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APG taking research from plot-sized to farm-scale

Over the past two years, an APG-led team has begun to establish protocols to conduct pulse-related research on the level of a farm field.

When you walk through row upon row of research plots, you’re looking for ways to grow a higher-yielding, more profitable crop back home. No matter how impressive the results on skinny strips of land, however, you’re still left wondering: will this work on my farm?

As APG Research Director Jenn Walker explains, it’s a question both farmers and researchers have grappled with for years.

“One of the challenges that is repeatedly identified is, communicating research results and helping farmers apply the principles to their own unique situation,” said Walker. “Yet people feel a disconnect with small plot research.”

In 2016, APG began a five-year program called PLOT TO FIELD Research and Extension (Plot 2 Field for short), focused on moving small-plot research toward applicability on an individual farm basis. There’s a lot more to it than simply super-sizing the research recipe. Long-standing protocols developed to suit small plots need to be rethought, redesigned and extensively tested.

Start with a simple question

Walker emphasizes that her aim is to conduct pulse-related field research at a farm scale – not, at least initially, to push the bounds of pulse knowledge. The past two years, in fact, the team has focused on an agronomy question that’s already solved.

“Our first question is, what is the seeding rate of peas that maximizes yield?” said Walker. “Small plot testing has quite conclusively answered that the ideal population is 7 to 9 plants per square meter. We are not expecting our data to show any different.”

APG’s farm-scale research produced a different answer, it would almost certainly be the research protocol that’s at fault. Thus, the seeding rate question provides a foundation for developing and fine-tuning this new approach.

As with the other research projects explored in this publication, the success of Plot 2 Field depends on a team of people, including three agronomists and three pulse producers. With the team assembled in 2016, field-testing research protocols was the focus of 2017. By painstakingly laying the groundwork, the team will ensure that results over the next three years are accurate and valid.

“A good working relationship between people is key,” said Walker. “We need to know that the protocols will be followed without deviation, because statistically significant results depend on everyone following procedure.”

The best seeding rate for peas? You already know that. By doing this work at farm-scale, APG is building a foundation for research that growers can relate to and benefit from directly.

Two years in, Jenn Walker is excited about what Plot 2 Field has achieved so far and where it’s heading next.

“The harvests are all done for 2017 and the data is rolling in,” she said. “Now comes the hard work of evaluating the protocol and reporting back as a team to make the adjustments for next year if needed.  Our hope is that after this year we can ask new questions and start new projects based on the procedural protocol that we’ve developed.”

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