Using on-farm research to learn locally

By Alan Leininger, Educator, Agriculture and Natural Resources, Ohio State University Extension — Henry County

Justin Morrill stated during his 1858 speech for proposing the land-grant act named after him: “We need careful, exact, and systematized registration of experiments — such as can be made at thoroughly scientific institutions.”

Since the installation of the land-grant system in 1862, there have be universities across the United States conducting experiments on a variety of agricultural topics. Disciplines such as animal science, agronomy, soil science, horticulture, and engineering are just a few areas in which these institutions, including The Ohio State University, have been trying to develop improved approaches of producing food, feed, and energy today.

At Ohio State and within Ohio State University Extension, research has moved from plot-scale years ago to conducting research on-farm today. This on-farm research not only serves to answer individual farmers’ questions, but is also part of larger research efforts to understand the impact of crop production practices on farm profitability and environmental impact. As an example, in Henry County, I serve as the educator focusing on agriculture and natural resources (ANR), taking on this position within the last year. Immediately, I was approached by a few farmers with requests to conduct studies on their farms. While this example represents a start, collaborating with several Henry County farmers has helped me get my feet wet and jump to understand their concerns. At the same time, it has also allowed me to start working with faculty on campus and other Extension staff on research projects that can be conducted in Henry County under the unique production and growing conditions here locally.

With help from the Henry County office of OSU Extension and collaborating farmers, I have been able to install several studies. In my first year serving the county, studies have been installed that include sulfur-based starter fertilizer on soybeans, soil health evaluation, and the tracking and recommendations for western bean cutworm moths. While we are still mid-season, results from the western bean cutworm moth study have already been used to help the farmer make an informed, in-season decision on insecticide application. The results for the other studies will be understood once harvest is complete.

While working for Ohio State, I have had the privilege to also start working on my master’s degree at Ohio State. This has brought additional research to Henry County. Projects include remote-sensed imagery and how to better use it to provide in-season diagnostics to crops. While this project is multi-year, it has already provided insights to image quality, and it has potential to help Henry County farmers identify crop stress situations with the possibility to address then in a timely manner through insecticide or fungicide applications.

Further, “drones” for the use of spraying pesticides have come to Ohio. This technology will have the potential to overcome common issues with application by reducing soil compaction and being able to make in-season applications without ground conditions limiting the application, while also allowing the task to be completed autonomously. I have started to work with spray drones and how they could complement typical delivery of crop protection products in-season with ground machines and aerial applicators within corn and soybean rotations. My work focuses on making sure drone spraying provides effective coverage within stated product labels. Both of these projects have long-term focus, but represent ongoing research to help Henry County farmers and I hope also farmers outside the county.

In summary, I hope this local on-farm research represents a start to helping Henry County farmers and those beyond the county. Some of this research represents the future, but is exciting since it includes new technologies and how they may play a role in crop production locally. While on-farm research can provide valuable information locally, it is also helping faculty in their research looking at larger production issues such as water quality. As an ANR educator, I welcome any discussions and questions on the on-farm research being conducted in Henry County. I also would encourage everyone to inquire about educational programs that are offered by your local OSU Extension office. I have not been involved with OSU Extension with the same amount of tenure compared to my other colleagues, but I am confident they share a similar mindset in helping those in the county and, more importantly, helping farmers address their pressing needs. If you do not know who your local agriculture educator is in your county, I would encourage you to stop and visit with them to see how you can get involved with improving our agricultural industry and ask about getting involved in on-farm research.

Additional information can be found using these Ohio State University Extension links:

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