Thompson Pursues the Puzzles of On-Farm Research
Spatial data analysis can sound intimidating to some, but for Nebraska Extension Educator Laura Thompson it’s an engaging puzzle that allows her to help farmers find answers to their crop production questions.
Thompson, a cropping systems and ag technologies extension educator in the Eastern Nebraska Research and Extension District, has an office in Lincoln but works with farmers statewide. She and extension educator Keith Glewen co-coordinate the Nebraska On-Farm Research Network (NOFRN), which includes Project SENSE.
“On-farm research is a great avenue for farmers to try out a new product or practice, or evaluate current practices,” Thompson said.
“I enjoy being able to work directly with farmers on issues that are important to their farming operation in terms of profitability and long-term viability, helping them gather data to critically evaluate products or practices and produce their own relevant, science-based information.”
Some of that data comes from yield monitors, used by growers at harvest to map yield differences across the field. By analyzing this spatial data and overlaying it with maps of soil type, soil nutrients, land management and other factors that could affect yield, growers can identify problem areas and manage them differently to improve yield.
“It is a challenging puzzle to process the data, clean it, collect other relevant data sets and extract information from the specific areas where we applied different treatments. In the end you get to see what story the data tells and what that means to the farmer who collected it.”
As NOFRN co-coordinator Thompson works with farmers, crop consultants, UNL researchers and Nebraska Extension specialists and educators. She recruits farmers and consultants to participate in on-farm research, works with Extension specialists and industry representatives to develop a set of practices for each research topic, works with educators and growers throughout the season, collects research data and helps analyze the results. She also works with the team of Project SENSE researchers who are using on-farm research to study the use of crop canopy sensors to direct in-season nitrogen rates.
While results from these studies are farm-specific, analysis of multiple projects using the same research protocol can help identify data trends that may be helpful to a wider group of farmers. (See 2015 NOFRN Growing Season Results.)
After harvest, Thompson helps analyze and disseminate the results. She analyzes and writes the annual research report, coordinates the annual Nebraska On-Farm Research Conferences and manages the Nebraska On-Farm Research Network web page in CropWatch.
Thompson received her bachelor’s and master’s degrees in agronomy from the University of Nebraska–Lincoln. As an undergraduate student she was a member of the UNL Soil Science team that twice went to nationals and where she first met her husband, Nate, another member of the team.
Her master’s research was a study evaluating model- and sensor-based methods for determining in-season nitrogen management at sites in Missouri, Nebraska and North Dakota.
Thompson, who grew up on a corn/soybean farm in southeast Nebraska near Falls City, enjoys canoeing, hiking in the mountains and other outdoor activities as well traveling to new places, photography, quilting and baking.