Potato Grower

May 2019

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Developing an On-Farm Research Project Growers can often feel bombarded by agronomists, researchers, economists, retailers, marketers and even other farmers talking about the latest research, information and practices that can help their farms become more profitable. New products and practices are introduced in the marketplace every year, and it's tough to know what will work best for you. One way to get the questions answered is to conduct some level of on-farm research on your farm. "Every farmer should have at least one research or demonstration trial going on every year, says Michigan State University Extension educator Pual Gross. But how to go about doing that? A 2017 technical bulletin posted by Sustainable Agriculture Research & Education (SARE) provides the following helpful tips. For more information, visit www.sare.org. IDENTIFY YOUR RESEARCH QUESTIONS AND OBJECTIVE. Identifying your research question involves moving from the general to the specific—from ideas or hunches to a clear objective—and selecting just one yes-or-no question to answer. In developing your question, consider your own capabilities and if the information needed to answer the question is actually measurable. The question will usually ask whether a new approach is an improvement over the current one or if it will help you meet some goal or objective. DEVELOP A RESEARCH HYPOTHESIS. Your research hypothesis stems directly from the research question or objective. A hypothesis is simply a clear statement of what you expect the outcome of your experiment to be, based on the limited evidence you have at hand. A well-written hypothesis statement can be confirmed (or denied) with actual data. What will you measure and record in order to answer your question and test the validity of your hypothesis? This is the time to decide what techniques you will use to get your data, looking at factors such as cost, practicality and feasibility. In many crop research projects you will be collecting yield data, but depending on your project, you might also be collecting data on soil nutrient levels, crop development, plant health, plant height, costs or anything else. Determing whether the information you want to collect will be useful in answering your research question. DECIDE WHAT YOU WILL MEASURE AND WHAT DATA YOU WILL COLLECT. DEVELOP AN EXPERIMENTAL DESIGN. It is tempting to rush through the previous steps and start planning what the experiment will look like in the field. But the task of designing your experiment should flow from the previous steps. Experimental design includes arranging treatments in the field so that error and bias are reduced, and data can be accurately analyzed using statistics. If an experiment has a poor design, you cannot have confidence in the data. 14 POTATO GROWER | MAY 2019 TOP 10

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