photo: Seminar participants at the Ecological Farmers of Ontario conference share ideas about establishing a farm research network. The conference was held in Orillia Dec. 4 to 6.
by MIKE BEAUDIN
A formal research network to share on-farm information and explore issues needs to be established to improve ecological and organic agriculture practices.
That was the conclusion of a working group of participants at a seminar held as part of the Ecological Farmers of Ontario conference in Orillia on Friday.
The group, made up of farmers, researchers and academics, agreed in principle to establish a network still to be defined.
“The sky is the limit for on-farm research,” said Elizabeth Dyck, founder and coordinator of the Organic Growers’ Research and Information-Sharing Network. “It’s the best way for farmers to get information they need and be in control of the research agenda.”
Dyck was one of several speakers who shared their research experiences with about 20 people. An organic farmer for almost 50 years, she has conducted participatory research with organic and low-input farmers in Kenya, Minnestoa, New York and Pennsylvania.
Dyck’s response to the perception that farmers aren’t good researchers was an emphastic – “HORSESHIT.”
She shared her experience conducting research with potato growers who were asked to participate in a project where they each were given the same process to replicate. They were asked to fill out forms with details right down to the distance between tubers. Each grower recorded their yields and counted the tubers they harvested.
Dyck said most of the farmers were enthusiastic participants. Many shared more information than required, such as photos and anecdotes.
“What made the project go was the comments we asked for,” said Dyck. “A lot of people poured their guts out.”
photo: Helen Jensen
Helen Jensen, the Quebec regional program coordinator for the Bauta Family Initiative on Canadian seed security, conducted research with seed producers and market gardeners across Ontario in 2014.
She said the key was to provide participants with as much support as possible to minimize their work.
Seeds and trial kits were supplied and there was constant communication with participants who also were compensated for their time in the fields.
Jensen said communication was as important as the data.
“The opportunity for people to get together and talk about it was really valuable rather than have people just fill out sheets,” said Dyck.
Thorsten Arnold, co-founder of the Grey Bruce Centre for Agroecology Cooperative, a network of sustainable farmers, said a research trial he coordinated on pollinators/bees failed because they didn’t ask farmers to do the research themselves and relied on farm interns instead. The interns weren’t given the time to do the job properly and not enough data was collected.
Arnold said proper study requires funding and the support of farm leaders so researchers have the time and resources to visit each participant.
He said farmers are busy but they need to understand that research shouldn’t be an afterthought. In the bee study, participants were asked to go out and count pollinators for an hour a day.
“The farm that doesn’t have that hour should be concerned. If you don’t have an hour you’re not doing sustainable farm management.”
Participants spend 30 minutes of the session brainstorming ideas for better research and ways for Ecological Farmers to proceed with a formal plan.
Ideas presented included:
- Create a database and research bank for members to access information
- Ensure research conducted by academics is shared with participants in simple language.
- Build on existing knowledge including research from other countries.
- Engage youth in the process.
- Anecdotal information is useful but broader data is important to help formulate policy.
- Apply for government funding to conduct research.
- Break research projects into regions so participants can share similar interests. BF