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  4. »eUpdate 554 March 11th, 2016»On-farm research collaborative project: Non-biased, Research-based, and Grower-driven

K-State Agronomy eUpdates eUpdates

Department of Agronomy

Kansas State University

1712 Claflin Rd.

2004 Throckmorton PSC

Manhatan, KS 66506



Extension Agronomy

On-farm research collaborative project: Non-biased, Research-based, and Grower-driven

K-State Extension state specialists, area agronomists, and county/district agents are again seeking to collaborate with producers in establishing on-farm and large-scale research plots in 2016. Last year, we had on-farm projects in diverse areas around Kansas, setting up tests involving corn, soybean, and grain sorghum.

The goal of our on-farm research collaborative project is to establish a network of on-farm research collaborators with the main purpose of providing research results on production practices at the state, regional or local scale, under a wide set of growing conditions and soil types.

There are no losers in this program. All parties will benefit. Farmers involve in this collaborative research effort will be empowered to solve their own problems and will have greater confidence in making decisions related to their production practices. The standard practice of the program involves a producer having a question, he research the answer on his farm, on his soil with a simple strip trial designed with the assistance of K-State Researchers. While, K-State extension specialist will be better able to check the validity of previous scientific findings conducted in small plots and in more controlled environments and to identify and communicate areas for future research.

The on-farm research collaborative project is farmer-run research, thus information will be produced and used by farmers. Farmer participation is the key component of this project and farmers will be the main beneficiary.

Why should I get involved in this project?

1. The project has a main goal to improve yields and/or minimizing input costs, increasing overall efficiency in the state of Kansas.

2. The project will help producers learn the best ways to design an on-farm test so they can obtain reliable information on a specific question related to their own farms.

3. The outcomes from this project will empower our producers to make sound decisions with confidence and will aid researchers in identifying and communicating areas for future research.

Who are the key players?

1. Kansans farmers: Farmers are the main players, the ones who will implement the trials, collect the data and utilize the results.

2. Extension Agricultural Agents: The agents are the “gatekeepers” of this project. They will work very closely with farmers and can assist, if needed, with information and/or help on implementing the trials.

3. K-State Extension State Specialists and Area Agronomists: K-State faculty will assist Extension agents and Kansas farmers in developing the protocols, implementing trials and analyzing the data generated at the on-farm scale.


Research data (small-plots) vs. On-farm data (large-plots): What is the main different between these concepts?

Information produced at research stations has the following features:

Small plot size = small variability (“controlled conditions”)

Intensive sampling = usually related to a graduate student project, with many samples taken throughout the growing season

More complex and more treatments can be evaluated

Small sample size = measurements may be less representative of “real” farm conditions

On-farm data have the following features:

Large plot size = higher variability due to uncontrollable variation within each plot

Less intensive sampling

Less complex and fewer ( two or three) treatments can be evaluated

Large sample size = measurements may more closely represent “real” farm conditions


Are the on-farm protocols the same for all environments and farmers or should they be farmer- or site-specific?

Farmers have their own interest and specific questions that need to be properly addressed. Protocols will be designed to fit each farmer’s situation. Some of the diverse topics that we have discussed include: corn/ soybean/ sorghum seeding rates; corn/ sorghum hybrids; sorghum/ soybean row spacing; corn/ soybean/ sorghum planting dates; full or limited irrigation; and other topics.


Crops: Corn / Soybean / Sorghum / Winter Canola


  • Seeding Rates
  • Planting Dates
  • Row Spacing
  • Hybrid/ Variety Selection
  • Tillage
  • Nutrient rates
  • Irrigation
  • Others


How many factors need to be evaluated?

The idea is to perform “simple” on-farm experiments evaluating one or two factors at a time.

How many levels for each factor?

This will depend on the availability of space in the field, but to properly understand the optimum crop management level, 4 to 5 levels are usually needed. For example, if corn seeding rate is evaluated, five seeding rates will allow the grower to properly identify the optimum seeding rate for each specific farm environment. The diagram below presents an example of 5 test levels for a seeding rate study.


To obtain statistically sound and solid recommendations, a minimum of 3 replications are recommended.

Are crop production practices environment-specific?

The example in the graphic below shows how the optimum plant density to maximize corn grain yield will vary according to different environments. For the low yielding environment (<100 bu/acre), the economically optimum plant density was about 15,000 to 20,000 plants per acre; while for the high-yielding site, economically optimum maximum plant density is about 25,000 plants per acre. Therefore, different yield potentials in different environments have different “optimum” crop production practices to maximize net returns.

Goal for the next 5 years

This project has as a goal to establish a network of on-farm research trials with the purpose of fine-tuning crop production recommendations to local environments. The end result will hopefully be to generate practical information that will either improve yields or minimize input costs.

This is a farmer center research effort. However, for the benefits of this program to be realized, both farmers and university researchers will have to buy into the vision.   

Farmers interested in participating in this project can fill out an interest form online at:




Ignacio Ciampitti, Cropping Systems Specialist, K-State On-Farm Research Project Coordinator



K-State Area Extension Agronomists:


Lucas Haag, Northwest Area Crops and Soils Specialist, lhaag@ksu.edu


AJ Foster, Southwest Area Crops and Soils Specialist, anserdj@ksu.edu


Stu Duncan, Northeast Area Crops and Soils Specialist, sduncan@ksu.edu


Doug Shoup, Southeast Area Crops and Soils Specialist, dshoup@ksu.edu