Sustainable Low-Input Agriculture: An Overview Videotape

1988 Annual Report for LNC88-004

Project Type: Research and Education
Funds awarded in 1988: $16,800.00
Projected End Date: 12/31/1990
Region: North Central
State: Nebraska
Project Coordinator:
Charles Francis
Grain Place Foundation

Sustainable Low-Input Agriculture: An Overview Videotape


Discussions with farmer groups reveal an increasing concern about relying completely on
controlled condition laboratory research results to solve real-world, on-farm problems.
Likewise, there are tremendous amounts of farmer demonstration plots and "research" activities
on farm that often do not meet the accepted criteria for repeatable and confident results on
which management decisions should be made. Traditionally, the agricultural information
dissemination process moves from researcher through extension to the farmer. There are
mechanisms for feedback to researchers through advisory boards and meeting with extension.
Yet to truly have an effective communication system reflecting the needs of farmers, these same
people must be involved to some degree in setting research agendas, doing on-farm studies, and
in demonstrating and extending results.

Several on-farm research projects were conducted on participating farms. Research and
demonstration activities in conservation tillage have helped to accelerate a change toward
reduced primary land preparation and increased residue on the soil surface to help solve erosion
problems. A farmer-oriented demonstration/research project on nitrogen levels and alternative
cropping systems was implemented over a two years period. A new neighbor-to-neighbor
demonstration activity was initiated in 1989 to make conservation oriented practices on farms
more accessible to other interested farmers. Data from large, replicated plot trials in Nebraska
and Iowa were analyzed statistically and compared favorably with small plot research. A survey
was conducted of farmers' attitudes toward on-farm research and whether they would be willing
to participate in future activities of this type. Finally, an examination was done on the broader
information environment and how this is changing as a result of new communication

Approximately 225 responses to an opinion survey of Nebraska agricultural producers were
received. Nearly all farmers (approximately 90 percent) in the survey find university research
and resulting recommendation to be useful to their farms. Nevertheless, a large proportion (85
percent), prefer to see experiment station results tested on working farms before
recommendations are made. Most farmers insist that these plots be located within 30 miles of
their farms to be applicable to their farm conditions. When asked to indicate their willingness to
cooperate with university staff in conducting on-farm research, only 25 percent of Nebraska
producers were willing to cooperate. Forty-three percent said they would not be willing to
participate, usually commenting that it would be a hassle for them to find time for the special
work. Some of this resistance may be due to unfamiliarity with this on-farm research method. In
contrast, 66 percent of Iowa respondents who belong to the Practical Farmers of Iowa (PFI)
expressed willingness to cooperate, and only 14 percent were unwilling. The PFI have been
using this technique for about three years, while it is virtually unknown in Nebraska.

Potential Contributions and Practical Applications:
There are a growing number of opportunities for researchers, extension specialists, farmers and
ranchers, and agribusiness to collaborate in information networks. Farmers are becoming
respected participants in the generation and dissemination of information. On-farm, internal
knowledge and experience are becoming a highly valued information commodity. At the same
time, external, off-farm information is being reviewed by producers through a filter of values,
such as environmental impact, fossil fuel use, and production/profit sustainability. Other current
trends in agriculture include: 1) new methods of generating and disseminating information
appear to be working as more farmers become involved with the process, 2) research agendas
that are developed with farmers and ranchers help to address the most pertinent questions they
face in management, 3) researchers and extension specialists can recognize and document
success when results of their work are applied to solve current production constraints, 4)
producers are becoming more aware of the need for specific information that can be applied to
their own farm or ranch conditions, 5) more farmers and ranchers are receptive to learning about
the need for unbiased comparisons and valid designs to test new alternatives, and 6) extension
specialists are more aware of new communications technologies and the need to incorporate
these into their programs.