Research and Problem-Solving on the Farm

Project Overview

Project Type: Professional Development Program
Funds awarded in 2015: $90,268.00
Projected End Date: 12/31/2018
Grant Recipient: Cornell University
Region: Northeast
State: New York
Project Leader:
Laurie Drinkwater
Cornell University

Annual Reports

Information Products


Not commodity specific


  • Education and Training: decision support system, extension, on-farm/ranch research, participatory research
  • Farm Business Management: whole farm planning
  • Production Systems: holistic management, organic agriculture
  • Sustainable Communities: analysis of personal/family life

    Proposal abstract:

    A key aspect of effective management is the ability to modify practices in response to environmental and economic conditions. However, many farmers do not possess the necessary skills to systematically evaluate and test improvements to optimize their farming systems. Furthermore, while most farmers are aware of on-farm research opportunities that entail partnering with an agricultural service provider, many feel that they are too busy or do not have the know-how to engage in this type of research. In contrast, there is a small group of farmer-innovators who have developed systems of problem-solving and experimentation that are compatible with their normal farming operations.  Improving farmer problem-solving and management skills, as opposed to delivering specific technical information, is very difficult.  Our project is based on the philosophy embodied in this proverb: Give people fish and you feed them for a day. Teach people to fish and you feed them for a lifetime.

    Performance targets from proposal:

    Thirty agricultural service providers will create new programs to teach 600 farmers how to improve their operations using on-farm problem-solving/experimentation techniques developed by expert farmers. Two-hundred farmers managing 20,000 acres will use these techniques to problem-solve and to employ improved management practices.

    Milestones for beneficiary learning 

    1. 100 extension educators participate in an online survey to determine the current level of knowledge and learning needs and to help guide the writing of a “how to” manual called Research and Problem-Solving on the Farm. (October 2015)
    2. Two agricultural service providers, a hired consultant, and 8 farmer-innovators engage in a DACUM process to gather information about on-farm problem-solving and experimentation approaches. (early December 2015)
    3. A core group of four extension educators and ten farmers will receive a preliminary draft of the “how-to” manual to evaluate. (August 2016)
    4. 200 service providers receive invitations or read advertisements, and learn about the training workshops and manual. (August 2016, December 2017; November 2017)
    5. 70 agricultural service providers and educators attend one of three training sessions held in three regions of the NE (20-25/each workshop, ME, NY and MD) and learn about problem-solving and experimentation on the farm. (October 2016, February 2017; January 2018)
    6. 20-25 extension educators provide detailed feedback on the manual at the first training (October 2016).
    7. Extension educators and farmers have access to the improved version of the manual. (March 2017)
    8. Trained extension educators create new programs to teach 600 farmers about how to use proven, farmer-friendly problem-solving methods to improve their operations (January 2017-onward)
    9. 30 trained extension educators are supported by the project team in their efforts to help farmers apply these methods to improve their farming operations through phone conversations and access to the manual and supporting materials (March 2017-onward).
    10. 30 extension educators complete and return verification survey to report on educational programs conducted and farmer applications of these techniques. (November 2017; September 2018)
    11. 200 farmers managing 20,000 acres use these techniques to problem-solve and to employ improved management practices.
    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.