Research HighlightsProgram Helps Nebraska Farmers Find Solutions to Production Issues
By Carol Brown
Farmers in Nebraska have had a great network of experts on their side for 30 years. The Nebraska On-Farm Research Network (NOFRN), a University of Nebraska Extension program, got its start in 1989. And the Nebraska Soybean Board (NSB) played a key role in the program’s beginning.
“The NOFRN works with farmers across the state, allowing them to test different products, practices or technology on their farms, with their own equipment, and under their growing environments,” said Laura Thompson, an Extension educator who leads the program. “They work with the Extension team to help design the studies.”
The Extension educators set up the research protocols to help farmers produce reliable information, she said. The team also helps collect data, analyze results, and prepares an annual research report available for the public: https://cropwatch.unl.edu/farmresearch/farm-research-result-publications
NSB has been involved with the program intermittently since its start. In 1990, the board funded a three-year pilot project that evaluated the effectiveness of a farmer-focused research group. Since then, it has evolved and expanded to the reputable program known across the state today.
Since 2014, NSB has supported the program both monetarily and through personal commitment.
“NSB board members and staff are involved with data review meetings as we evaluate research results that we’ll be sharing with the public,” Thompson said. “And we always look at the priority research topics that are put out by the Board and help promote those.”
NSB director Scott Ritzman is happy to work with the network as it benefits soybean farmers statewide.
“We encourage farmers to participate in the NOFRN program. Sharing and promoting UNL Extension research is also important to the Nebraska Soybean Board,” Ritzman said. “Overall, the project provides great research value for soybean farmers.”
Nebraska is diverse in climate, rainfall, and soil types, Thompson said. The NOFRN enables farmers to see how different products, practices or techniques will work in their own operation.
“Their farm may be miles and miles away from a university research station, which might have quite different conditions,” said Thompson.
Nebraska soybean checkoff dollars help in the production of the annual research report and support the annual meetings held across the state, where research project results are highlighted.
“We hold about five meetings around the state each winter where we share the published reports,” Thompson said. “Generally, the farmers who conducted the research share or present their projects at the meetings. That’s always a highlight for people to hear from other farmers. These meetings are held because of the support from the commodity groups including the Nebraska Soybean Board.”
The Nebraska Corn Board, the Nebraska Corn Growers Association, and the Nebraska Dry Bean Commission contribute in similar ways.
“We have about 100 studies conducted annually on corn, soybeans and dry edible beans,” Thompson said. “These commodity groups are supportive of the NOFRN as a means of transformational learning for farmers and a way to generate new information and new discovery across multi-environments statewide.”
The University of Nebraska Extension website houses a database of all the projects — close to 900 studies — with results that can be easily searched:
https://cropwatch.unl.edu/farmresearch/resultshome. One of the more popular topics for soybean growers continues to be seeding rate studies. Thompson said the seeding rate studies have amassed a nice-sized dataset on the topic.
“We found in Nebraska there’s a huge opportunity for growers to reduce their soybean seeding rates without impacting yield. That has some financial positive returns for them, and our dataset shows this across multiple environments,” Thompson said.
Some of the soybean-specific studies for the past growing season include foliar applied fungicides and insecticides, maturity and planting date, row width, and planting population with irrigation. Results from these studies and other soybean research are published in the annual report.
Changing with the times
Over the past 30 years, NOFRN has impacted thousands of farmers across the state and is now the seeing a second generation of producers participate in the program.
“A lot has changed since the program began; how we collect, and share data has been the most transformed,” Thompson said.
Technology has allowed easier and more accurate data collection, such as GPS and on-the-go planter and yield monitors. Farmers have research results available at their fingertips through the Extension database. Informative material like the annual research report is available electronically in addition to printed copies. The program’s social media presence is strong, too.
“This year, we began broadcasting mini virtual field day videos every Friday,” Thompson said. “Those have been going out on Twitter and we’re getting 1,000 to 1,500 views each week.”
The NOFRN has become a valuable resource for producers over the last 30 years. Through support from groups including the Nebraska Soybean Board, surely it will continue to serve as well for the next generation of Nebraska farmers.
Published: Aug 11, 2020
This project was funded by the soybean checkoff. To find research related to this research highlight or to see other checkoff research projects, please visit the National Soybean Checkoff Research Database.