goals for the second section (Feb. 20) were to (1) discuss with participants on why and how we clean the as-applied and yield data, introduced our online automated reporting software that can create field-by-field report for OFPE trials, and (2) Q&A and brainstorm for better design of the report that we present to the farmers. The feedback was generally positive, and we received many valuable suggestions on areas of improvement needed on the software. We also found that more training and extension materials are needed in order for some participants to utilize OFPE as a tool in their research confidently. We believe hands-on training workshops for small groups will be more effective. In addition, based on the feedback, we are planning to develop five short (3-5-minutes) videos covering recruitment, introduction of OFPE, design OFPE using the software, conducting OFPE in the field, and harvest. We have designed a survey to collect information on if anyone will use the software to design their trials for this year and their future feedback on the software.

Additional Outcomes:

I have been hosting multiple workshops annually for many years. This is the most difficult one to plan. We encountered two major issues and both are COVID-19 related. One is unwilling to be flexible from the venders and another one is unwilling to travel from the participants. The venders were very strict on signing the contract to finalize the venue way before the date of the event because they didn't want to be hit by cancellations, which created this dilemma for us: if we finalize the venue before we know the number of participants then we may have to pay more than we needed or we may not have enough; but if we start invitation before we determine the venue then the vender may not be willing to work with us by the time we finalize the number of participants. Another problem is from the participants: a portion of the participants who are interested in the event but did not want to travel to the event and another portion of participants signed up but cancelled their trips due to either their sickness or sickness of their families. There were a lot of sickness during that period of time. What we learned is that planning to provide hybrid format is necessary. Rather than working with hotels for event location, we will work with universities use university conference facilities in the future if we will host any similar events. For example, we hosted NC1210 committee meeting-OFPE conference in Texas A&M University - Corpus Christi in January 2013, we found that with additional rental of technology, we could host the event in a similar setup which many universities have. In addition, we have been presenting OFPE at other occasions, for example, PhD Graduate Student Brett Griesbaum from Montana State University studying with Paul Nugent joined me at the ICOFPE meeting in South Padre Beach, Texas, January 8-11, 2024. Brett provided insights and practical knowledge on farmer engagement in OFPE with Precision Agriculture technologies including variable rate application of irrigation water, fertilizers and pesticides as well as combine harvester yield monitoring devices. 

Success stories:

Two consultants from Washington State indicated their interests in conducting many OFPE trials from now on. They said they have been looking for a way to conduct OFPE but they did not have the capacity to do it. What we presented were perfect and they will work with us from now on. In fact, we are planning to conduct research trials with one of the consultants now for 2023 crop year.  A consultant from MT is also interested in working with us conducting OFPE with his farmers. We will follow up with him soon. 

After the two online symposiums, two consultants have started designing OFPE trials for farmers. One is working with one farmer to conduct one OFPE trial, another is working with multiple farms to conduct OFPE trials starting spring 2024. Both of them indicated potential to conduct more OFPE to help farmers answer their questions. One graduate student is learning more about OFPE to evaluate if this is a tool that fits.


Although the OFPE related software, including trial design software, data cleaning software, automated field-by-field reporting software are still under development, they currently have basic functions and are available online for free ( For questions, the users can contact anyone listed under “Our Team” on this website.

Information Products

    Any opinions, findings, conclusions, or recommendations expressed in this publication are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the view of the U.S. Department of Agriculture or SARE.