The Manitoba Pulse & Soybean Growers (MPSG) made a commitment in 2014 to expand the network of on-farm research throughout the province and officially launched the On-Farm Network on April 7, 2014. MPSG began funding on-farm research in 2010 and has continually seen the benefits to farmers and industry. Conducting on-farm research gives us the ability to answer production questions using an approach that is timely and relevant and provides answers to farmers over a wide geographical region.
The overall goal is to test new products and practices for pulse and soybean production while empowering farmers to conduct simple, reliable research on their farm.
What is the MPSG On-Farm Network?
The MPSG On-Farm Network is a network of on-farm research related to pulse and soybean crops that is fully funded and directed by Manitoba Pulse & Soybean Growers. All research in this network is based on 3 important principles:
- Participatory – conducted on-farm with farmers
- Precise – produces data that is unbiased, accurate and robust
- Proactive – delivers results to guide management decisions and improve productivity and profitability
What is On-Farm research?
On-Farm research is scientific research that is conducted on real, working farms. It involves farmers in the scientific method, in collaboration with research specialists. The scientific method is used to ensure that results are true and reliable. For example, all treatments are replicated at least 3 times across the field. Side by side comparisons may be misleading due to differences in environment (landscape, soil type, moisture, fertility etc.). It’s important to make sure that an observed difference is consistent.
What is the goal of On-Farm research?
The goal of on-farm research is to test new practices or products over a wide range of farming environments, to guide management decisions. For example, should I change my seeding rate? Is a fungicide application economical? Before adopting a new practice, it’s a good idea to test whether it is good or bad. To determine whether a practice is good or bad, you may look at economic and/or environmental parameters. Another goal is also to ensure that protocols are simple and practical to implement, because we know that farming runs on tight deadlines during the growing season.
What are the benefits of On-Farm research?
First and foremost, on-farm research benefits farmers because they can see how products or practices behave on their own farm, on their own land and with their own equipment. The question of whether or not research results apply to their soil type or environment is answered immediately. On-Farm research also benefits the entire industry. By involving farmers in the scientific method, we can draw results and conclusions from a wider range of environments. The amount of data produced adds up quickly and can be used to make inferences and predictions that are relevant and robust over a wide, geographical region.
What is the difference between small-plot and on-farm research?
Both research systems have advantages. Small-plot research allows researchers to effectively compare numerous treatments at one time. For example, a small plot research study might compare 3 types of fertilizer placement methods (seed placed, side band and broadcast) at 4 different rates (20, 40, 60 and 80 lbs/ac), for a total of 12 treatments (3 methods x 4 rates). In addition, each treatment will be replicated 4 times for a total of 48 plots. An experiment like that is simply not practical at the field scale on-farm, both in terms of size and management. Small-plot research is also very cost-effective.
On-farm research allows us to test new ideas in real-world conditions over many different environments. In agriculture, we are constantly facing change. There are new practices and products that can potentially offer benefits- these should be tested on a small scale first to minimize risk. On-farm research generally focuses on comparing a normal practice compared to one or two alternatives in alternate strips across a production field. This makes it simple and practical without a huge time investment and also delivers first-hand results to the grower. Farmers can monitor the trial over the growing season and make their own observations. At the end of the season, yield data and other measurements can then guide management decisions for the next year.