Transforming Farming with Farmer Led Experimentation
Advances in landscape-scale research and increased demand for actionable on-farm information is reshaping the relationship between researchers and farmers; a renewed focus on inclusive, hands-on approaches is helping farmers convert research into practice
Agricultural scientists are changing the way they think about how and why they do field research. A recent article published in Nature Food suggests that a key motivation for this change is the mounting evidence highlighting the limits of conventional small plot research. Historically, conventional field research has lacked applicability at scale. Critics also suggest that research has been prone to generating information that is less actionable, and is structured so that recommendations tend to trickle down from inaccessible analyses and peer-reviewed publications.
Across the world farmers regularly face a mix of economic, environmental, and social challenges. These pressures drive the demand for tailored solutions that are responsive to change. At the same time, farmers are often hampered by dwindling access to even basic support systems. They are the ultimate end users of information and recommendations generated through research. Yet, farmers have been largely removed from the process of scientific discovery.
Institutions such as the African Plant Nutrition Institute (APNI) are developing on-farm experimentation initiatives that can be uniquely embedded within the management of single or groups of farms. Pictured: Ethiopian farmer (left) with Dr. Shamie Zingore, APNI Director of Research and Development (right). S. Njoroge/APNI image
Farmer Engagement is Key
In their article entitled “On-farm Experimentation to Transform Global Agriculture,” the team of scientists is described as a network of international institutions with the shared goals of “formalizing the emerging scientific field of OFE research,” and spearheading movement towards the development of OFE as a more widespread way of doing field research.
At its core, the approach depends on a continuous cycle of on-farm engagement, evaluation, feedback, and improvement. Similar to the concept of product enrichment through a value chain, scientific innovation ideally gains effectiveness as it progresses through a scientific process. It is apparent from the arguments presented that OFE strongly associates a farmer-centric philosophy as a key ingredient for a farmer-responsive field research program.
OFE is defined as an innovation process that brings agricultural stakeholders together around mutually beneficial experimentation to support farmers’ own management decisions.
OFE’s practicing community is busy evolving and adapting the science across a range of scales. The article presents 11 OFE examples presently operating across the world—all evaluating treatments that are embedded within the whole farm operation, and are subject to guidance from regular farmer consultation.
The current interest and momentum in OFE can be linked to the current growth and investment in digital technology (DA) in agriculture. Better DA accessibility is expanding the capacities of field research and shifting its focus increasingly towards tackling the issues farmers face at more relevant scales.
This summary was extracted from the article published by M. Lacoste, S. Cook, M. McNee, D. Gale, J. Ingram, V. Bellon-Maurel, T. MacMillan, R. Sylvester-Bradley, D. Kindred, R. Bramley, N. Tremblay, L. Longchamps, L. Thompson, J. Ruiz, F.O. García, B. Maxwell, T. Griffin, T. Oberthür, C. Huyghe, W. Zhang, J. McNamara, and A. Hall 2021. On-Farm Experimentation to transform global agriculture. https://doi.org/10.1038/s43016-021-00424-4
The consortium of researchers that collaborated on this article represent the Centre for Digital Agriculture, Curtin University, Perth, Western Australia, Australia.; Montpellier Advanced Knowledge Institute on Transitions (MAK’IT), University of Montpellier, Montpellier, France; Centre for Digital Agriculture, Murdoch University, Perth, Western Australia, Australia.; Department of Agriculture, Falkland Islands Government, Stanley, Falkland Islands; Countryside and Community Research Institute, University of Gloucestershire, Cheltenham, UK; Technologies and methods for the agricultures of tomorrow (ITAP), University of Montpellier–National Research Institute for Agriculture, Food and Environment (INRAE)–L’Institut Agro, Montpellier, France; Digital Agriculture Convergence Lab (#DigitAg), National Research Institute for Agriculture, Food and Environment (INRAE), Montpellier, France; Centre for Effective Innovation in Agriculture, Royal Agricultural University, Cirencester, UK; ADAS, Cambridge, UK; Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organisation (CSIRO), Adelaide, South Australia, Australia; Saint-Jean-sur-Richelieu Research and Development Centre, Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada (AAFC), St-Jean-sur-Richelieu, Quebec, Canada; School of Integrative Plant Science, Cornell University, Ithaca, NY, USA; Institute of Agriculture and Natural Resources, University of Nebraska-Lincoln, Falls City, NE, USA; Watershed and Aquatic Ecosystem Interactions Research Centre (RIVE), Université du Québec à Trois-Rivières, Trois-Rivières, Québec, Canada; Latin America Southern Cone Group, International Plant Nutrition Institute (IPNI), Buenos Aires, Argentina; Faculty of Agricultural Sciences, National University of Mar del Plata, Balcarce, Argentina; Montana Institute on Ecosystems, Montana State University, Bozeman, MT, USA; Department of Agricultural Economics, Kansas State University, Manhattan, KS, USA; Southeast Asia Group, International Plant Nutrition Institute (IPNI), Penang, Malaysia; Business and Partnership Development, African Plant Nutrition Institute (APNI), Benguérir, Morocco; Scientific Direction of Agriculture, National Research Institute for Agriculture, Food and Environment (INRAE), Paris, France; College of Resources and Environmental Sciences and National Academy of Agriculture Green Development, China Agricultural University, Beijing, China; National Animal Nutrition Program (NANP), United States Department of Agriculture (USDA), Pullman, WA, USA; Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organisation (CSIRO), Canberra, Australian Capital Territory, Australia.
APNI Contributors: Gavin Sulewski, Editor; Dr. Thomas Oberthür, Director Business and Partnerships.