Submitted by: Tracy Myers, Eastern Valley Regional Communication Coordinator

It has often been said that research aims to identify causes and effects and that one of the goals of creating the ideal research project is to make it one that is of interest to both the researcher and the researcher’s audience.

Ian McDonald, Crops Innovations Specialist with OMAFRA, concurs with this goal and emphasizes OSCIA’s motto of “Farmers working with farmers” as the starting point for conducting a successful research project.

Photo credit: Tori Waugh

It is important to identify what one is curious about. While this may seem like a simple task, it is important to consider that the topic should not be too complicated or complex and that the results of the project should be easily extracted and analyzed.

Ian indicated that the value of on-farm research is immense. The primary components of this research include genetics, or basic science (“G”), the environment (“E”) which includes soils, climate and topography, and management (“M”) which involves decision-making and looking at how these decisions impact that eventual outcome. All team members, involved in the project, aid in the success of the project being initiated.

So why should we bother with on-farm research? There are many reasons. Initially, it provides all involved with hands-on experience. It is also a way to identify a potential need for change (are we able to conduct our business more efficiently and effectively?) as well as diminish the risk of making wrong decisions. Above all it provides a way to collaborate with our peers and colleagues and share information.

Ian indicated that many things are changing on today’s farming operations. Farmers are increasing the size of their farms through the acquisition of more land and equipment. Along with the dollar values increasing, time is decreasing. We are all trying to do more with less and as a result are recognizing that there is less access to help and collaboration with peers.

A great way to identify the direction of on-farm research trials is to look at the past, present and future. In the past there was an abundance of cooperators conducting trials, whereas currently it is a struggle to find these individuals. Moving forward we may find that partnering with service providers will allow for more success.

Quality on-farm research is dependent on eight crucial steps:

  1. Defining the players
  2. Defining the study question
  3. Developing a plan and plot design
  4. Selecting the appropriate field site
  5. Ensuring timely and accurate trial implementation
  6. Ensuring that there is timely and accurate data collection
  7. Ensuring efficient and timely data analysis and reporting
  8. Extension and repetition of the data. It is crucially important to include all of these steps in order to provide meaningful

On-farm research is constantly evolving. GPS/GIS, management zones and Rx farming are used to provide accurate representation of collected data. Rx includes built-in validation components such as “Yield maps”, which provide a more accurate statistical analysis. Ian also stressed that the future of on-farm research also includes computer software to assist in the management and processing of the collected data.

Although it is important to implement some of these strategies, Ian emphasized that it is crucial to partner with the right people and noted that Ontario has a plethora of excellent service providers ready and willing to assist in viable on-farm research projects. These providers possess a wealth of knowledge and experience and are more than prepared to assist in executing these projects.

For more information on the implementation of an on-farm research trial and accessing expert service providers contact:
Ian McDonald at

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