Published Feb 22, 2010

Improving the farm with a little help from friends….

By Sarah Carlson

On February 11 and 12th in Ames, IA several PFI members came together to talk about how to conduct on-farm research to improve decision-making on their farm. Farmers gave presentations about projects they conducted in 2009 and some insights about how they designed the experiments.
The networking and brain-storming was tremendous. An overview of those ideas is captured below in the list of projects. Finally, Mike Natvig, grazier & organic farmer up in NE IA gave a great presentation about how his farm has used on-farm research to really improve the ecosystem services that his farm provides. If there was an award for number of services provided I think he’d have to win!

If you’d like to participate in any of the projects listed below or would like to learn more about our on-farm research reports, visit the programs areas on the website and check out new and old reports.

List of Projects:


  1. Low-cost in-pasture handling facilities
  2. Monitor forage quality, animal and environmental improvement with pasture renovation
  3. Forage mixes for grazing, season extension
  4. Grazing cover crops
  5. Measure seedbank distribution in the soil
  6. Mob grazing’s effect on animal/pasture performance

Field Crops

  1. How can cover crops be used to improve weed management?
  2. How can I scale up the size of my machinery in a diversified farming system?
  3. How can I improve the design of my farming system to improve time/labor management? How can I substitute more August hours for April hours?


1) How can we get more processing facilities in Southeast and Central Iowa?

2) Nutritional composition of chickens (vs. store) and how it is affected by breed, feed, & pasture

3) Conference sessions/workshops on pasturing options, turkeys, types of grass, etc.

Hort Crops

Pest control

  1. flea beetle control in eggplant
    1. Surround (slurry @ planting, spray until fruit are ¼ size)
    2. Row cover
    3. Control
  1. Cabbage moths in brassicas
    1. Dipel
    2. Surround
    3. Row cover
  2. Flea beetles in arugula
    1. Row covers
    2. Control

Marketing ecofootprint

  1. miles traveled to provide local
  2. brix readings of local produce
  3. survey, top 10 questions to Iowa consumers

Season extension

  1. Low tunnels in high tunnels—optimize heat gain vs light loss
  2. Long term fertility tracking in high tunnel systems
  3. low tunnel technology options in the field

Soil health

  1. replicated trials of cover crops
    1. throughout the state
    2. for conversion to hort use
    3. loosen soil, ease compaction
    4. increase fertility, organic fatter, and soil biology
  1. simulating extreme weather in hoophouse
    1. effects on plant varieties, soil compaction
  2. switch to permanent raised beds from narrow, temporary rows
    1. double digging?
    2. Layered beds?
    3. 3-5 year project