You may not believe it, but you can do on-farm research and get good, dependable data. In fact, you probably already do even if you don't realize it.
From this year's KARTA conference, here are five important things to keep in mind to make you believe that you, like the members who presented at this year's conference, really can do it.
1. You don't need to be an expert; you just have to want the answer to a question.
Brent Rendel, who will lead next year's on-farm research effort, said he was drawn to on-farm research because of his unique farming area in northeast Oklahoma, often unaddressed by the big-picture projects coming out of Oklahoma State University or Kansas State University.
"The big projects with the field days and the demonstration plots weren't answering my little, specific questions," he said. "I found that doing my own research could help find those answers."
By working with KARTA, he said, he could also come back and present what he did and how he did it to a group of his peers who would him evaluate his research.
"I am not looking to educate the world; I'm looking for the answer to a question that applies to my farm," Rendel said. "That said, KARTA is a chance for me to document my research and talk about my results and ask my peers: did I do this right?"
2. You don't have to go it alone.
When you undertake research, you can work with your Land Grant University to set up good rules for what you are doing. And you can rely on KARTA to help you plan and execute your research. Advisers within KARTA include experts from Kansas State University who will help you figure out how to learn the most from the data you collect. And they will help you figure out how to analyze that data and present your results to other members of KARTA. This year, KARTA is adding $100 to its usual stipend for helping pay for research. You have to be a member to apply.
3. Your research matters to other people.
Much of the time, farmers think their unique question is of interest only to their farm. Often, your question may be one that a lot of other people have but didn't quite know how to ask. Seeing your research may encourage them to further explore their own questions. What they discover next year may help you the year after.
4. Presenting research results is scary, but also rewarding.
Nobody likes getting up in front of a couple of hundred people and looking like an idiot who couldn't figure out his math. It's tempting for people to have so much fear of being in that position to not even try to do their own research for their own answers in an environment that demands they talk about their project in front of their peers.
Rendel says he likes the KARTA approach because it is not adversarial.
"The idea is you are getting up in front of a group of your peers and you are saying "this is what I wanted to know and this is how I went about answering the question. Tell me how I did. Tell me if I went wrong. Tell me what to do next year to fix anything I did wrong this year." You are asking for advice from your peers and they are here to give it. They don't judge you."
5. There are lots of tools out there to help you.
In modern farming, more than any era in the past, technology is on the side of the farmer who wants to collect more data about what is going on in his fields.
Thanks to more sophisticated and more user-friendly analysis programs, figuring out that that data is telling you is easier than ever in the past.
Tyler Rider, who farms with his brother and father near Ness City in western Kansas, said modern technology has made research easier than ever before as field mapping, yield monitors and automated soil analysis make it easier and easier to see how various areas in a field are performing.
Rider said help is available for potential KARTA members who have a desire to learn more about precision farmer, data gathering and on-farm projects.
"We have members who will help with the harder work of data analysis," he said.
Rider, who was last year's on-farm research coordinator, said that he first learned about KARTA as a K-State student who attended a half-day of the convention as part of an agronomy class.
"I'd always had a personal interest in precision ag and coming here I found out there were other people thinking the same thing," he said. "It was awesome for me."