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Farmers Wanted for Data-Intensive Farm Management Program

An interdisciplinary program led by the University of Illinois researchers has received a $2.4 million grant through the USDA’s Agriculture and Food Research Initiative. The data-intensive farm management (DIFM) program will use precision agriculture technologies to run full-field, on-farm agronomic trials that change application rates of nitrogen fertilizer. The information gathered will help farmers manage nitrogen application to increase profits and reduce nutrient runoff. 

Although precision agriculture technology has been available to farmers for several years to improve farm management, its full potential has yet to be realized. This Initiative looks to change that.

“What we’re doing differently is changing the management variables,” says David Bullock, U of I agricultural economist. “We’re characterizing the fields and taking yield data, but we’re also going to be changing nitrogen application rates on a fine scale throughout each field. This will generate a lot of information on what works and what doesn’t.”

A team of 28 researchers and Extension personnel from six universities will coordinate on-farm experiments across 100 fields in Illinois, Nebraska, Kentucky, Argentina, and Uruguay over the four-year study. In addition to generating a wealth of data, the ultimate goal of the project is to develop software that will communicate management ideas to farm advisers. Once that software is developed, the researchers hope to run trials on thousands of farms.

“Because all of our experiments will be run on a common framework, we will end up with a lot of data,” says Bullock. “We’re going to use cutting-edge statistical and economic analysis to determine how different farm characteristics affect optimal application rates.”

Existing management recommendations are often geared toward entire regions or cropping systems without taking site-specific data into account. The researchers estimate that, after a few years, they will be able to give farmers profitable advice based on experiments done in their specific fields.

“That’s revolutionary,” says Bullock.

The researchers are looking for farmers to participate in the study. Although farms will become experimental sites, the University says there will be minimal disruption to farmers. Experimental protocols will be automatically programmed into farm machinery, which means farmers simply need to drive their machines as usual. Farmers will be fully compensated for any losses throughout the experimental period. They will also receive $500 for their participation in the project. 

If interested, contact David Bullock at dsbulloc@illinois.edu or Don Bullock at dbullock@illinois.edu.

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