You may have read here earlier or in Indiana Prairie Farmer that a new effort was underway to convince farmers to develop on-farm test plots in Indiana. The effort is called the Indiana On-Farm Network, and it's spearheaded by Roz Leeck, coordinator of the program for the Indiana State Department of Agriculture. Even Leeck is excited by the response the idea has drawn so far.
The initial hope was to find enough cooperators and funding to run five groups of farmers around the state this year, she notes. Farmers participate voluntarily. All farmers in a specific group run the same tests. Then at the end of the season results will be shared. Individual farmers who participate will get to see results from their farm. All other farmers who participate will get access to a summary of how the trial turned out on other farms, but individual cooperators will remain anonymous is possible.
By mid-March, Leeck announced that they had secured enough interest and funding for 8 groups in 2011, involving about 120 farmers.
A grant pays for a large part of the expense, but Leeck had to move and start a pilot in Jasper County last year before she knew if the grant would be approved or not. The Indiana Soybean Alliance and Indiana Corn Marketing Council each added cash needed for the matching grant portion of the proposal for 2011.
Leeck also notes the support from the Indiana Association of Soil and Water Conservation Districts and the Indiana Conservation Cropping System Initiatives have bee n outstanding. That effort is headed up by Hans Kok and Dan Towery. The pair will be instrumental in helping supervise local groups and making sure farmers understand what they've committed to do this year.
The actual grant comes from the Natural Resources Conservation Service, and consists of $150,000 per year in matching money for the next three years. USDA has seen this program succeed in other states.
In fact, the poster child for this effort is the Iowa On-Farm Network. Started in Iowa 10 years ago, it now has several groups of farmers testing a variety of things each year. The neat part is that data can be shared, although the farmers where data sets come from can remain anonymous.
Leeck knows Indiana won't rival Iowa's effort anytime soon, but hopes to make progress in helping farmers understand and compare cultural and production practices, beginning this crop year.