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 nearly 1,300 research trials on their farms. Results from this research are shared through research reports, PFI’s quarterly magazine (formerly called 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.

Fall 2021 Cooperators’ Program Events

Exercise Your Curiosity at the 2021 Cooperators’ Meeting!

Dec. 16-17 | Ames, IA

Have you ever asked: “What’s better, the practice I’ve been using or this alternative I’ve heard about?” Do you have something you’d like to investigate on your farm? If so, consider the Cooperators’ Program, PFI’s vehicle for farmer-led, on-farm research.

What is on-farm research? On-farm research puts curiosity into action in the spirit of learning, knowledge-sharing and improvement. With simple experimental design and research protocols, you can test ideas and innovations on YOUR unique farm.

What happens at the Cooperators’ Meeting? You’ll join a community of curious and creative farmers who take a scientific approach to improving their farms – and who respect the perspectives and questions of others. When you participate, you can look forward to:

  • A91bw5qpb 1lcxtp2 ch8Shared inspiration and mutual encouragement
  • Brainstorming research ideas with others
  • Good food – including at an event banquet featuring food from PFI farms
  • Making meaningful connections
  • Feeling empowered to answer questions about your farm

What happens next? PFI staff and farmer cooperators mutually agree on project plans and commitments. When the time comes to conduct the trials, farmers are at the helm, carrying out those plans and taking measurements throughout a trial.

Impact of on-farm research: Over the years, the work has resulted in more profitable, diverse and environmentally sound farms and long-term friendships among participants. In many cases, on-farm research has helped transform farmer decision-making.

Questions? We’re always looking for new cooperators who wish to become curiosity-leaders that inspire improvements to our agricultural landscape. Contact us! (

COVID-19 Policy

Cooperators’ Program Office Hours

Nov. 18 and Dec. 2 | Noon-1 p.m.

Are you curious and creative? If you had the tools to answer your burning farming questions for yourself and the broader PFI community, would you put them to use? If you answered yes, then the Cooperators’ Program might be a good fit for you. We empower farmers to generate and share knowledge through timely and relevant farmer-led research. If you’re curious to learn more and to see if the program might be a good fit for you, join this call anytime over the noon hour on Thursday, Nov. 18 or Thursday, Dec. 2. A PFI staffer and experienced farmer-cooperator will be available to answer your questions about the Cooperators’ Program.

Register for the Nov. 18 Call

Register for the Dec. 2 Call

2021 Cooperator’s Program Research Recaps

Practical Farmers’ Cooperators’ Program brings together a community of curious and creative farmers who take a scientific approach to improving their farms. Want to learn about this year’s on-farm research? We’ve scheduled public video meetings on three successive evenings for reporting and discussing results from our major farmer-led research areas — field crops, horticulture, livestock.

On each evening, we’ll start with a round of quick introductions at the top of the session before delving into project results. For projects with multiple cooperators, we’ve assigned a primary reporter to give an overview of the project. The other cooperators on the project will be given first opportunity to add comments before opening up for brief discussion among all attendees. Click to register!

Field Crops – Tuesday, Dec. 7 | 7-8:30 p.m.

Horticulture – Wednesday, Dec. 8 | 7-8:30 p.m.

Livestock – Thursday, Dec. 9 | 7-8:30 p.m.

Click here to see a list of projects that will be shared each evening.

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.

Research Reports

Cooperators’ Program Year in Review

Read highlights of some of the projects conducted last year. This publication revives the PFI tradition of providing annual summaries of on-farm research.

PFI2020 2019CooperatorsProgram Report Cover Page 01PFI2019 CooperatorsProgram YearInReview Cover


Cooperators’ Program Mission, Vision and Guiding Principles


To empower farmers to generate and share knowledge through timely and relevant farmer-led research.


A community of curious and creative farmers taking a scientific approach to improving their farms. These farmers are leaders among their farming peers whose work contributes to the field of agricultural research, resulting in more profitable, diverse and environmentally sound farms.

Guiding Principles

Practical Farmers and the Cooperators’ Program are always seeking to grow our network and our members’ impact. We proactively and passionately seek out creative ideas and flexible funding in order to support farmer-led research. These guiding principles define common characteristics of the Cooperators’ Program and, in an effort to make the most of finite resources, serve as a filter for our work.

The Cooperators’ Program is…

Farmer-Led. We believe that farmers should lead both the creation and exchange of knowledge. Farmers set our research goals and priorities. We also help farmers inform academic agricultural research that affects their farms by connecting researchers and farmers in meaningful dialogue and promoting the exchange of ideas.

On-Farm. We believe that real-world, applied research on farms is critical for building a better agriculture in Iowa and beyond. We prioritize research conducted on-farm by farmers, but recognize the limitations and understand not all topics can sufficiently be addressed with this approach.

Collaborative. We believe in working together. Research that is collaborative facilitates the sharing of knowledge and, ultimately, builds community. We prioritize multi-farm projects as well as single-farm trials that have broad support within the cooperator community or could yield important insights for other farmers. We occasionally collaborate with university researchers and other partners who have gained the trust and confidence of farmers through their work, research and extension activities.

Relevant. We believe that research should answer questions individual farmers have about their farms. This often involves supporting proof-of-concept investigation, ground-truthing new ideas and products and helping farmers design research that can satisfy their curiosity about their farms. Our farmer-researchers and partners are on the cutting edge of innovation in agriculture, and the Cooperators’ Program supports their efforts.

Accessible. We believe the knowledge, experience and findings generated by the Cooperators’ Program should be available to the public. Farmers are our primary audience; we present results using farmer voices while also adhering to standards of scientific reporting. The products of the Cooperators’ Program are used by farmers to make more informed decisions.

Empowering. We believe that farmers are capable of conducting experiments on their own farms and carrying out the process from beginning to end. As the experts on their farming systems, we believe the role of PFI staff is to support farmers’ inherent curiosity. Being at the helm of the on-farm research process builds on this curiosity by boosting farmers’ scientific skills and confidence while generating powerful questions and advancing farmer-ownership of research conclusions and created knowledge.

Science-Based. We believe the scientific method and good experimental design are necessary tools for farmers. The work of PFI farmers who conduct on-farm research is highly valued and trusted by both the broader PFI membership and non-members, including farmers, academic researchers and the general public.

Committed. We believe in following through. Cooperators and PFI staff are eager to participate, engage and complete on-farm projects. We reward cooperator efforts and commitments to on-farm research by providing modest honoraria and showcasing their contributions.

What does it mean to be a Cooperator?

Are you curious about an observation you have made on your farm?  Do you want to 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 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.

To become a cooperator, you first need to join Practical Farmers of Iowa.

Contact Stefan Gailans, research and field crops director, at (515) 232-5661 or, to find out how you can become an on-farm research and demonstration cooperator.

What is expected of me?

When you become an on-farm research and demonstration cooperator, you will work Practical Farmers staff to design a project appropriate for the question you are asking. It is important for potential cooperators to realize that participating in a project requires good data collection skills and follow-through.

We maintain 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 following the written protocol
  • Collect and record data as specified
  • Turn in data to Practical Farmers of Iowa at the end of the project
  • Complete a poster for annual conference (optional)
  • Keep in contact with Practical Farmers staff with updates and questions
  • Take photos of the project during the season

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 a detailed project description
  • Summarize and publish results
  • Monitor progress of the 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.

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.

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.

Contact Information

Contact Stefan Gailans at to find out how you can become a Practical Farmers research and demonstration cooperator.