Cooperators’ Program

Farmers in Practical Farmers' Cooperators' Program conduct on-farm research to better answer their most challenging farming questions.

Since 1987 when the Cooperators’ Program began, more than 240 different farmers have conducted more than 1,100 research trials on their farms. Results from this research are shared through research reports, the Practical Farmers quarterly newsletter, in various agriculture magazines, at field days and workshops, and at our annual conference and annual Cooperators’ Meeting. Knowledge from these research projects has influenced both farmers and university researchers to tweak their designs to better fit farmers’ needs — and even been the foundation for ground-truthing hypotheses that ultimately led to university research projects.

Cooperators' Meeting

The Cooperators’ Meeting is a two-day event where our farmer members gather to discuss past research and plan on-farm research for the next year.

Research Protocols

See the methods and experimental designs cooperators are using to conduct research to answer their most challenging questions on their farms

Research Reports

Read and download reports of novel on-farm research projects designed and led by farmers in field crops, horticulture, livestock, energy and more.

What does it mean to be a Cooperator?

Are you curious about an observation you have made on your farm?  Do you want top conduct an on-farm research trial to learn more?  Practical Farmers can help you plan a record-keeping, demonstration or more advanced randomized, replicated research project to help you get the answers you seek.

Practical Farmers of Iowa farmers use science to help them transition to more sustainable and economically profitable systems. Through improved observation, record-keeping and testing, our farmers have improved the biological resiliency of their farms and reduced their risk to outside forces.  Pay attention to subtle trend on your farm, learn what works and what works and what doesn’t for your situation and get the answers you are looking for through on-farm research, record-keeping and demonstration projects. Join other Practical Farmers cooperators and start seeing what you are curious about today.

What is expected of me?

Cooperators work with Practical Farmers staff to design a project appropriate for the question they are asking. It is important for a potential cooperator to realize participating in a project requires good data collection skills and follow-through. Practical Farmers maintains a rigorous standard for achieving research results. Cooperators are expected to:

  • Ask a question they want to answer via on-farm research, record-keeping or demonstration (i.e. “Will cover crops reduce weeds in my organic corn?”)
  • Help set project parameters
  • Complete research or demonstration project per written description
  • Collect and record data as specified
  • Turn in data to Practical Farmers of Iowa at the end of project
  • Complete a poster for annual conference (optional)
  • Keep in contact with Practical Farmers staff with updates and questions
  • Take photos of the demonstration project during the season

What is expected of Practical Farmers?

Practical Farmers of Iowa staff will help throughout the entire project, from design to the final report. Each project is unique, but typical responsibilities for staff include:

  • Help design project and write detailed project description
  • Summarize and publish results
  • Monitor progress of project and provide support when needed
  • Help collect data if needed
  • Provide reimbursement for each project successfully completed plus allowable expenses

Practical Farmers of Iowa feels strongly about providing financial support for farmers who participate in our  Cooperators’ Program. We assess the farmer stipend each year to determine if it is enough money to help offset the costs and time farmers spend conducting on-farm research projects. Sometimes additional money is available for larger projects, and staff and Cooperators pre-determine those payments before initiating a project. If a Cooperator wants to initiate a project for which Practical Farmers has no funding, staff can help with the design process but will not conduct a formal research project.

Who determines projects?

The membership determines the projects Practical Farmers conducts. Because our program is well known with university and community college researchers in Iowa and the Midwest, Cooperators regularly have opportunities to participate in other non-PFI directed research. These opportunities are made available through Practical Farmers’ email discussion lists.

What is the relevance and reach of an on-farm project?

The goal of the Cooperators’ Program is to make sure current, practical and farmer-directed on-farm research is conducted and shared with other farmers in Iowa, the Midwest and beyond.