Expanding the existing global network of farmers and researchers who connect using on-farm experimentation could help transform the agriculture industry and solve some of its most difficult challenges, study finds by Curtin University.
On-farm experimentation (OFE) is a big data approach to agricultural research that allows farmers to conduct their own on-farm experiments in collaboration with scientists. It is a way for farmers to test technologies and practices by varying management, observing and measuring changes and analyzing results, all under real farming conditions, with a focus on what counts for each farm and field.
The study, published in Nature Food, found that there is a strong international demand for this type of collaborative research.
Lead researcher Dr Myrtille Lacoste from Curtin’s School of Design and the Built Environment said the growing need for OFE can be attributed to both motivating farmers to develop better practices and increasing thirst for data from scientists.
“OFE puts farmers back at the center of innovation and gives them the opportunity to test and measure various technologies and methods, for example fertilizers, chemicals, crop varieties or cultural practices, with the help of researchers and scientists, ”said Dr Lacoste.
“OFE’s roots were started decades ago, but are only now gaining momentum. This has been supported by a growing demand for research practices that recognize the central role of farmers in innovation, and by the rise of digital technologies that facilitate experimentation.
“OFE highlights experimentation as a force for innovation by building bridges between farmers and researchers.
“This powerful collaborative tool has the potential to transform the agriculture industry if users around the world were able to enrich knowledge building methods, create new tools, and better exploit different types of data.”
Dr Lacoste said that a successful inaugural international conference on farmer-centric OFE held in 2021 showed the depth and breadth of international interest in this topic.
“We had over 180 participants from 36 different countries, networking and sharing ideas. We hope that the results of this study will attract more funding so that we can continue to build a platform to bring together our international partners, ”said Dr Lacoste.
“In addition, we believe that OFE, currently led by farmers, civil organizations, businesses, social enterprises and scientists, would benefit greatly from a defined leadership group.”
Co-author Dr Rob Bramley, Senior Principal Investigator (Precision Agriculture) at CSIRO, said there was growing momentum to rethink the relationship between farmers and scientific experimentation in order to have a meaningful impact .
“For many years, we have successfully used the OFE approach in research, including crop responses to fertilizers in WA, vineyard soil management and disease control. The farmers conduct the survey and make the observations, while the researchers play the supporting role, providing data analysis and transferring knowledge, ”said Dr Bramley.
This study involved an international team of researchers spanning 24 research institutes in eight countries, including co-author Murdoch University-based Professor Simon Cook and the Premier’s Agriculture and Food Scholarship Program of Washington State.
The full article, titled On-Farm Experimentation to Transform Global Agriculture, is available online here.