Published Feb 29, 2024

Practical Farmers of Iowa is seeking farmers for on-farm research trials

By Elizabeth Wilhelm
Farmers across the Midwest can now get paid to put their soil health to the test

Contact: Elizabeth Wilhelm | Media Relations Coordinator | (515) 232-5661 |

AMES, Iowa (Feb. 29, 2024) — Farmers investing in soil health practices like cover crops, no-till, diversified crop rotations and integrated livestock grazing, among others, are invited to participate in two PFI on-farm research trials. The first explores whether these practices support using less nitrogen fertilizer. The second trial aims to find out if cover crops give farmers greater access to their fields over a season.


Many farmers have observed that using soil health practices long-term improves soil function. But most don’t have scientific data from their own fields. By taking part in these trials, farmers will have a chance to empirically test the impacts of those soil health investments on their own farms. The results will offer practical insights they can use to improve their operations, their land stewardship and their bottom lines.


To be eligible, participants must have been using soil health practices for at least five years. All farmers who sign up will receive a one-time payment for taking part.


Trial 1: “Can We Reduce N Rates to Corn and Improve ROI?”

In this study, now in its third year, corn farmers will compare their typical nitrogen fertilizer rate to a reduced rate of their choosing in randomized, replicated strips. For instance, if their typical nitrogen rate is 200 pounds per acre, their reduced rate could be 160 pounds per acre – a 40-unit reduction. The reduced rate is entirely up to the farmers. When, how and what form of nitrogen they apply is also their decision.


Past trial participant Josh Hiemstra, who farms near Brandon, Wisconsin, said he’s likely to make changes to his farm based on his findings. “I now have enough confidence in my soil health program to free myself from unnecessary costs and passes,” he says.


Trial 2: “Do Cover Crops Increase the Number of Days Suitable for Field Work?”

This new study seeks to find out if cover crops provide earlier field access, or greater access over a season. Farmers will observe their cover-cropped fields throughout the year and complete a short survey on a weekly basis that asks, “If you wanted to, could you have completed field activities this past week without compromising field integrity? On which days this past week could you have done so?”


“By surveying cover croppers, we’ll be gathering evidence about how using cover crops may be helping farmers become more resilient to challenging weather patterns, particularly during the high-stress planting time in the spring,” says Stefan Gailans, PFI’s senior research manager.


Enrollment for both trials is now open and will close April 10, 2024. Full details and application forms are available at


For questions, to check eligibility or for help getting signed up, contact Stefan Gailans at (515) 232-5661 or


This research is being conducted as part of PFI’s Cooperators’ Program, which empowers farmers to conduct on-farm research that answers questions they have about their farms.


This work is supported by Cargill, PepsiCo and The Foundation for Food & Agriculture Research.


About Practical Farmers: Practical Farmers of Iowa is a nonprofit with more than 8,000 members that equips farmers to build resilient farms and communities. We create learning opportunities via farmer-led events, on-farm research and educational content through our robust network of farmers. We also provide funding and technical assistance to help farmers adopt regenerative farming practices and grow farm businesses. Our vision is an Iowa with healthy soil, healthy food, clean air, clean water, resilient farms and vibrant communities. To learn more, visit