The Extension model depends on a feedback loop connecting farmers, educators, and researchers. New data collection technology on the farm allows renewed connections as researchers and educators incorporate farmer assets to conduct high quality on-farm research. Farmers teaming with Extension educators and Extension researchers add value to University research and gain value by testing topics of interest on farms in their area.
For farmers, nothing beats seeing results of on-farm research conducted in your neighbors' fields. Since 1998, University of Nebraska Cooperative Extension has teamed with 20 farmers in Clay, Fillmore, Hamilton and York counties for on-farm research trials. Farmers identify the topics and trials are replicated on each of their farms. This cooperative effort strenthens the validity of the research and increases replication that would be difficult for a single farmer to achieve. Findings are summarized and Extension educators, specialists and farmers discuss the results.
Participants say this information helps reinforce or improve their production practices. A recent survey of participants indicated all gained a better appreciation for research methods. "I have better understanding of the need for randomization of plots and the value of replication," said one participant.
Some on-farm research trials help the University by eliminating study topics, such as the 2000 test of chloride, which has been reported by researchers in another state as a possible cure for stalk rot. Forty-two replications at 14 sites produced 7,000 bits of data that led to the conclusion: chloride did not reduce stalk rot in south central Nebraska.
The project has also saved farmers money, as one indicated he was influenced by the plant population data, saving about $4,000 a year on seed. One of the participants summed up the benefits for him by saying, "With this group of producers, I trust the data. This is unbiased data collected from some very good producers in a region."
The research agenda is set by farmers working closely with Extension educators and Extension specialists. All parties offer research topics and the farmer-researchers select topics they will test in a given year. Since the strength of this pooled effort is gained through the large number of replications and large-scale plots, one project is selected for replication on all participating farms.
Extension educators write the research protocols and help farmers with plot layout. Educators also assist with treatments and data collection. Extension specialists analyze data at the end of the year and results are published and related to other farmers during winter meetings. There have been 20 farmer-researchers in the project since 1998. The group is flexible, and growing to include neighboring counties.