EDF Releases Guidebook to Accelerate Adoption of Precision Agriculture through On-Farm Research

Farmer Network Design Manual created to support sustainable agriculture practices, increase farm profits and build resiliency

May 24, 2016
Cristina Mestre, (212) 616-1268, cmestre@edf.org

(NEW YORK – May 24, 2016)  Environmental Defense Fund (EDF) and partners today released a new guidebook that will help agricultural practitioners conduct on-farm research to foster improvements in farm management, farm profitability and sustainability. The “Farmer Network Design Manual” is a comprehensive roadmap for developing and managing a farmer network, drawing from the real-world experience of practitioners managing 11 farmer networks in 10 states.


Farmer networks consist of growers working directly with advisors, agronomists and/or scientists to conduct on-farm trials that test the yield, economic, and environmental impacts of changes in crop management, adoption of conservation practices, or use of precision agriculture products.


The data collected from these networks can help determine best practices for specific farm conditions, such as recommended fertilizer application rates, and inform future management decisions that benefit the environment and a grower’s bottom line. Farmer networks are also being used to conduct field trials for fertilizer efficiency products undergoing review through NutrientStar, a new science-based, independent program that assesses the performance of nutrient management tools on the market.


“This is the first-ever comprehensive guide written by farmer network practitioners experienced in conducting and analyzing on-farm research for nutrient management and product testing in commodity crop agriculture,” said Karen Chapman, agricultural sustainability manager at EDF and lead author of the manual. “The lessons learned from farmer networks have sparked innovation and improved efficiency on hundreds of thousands of acres, and the potential for replication is limitless.”


The Iowa Soybean Association first created the farmer network model for real-world, science-based testing of farm management practices. Over the past decade EDF, among others, established additional farmer networks across the country that have helped to reduce nitrogen losses, maintain or improve yields, and reduce costs.


The Farmer Network Design Manual includes several components to support agricultural practitioners, scientists, government agencies, conservationists, agribusinesses, policymakers, and farmers with developing farmer networks. These include:


·         Analysis of the benefits derived from farmer network research

·         Checklists and step-by-step guides on how to get started in creating a farmer network

·         Recommendations on data collection, documentation, and addressing privacy concerns

·         Roadmaps for setting objectives, engaging partners, and establishing protocols

·         Plans for how to set benchmarks and track progress

·         Sample surveys to document and incorporate participant feedback

·         Options for financing on-farm research trials

·         Six case studies from farmer networks across 10 states


Case studies in the manual focus on farmer networks designed for on-farm research in nutrient use efficiency for commodity crops, such as corn and soybeans. These networks implemented protocols from which consistent and meaningful data could be collected and analyzed:


1.       Iowa Soybean Association’s On-Farm Network®

2.      The North Carolina Agricultural Inputs Management Program

3.      The INfield Advantage Program

4.      The Maumee Farmer Network

5.       Cornell University’s Nutrient Management Spear Program

6.      Kansas State University Extension On-Farm Research Program


 “Today’s farmers face unprecedented challenges and uncertainty, but these obstacles are matched by significant opportunities for progress and efficiency,” said Tom Morris, professor of soil fertility at the University of Connecticut and lead contributor to the manual. “Farmer networks are an ideal platform for participatory research and science-based learning that sheds a light on where farm management improvements are possible. The first-hand knowledge in this manual can help farmers enhance productivity while reducing their environmental footprint.” 

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Environmental Defense Fund (edf.org), a leading international nonprofit organization, creates transformational solutions to the most serious environmental problems. EDF links science, economics, law and innovative private-sector partnerships. Connect with us on our Growing Returns blog, Twitter and Facebook.