Did someone say “farmer-centric”? Digital tools for spatially distributed on-farm experimentation
Bramley, RGV and Song, XX and Colaco, AF and Evans, KJ and Cook, SE, Did someone say 'farmer-centric'? Digital tools for spatially distributed on-farm experimentation, Agronomy for Sustainable Development, 42 Article 105. ISSN 1773-0155 (2022) [Refereed Article]
Copyright INRAE and Springer-Verlag France SAS, part of Springer Nature 2022
On-farm experimentation (OFE) embeds the conduct of agronomic research within normal farm business operations such that experiments are driven by farmers’ needs for business improvement, albeit enabled and facilitated by collaborating ‘experts’ in a process of co-learning. Because experiments are laid down using the farmers’ own equipment in their own fields and at a scale that is consistent with the scale at which farm management decisions are made, it provides them with a salient, credible and legitimate means of creating knowledge for effective application that is valuable to the individual farmer in their field and farm, and potentially to neighbouring farmers in a region. Here, with a particular view to the potential application of OFE in Australian farming systems, we consider the synergies between OFE and the use of precision agriculture (PA) technologies such as yield monitors, crop and soil sensors, and variable rate application of inputs. Indeed, it is suggested that whilst the tools of PA greatly facilitate the conduct of OFE, it is arguably the case that OFE is an essential part of the optimal deployment of PA. We also address statistical issues associated with OFE conducted using PA, including the use of replication, randomization for experimental design, and concerns about spatial autocorrelation in data collected at the within-field scale. However, whilst farmers are generally disengaged from data analysis and place greater emphasis on the magnitude of gross effects and benefit:cost than on statistical significance, they nevertheless want robust and interpretable results. Accordingly, we identify some tools which facilitate simple assessment of alternative management actions across the range of variation in the production systems which farmers encounter. The need for farmer-trustworthy systems of data governance and data sharing amongst those engaged in OFE is also highlighted.