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Tuesday, July 26th, 2011

Officials seek funds to start network

Grand Lake Watershed

By Nancy Allen
Local ag officials are hoping to find funds to start an On Farm Network for farmers in the Grand Lake Watershed.
The goal of the data-driven network likely would be to help farmers identify practices that improve profitability and reduce nutrient runoff, said John Kaiser, a state resource management specialist working with watershed farmers.
Kaiser said he learned of the On Farm Network at a recent workshop.
"The important thing to convey is it's not an Internet computer network," he said. "It's a group of farmers agreeing to experiment on stuff they want to know."
According to the network website, www.agtechonfarm.net/, participants use precision tools and technologies to do research on their own farms. Their data is merged with results from other growers, resulting in not only a local picture, but also a regional and sometimes statewide picture of how specific products and practices influence crop; production profits and potentially the environment.
This is especially true when studying nitrogen and phosphorus sources from manure and commercial fertilizers, but also applies to other crop production inputs, such as herbicides, insecticides and fungicides, the website says.
Karen Chapman, Great Lakes regional director for the nonprofit Environmental Defense Fund (EDF), is working on locating grant funding. The money would pay for contracting fees for certified crop advisers to work with farmers on fertility recommendations, nutrient analysis testing, remote sensing data such as aerial photography, administrative work, meeting expenses and data analysis.
Matching funds could be provided by ag partner groups through in-kind services such as labor, existing data, analysis and others, Kaiser said. If the grant is approved, the EDF would help set up the local network, he said.
Kaiser said if funding is secured, crop advisers would first ask farmers what they want to learn and then craft and execute studies to produce those answers. A meeting would be held once a year to present study results.
"At the end of the growing season, the certified crop advisers tally up all the data and they hold a meeting in the winter and the data is given to farmers at the meeting," Kaiser explained. "Farmer identities are kept confidential."
The yearly meeting is the most beneficial time for participants because farmers learn from what others have done, including their successes and failures, he said.
Currently, On Farm Network groups are in Pennsylvania, Iowa, Illinois, North Carolina, Indiana, Minnesota, Missouri; and one in Ohio represents the Maumee River Watershed.
The first On Farm Network began in Iowa as a way to provide more nitrogen management tools to farmers. The results were twofold - a cost savings for farmers once testing determined soils didn't need as much and a reduction in nutrients getting into water bodies, Chapman explained.
Kaiser said he believes watershed farmers would be interested in starting a network here.
"By observation and communications with staff and farmers in the watershed, it's obvious there are a lot farmers in the watershed already implementing trials like cover crop planting who would be interested in an On Farm Network," he said.
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