About Indiana On-Farm Network®
In August 2010 the Indiana State Department of Agriculture (ISDA) was awarded a Conservation Innovation Grant (CIG) by the United States Department of Agriculture – Natural Resources Conservation Service (USDA/NRCS). The purpose of the CIG was the formation and implementation of The Indiana On-Farm Network®. As a pilot project, in August 2010, ISDA worked with the Jasper County Soil and Water Conservation District to engage a group of 17 farmers. Aerial imagery and guided stalk sampling was conducted on 39 fields.
History of On-Farm Network®
The On-Farm Network® was developed by the Iowa Soybean Association in 2000 to address key challenges in advancing water quality goals in the state related to production agriculture – current approaches to nutrient management typically rely on generalized information and fail to show farmers how to make conservation pay. The farmer directors of the ISA pioneered an On-Farm Network to increase profits and decrease environmental problems from grain production in Iowa.
In 2001, ISA farmer directors invested organization funds to initiate innovative adaptive management programming, working with growers to conduct outcome-based, farm-specific evaluations to optimize N management for corn. In Iowa, the adaptive management process has shown most growers can reduce their N rates by one-third while maintaining or increasing profitability. This reduction is below NRCS's current general guideline for nutrient management, meaning the program is able to generate greater nutrient reductions and water quality benefits than standard nutrient management plans.
The approach seeks to address the core challenge holding back more improvement in nutrient use efficiency by farmers today – current N recommendations seldom distinguish between time of application, N sources, method of application or rainfall, all of which are important factors in managing N, and they do not provide farmers with an accessible way to compare the economic impacts of different practices. Better prediction of N availability and N needs requires evaluative tools and a way for all people interested in improving the efficiency of N use to participate in understanding the results from the evaluative tools. Because N fertilizer is a major input cost for farmers, the ability to identify and implement strategies to apply N more efficiently is a win for farmers (increased profit) and a win for the environment (less nutrient loss to ground and surface water).
To overcome the hurdles to greater progress on nutrient management, we need approaches that
1) provide farmers with nutrient information that is field-specific,
2) allow them to better understand this new information, and
3) enable them to act upon that information. The On-Farm Network® creates the needed infrastructure for collection and assessment of field-specific information about the effectiveness of nutrient management practices.
This innovative strategy combines two new ideas - adaptive management and evaluation of N management practices - to create a powerful and effective program for change. The network in the On-Farm Network® is the coordinated interaction and learning build among farmers, advisors, and technical experts to facilitate group learning, interaction, and improved management efficiency based on improved access to information – to do adaptive management in real time with real impacts and benefits.
Experience in IA and PA has clearly shown that group learning through the collection and reporting of aggregated data in an area, such as a watershed or county, accelerates grower learning and adoption of more efficient N management practices and increases grower interest. This is the true innovation of the approach – utilizing effective tools for evaluating nitrogen status and needs within coordinated network look at N status information not only at the individual field and farm level, but at the aggregate level across multiple farms, creating a feedback loop to the farms individually and in aggregate to foster improved environmental and economical efficiency. Extensive information, data, and results from IA are available online at http://www.isafarmnet.com/nitrogen.html.