OOS 29-8 - Adaptive Management and Other Lessons from the On-Farm Network

Wednesday, August 10, 2011: 4:00 PM
12A, Austin Convention Center
Thomas Morris, Department of Plant Science, University of Connecticut, Storrs, CT, Suzy Friedman, Environmental Defense Fund, Washington, DC and Tracy Blackmer, Iowa Soybean Association, Ankeny, IA

Society needs more efficient nitrogen use in corn production. Water quality is declining from pollution by nitrate. Much of the nitrate in the water in areas with large acreages of corn production is the result of nitrogen applications for the corn production. One of the big questions for society is: how do we increase food production without polluting our water supplies? A growing number of farmers, scientists, agricultural service providers, and environmentalists think society can minimize pollution of water supplies and increase food production by using the concept of adaptive management, which was developed by ecologists. Adaptive management concepts have been used to establish an extensive network of farmers, scientists, agricultural service providers, and environmentalists to improve nitrogen practices. The On-Farm Network has programs in 10 states working to improve nitrogen use efficiency and other practices used to produce our food. The procedure is simple: farmers objectively evaluate their nitrogen practices and use the results to adapt their practices for better efficiency. The methods of evaluation include in-season and end-of-season testing of soils and corn plants for nitrogen availability, replicated strip trials, aerial images of corn fields, and discussion of the results by groups of farmers.


The results are encouraging. Farmers involved in the On-Farm Network have reduced nitrogen rates 25 to 30% on average. Most fields received less nitrogen compared with the farmers’ normal nitrogen rate, but some fields received more nitrogen. Analysis of the results, which include data from 1000s of fields, shows a need to move away from traditional research trials with a narrow focus on whether the yield increase from nitrogen applications was statistically significant or not, to a broader focus on the probability that a given nitrogen practice will outperform another practice. Because it is difficult to predict the losses and gains of nitrate in agricultural soils, calculating the probability that one practice is more efficient than another will require large amounts of data, new ways of analyzing the data, and new relationships among farmers, scientists, agricultural service providers, and environmentalists. An On-Farm Network enables the development of these new processes and analyses to increase the efficiency of food production. 

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