Challenges and opportunities for conducting on-farm research
Availability of research farms owned by research institutions is declining due to their high operational cost, asset value, and limited distribution. The goals of this paper are to review their role and value in pastoral science and to identify challenges and opportunities for on-farm research. Research and commercial farms as trial sites may be mutually exclusive, complementary, or substitutes. Research farms are essential where science requires expensive facilities and/or rigorous control to maintain ethics and quality commitments. They can also provide information independent of scientific and commercial bias. Commercial farms provide access to more diversity, help scientists understand benefits and identify and resolve on-farm issues, and build industry credibility. Since the number of research farms is unlikely to increase, several lessons are important. Delivery, ethical, and science quality risks can accrue when the full cost of working with commercial farms is not considered or work most suited to a research farm is conducted in a commercial setting. Improved integration with farms owned by educational institutions; private trusts; regional and national government; and commercial companies offers opportunities for efficiency improvements. When working with commercial farmers, clear communication, flexible protocols, frequent oversight, and mutual respect are essential to maintain science quality. Paying farmers under a contractual agreement appears pragmatic. The value of opportunities to build farmer and researcher capability in the context of field experiments on research and commercial farms is identified.
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