Conducting On-Farm Research: Enabling Farmers to Implement Sustainable Change in Agriculture

1998 Annual Report for ENE98-046

Project Type: Professional Development Program
Funds awarded in 1998: $50,000.00
Projected End Date: 12/31/2000
Matching Non-Federal Funds: $18,000.00
Region: Northeast
State: Maryland
Project Leader:
Kathryne Everts
University of Delaware, Dept. of Plant and Soil

Conducting On-Farm Research: Enabling Farmers to Implement Sustainable Change in Agriculture


This project is working to help extension educators acquire the necessary knowledge and skills to assist farmers in conducting on-farm tests that are statistically sound, including economic evaluation and proper interpretation. By enhancing agricultural advisors’ ability to conduct on-farm research, the project aims to support changes to production practices that reduce environmental impacts, strengthen community relationships and improve their satisfaction with farming. Changes may involve integration of crop and livestock systems or evaluation of new ways to market products. The ability to wisely choose site-specific practices will rely on the ability of farmers, and those who advise them to conduct valid on-farm evaluations.

1. Enhance the ability of extension educators to conduct valid on-farm research and advise and assist growers in conducting on-farm research.
2. Conduct training on planning, implementing and interpreting on-farm research for extension educators from throughout the mid-Atlantic region.
3. Demonstrate experimental design, layout and techniques, sources of variability, analysis and interpretation, economic evaluation, drawing valid conclusions and what inferences can be drawn from various studies.

Activities to Date
Extension educators now face the challenge of assisting an increasingly diverse clientele to evaluate a broad range of options in their farming operations. Different farms rely on a myriad of information and technology inputs and need to evaluate the impact of new changes to their operations. Addressing the diversity of options and the impacts of changes on a specific agricultural enterprise is often best addressed through on-farm research. The University of Maryland and the University of Delaware through a SARE training grant, provided extension educators with hands-on training to design, lay out, statistically analyze, and evaluate results of on-farm experiments.
Extension educators from Maryland, Delaware, New Jersey, Pennsylvania and West Virginia participated in a three-day training session in conducting on-farm research. The workshop was held on the Eastern Shore of Maryland and in Delaware. The workshop highlighted applied statistical techniques and how they can be used to improve of on-farm research results. Dr. German Bollero presented a keynote address on basic statistical concepts for on-farm trials (Dr. Bollero is an Assistant Professor of Biometry and Cropping Systems at the University of Illinois at Urbana, Champaign). Faculty from the University of Maryland and the University of Delaware Cooperative Extension Service demonstrated these statistical concepts and offered hands-on applications.
Participants discussed variability, level of accuracy needed in sampling and techniques to determine accuracy level were conducted. They also discussed the implications of choice of experimental design and number of replications on the reliability of results. The sessions demonstrated how to modify experiments to keep the design simple while making resulting conclusions more valid.
The sessions also offered participants hands-on training in calibration of treatments for small plot application. There was also a demonstration of how to calibrate and operate a yield monitor.
Participants toured a farmer project funded by SARE in 1999, and did some hands-on work there. A small field had strips of rye and bare ground that were planted to watermelon. The strip trial was conducted to compare watermelon grown on bare ground vs. watermelon grown on a killed cover crop. Participants analyzed plant stand data from the trial (as a paired t-test).
Participants discussed issues associated with assessing the economic implications of research. Educators clearly saw this aspect as central to conducting on-farm research and evaluating impact of changes to the farm operations. Hands-on problems allowed growers to see how to compare a system. Grant writing, sources of funding and communication of results were discussed.
Group and individual discussions revealed there are diverse interests depending on each extension educator’s programmatic area. Participants expressed a need for opportunities to communicate information from on-farm studies to a wider audience.
Reported January 2000.


C. Edward Beste

Associate Professor and Extension Weed Scientist
University of Maryland Department of NRSL
Lower Eastern Shore Research and Education Center
27664 Nanticoke Road
Salisbury, MD 21801
Caragh Fitzgerald

Extension Educator, Agriculture and Natural Resour
University of Maryland
Ted Haas

Regional Specialist – Agronomy
Wye Research and Education Center
P.O. Box 169
Queenstown, MD 21658
Richard Taylor

Extension Agronomy Specialist
University of Delaware
Paula Shrewsbury

Assistant Professor and Extension Specialist, Orna
University of Maryland
Joanne Whalen

Extension IPM Specialist
University of Delaware
Mark VanGessel

Extension Specialist, Weed/Crop Management
University of Delaware
Stanton Gill

Regional Extension Specialist, Nursery and Greenho
Central Maryland Research and Education Center
Malcom Commer

Regional Extension Specialist, Equine Economics
Central Maryland Research and Education Center
Bill McGowan

Extension Educator, Water Quality
University of Delaware
Dale Johnson

Farm Management Specialist
University of Maryland Cooperative Extension
Western Maryland Research and Education Center
18330 Keedysville Road
Keedysville, MD 21756
John Hall

County Extension Director and Extension Educator
Maryland Cooperative Extension – Kent County
Mark Teffeau

Regional Extension Specialist, Commercial Horticul
Wye Research and Education Center
Marty Spellman

Extension Associate II
University of Delaware
Tom Blessington

Regional Extension Specialist, Post Harvest Hortic
Central Maryland Research and Education Center