Some Kansas growers are carrying out experiments that they helped design, evaluating questions such as how different varieties, seeding rates, nutrients and other variables actually work in their own fields.
About 20 farmers are involved the program, in a partnership with Kansas State University that began last season. Agricultural experts at the university help the farmers design test plots and research projects so the experiments yield usable data, not just simple observations or side-by-side trials that could be influenced by outside factors. So far, the studies have conducted on soybeans, sorghum and corn.
"Kansas State doesn't have the ability, the funding or the staff for all the research for the questions that we need to answer on a daily basis on our farms," said Justin Knopf, a fifth-generation farmer who joined with others in an experiment to determine the best seeding rate for their corn fields in central Kansas.
"And so, if they aren't able to carry all that research out, the next best thing is for us to do it on our own farms and make sure that the research we are trying to do on our own farms is sound research, using good research principles."
Knopf and some of his neighbors began working last season with Ignacio Ciampitti, a crop production specialist at Kansas State's agronomy department. Ciampitti and others at the university help the farmers set up the project so their experiments yield "good data," Knopf said.
"They help me with the experiment design and also help me with the data analysis, running statistics on the data to see if we actually have a repeatable response based on the factor that we are measuring," Knopf said.
Their experiments began last season. During the winter, Knopf and the other participating farmers met with Ciampitti to discuss their findings, compare results and, as Knopf puts it, "learn from each other as well."
"The idea that we are trying to do is trying to take the university out to the field," Ciampitti said.
Kansas State is showcasing the program Monday, hosting a tour of several research plots for dryland corn at Saline County farms to give other producers and agronomists interested in doing such research a chance to learn about the program.
"The benefit for the university is that basically we become more relevant," Ciampitti said. "The way that you are more relevant is when you work with farmers and have information that people are using."
Mark Pettijohn, one of the Saline County producers taking part, said the experiment showed him he could reduce his seeding rate on dryland corn in his fields by 5 percent to 7 percent — a significant savings on the cost of corn seed.
"We are doing it and we are literally seeing the combine doing the results," Pettijohn said. "And seeing it is believing it."
Having the experiments on their farms also gives growers information from their own fields, rather than from an unknown university test plot.
"I don't know if it is more valuable from a scientific standpoint," Knopf said. "But from a personal standpoint, it is more valuable — and more meaningful."