Research isn’t a four-letter word. It’s something we do from the time we are born, trying to figure out things, how they work, and why. (My friend’s daughter wanted to find out what happened when she used the pointy tip of an acorn to write on the coffee table. If she’d wanted to keep her experiment a secret, maybe she shouldn’t have written her own name.)
Doing research in your pasture is a little trickier than wielding an acorn over a coffee table, but still very possible. Here’s a handy guide to conducting on-farm pasture research, that takes you through the entire process in less than 17 pages (with pictures!). You can use it to help you figure out the consequences of an idea you have, or something that yore trying out, and you might even use it to get funding to cover the process.
The guide starts with asking the question: what is it you want to know? Maybe you have a question about a certain amendment, will it improve forage production? Will re-seeding result in a better pasture?
This guide helps you refine your question into one you can answer, and then leads you through steps to design and carry out the research. With pictures and clear explanations, it shows you how to lay out your experiment. That’s pretty much the first month and a half of a statistics course, right there. There’s also a breakdown of the cost of doing research, both in time and money. The table on page 8 catalogues costs and requirements for different measurement practices you might use to collect data.
Giving a useful description of the data and records you want to collect, and how to analyze them, you’ll complete your statistics course in another 3 pages, and graduate summa cum laude! By the end of the guide and your project, you’ll have an answer to your question, and know for sure if that technique “paid for itself”, or was just a black hole to throw money into.
If you want some financial support for your research, there are grants out there. One resource is through USDA SARE, which offers funding of up to $10-15,000 to farmers and ranchers to carry out on farm research. You have to fill out a proposal, and then you’ll have to report on your findings. You can find more information here:
Deadline for Northeast SARE Farmer Rancher Grant Proposals is December 2.
Deadline for Western SARE Farmer Rancher Grant Proposals is December 3.
Deadline for North Central SARE Farmer Ranch Grant Proposals is November 20.
Deadline for Southern SARE Producer Grant Proposals is November 17.
Great article! SARE grants are excellent resources and supports. I hear that in some areas, there will be incentive for farmers to partner with Extension or other ‘professional’ organizations to do more intensive/thorough testing.
Whether or not you’re in Iowa, the Practical Farmers of Iowa (practicalfarmers.org) has a history of on-farm research projects. Check out the Cooperator’s Program to see what folks have looked at. We also support farmer-researchers with modest stipends and cost-shares to show appreciation for the hard work.
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