Blog: Do It Yourself Science on the Farm

Written by Serena Black, Northern Grown Consulting

Farmers are constantly dealing with uncertainty, and have always lived in changing environments where disturbances are inevitable. As a result, farmers are always trying new strategies and tools in order to eliminate some of the risk, and to find practices that provide a sustainable lifestyle.

With less regional resources providing farmers with new information, it’s time to take the experimentation and innovation into your own hands – and with the right tools, it’s pretty straightforward (and you can always ask for help!) Whether you’re interested in large field trials to test new varieties, new seeding mixes, or new grazing strategies, or you’re more interested in livestock trials, the concepts are the same:

  • Develop a measureable, simple research question.
  • Plan, Plan, Plan – choose an appropriate research design, and develop a template to collect your data for ease later on in the season.
  • Ask for help – whether from your regional agrologist, your local researcher, or looking for additional resources online – whatever works best for you.
  • Share your knowledge!

Not sure you’re ready to take on a full research project? Perhaps a demonstration is more up your ally – just don’t forget about having a control! You’ll need the control to measure the results against.

Develop a measureable, simple research question.

It’s easy to think of a research topic, but it can be a bit more challenging to break it down to a measureable part. For example, you may be interested in trying cover cropping with a legume, but why? Are you hoping to increase the nitrogen availability in your soils? Then you’d need to find a way to measure nitrogen. Are you wondering which type of cabbage grows best in that field? Perhaps overall yield is a good measurement; but perhaps best damage is another consideration?

Ensuring that you have a clear idea of what kind of answer you’re looking for, and that you’re measuring the right traits to match, is an important first step to starting your own research.

Plan, plan, plan.

Once you’ve found a question, it’ll be easier to choose an appropriate research design. In the workshop, we covered a few designs, and all these are described in the handout. The easiest design is the paired comparison, or the replication strip – so maybe start there. Don’t forget to set up a way to collect accurate data and keep records: always have a notebook and a pencil at hand.

Ask for help.

There are a lot of resources out there to help, and don’t be afraid to ask! Your regional agrologist is a great start, or any local researchers (either through the colleges or the University of Northern BC) – researchers love to talk about research, that’s their passion. Moreover, local farming associations are constantly putting on field days and workshops – so don’t underestimate the value of Farmers’ Institutes, Cattlemen’s Associations, Dairymen’s Associations and the like.  Moreover, the Internet has loads of resources, including:

How to Conduct Research on Your Farm or Ranch – Sustainable Agriculture Network

A Practical Guide to On-Farm Research – Purdue University

On-Farm Research Guide – Organic Farming Research Association

Share your knowledge!

Everyone seemed particularly interested in learning more about research going on regionally – because that’s the type of knowledge that will be practical and most hands-on. As you go out and start your own research and experiments on the farm, make sure to share your results. Finding ways to connect and share knowledge is important, which is why Beyond the Market is such a valuable resource! One of my passion’s is bridging open communication with applicable research, and therefore I have started a blog on Northern Grown Consulting’s website where I’ll be sharing news and information about agriculture research activities across Highway 16 and beyond, so please keep in touch and let me know how your DIY Science on the Farm is going!

DIY Science on the Farm handout (6MB)

 How to Conduct Research on Your Farm or Ranch – Sustainable Agriculture Network 

A Practical Guide to On-Farm Research – Purdue University 

On-Farm Research Guide – Organic Farming Research Association