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Formalizing Your Research: How to Carry Out an Agricultural Experiment

As you work in agricultural development, there may be times that you find yourself wondering about the answer to a specific question you have. For example, should plants be spaced 30 cm or 60 cm apart to achieve the highest yield? Which one of three tomato cultivars would grow best in a particular area? Would growing a cover crop in the off-season result in higher corn yields? Once you decide on a particular question that you want answered, several steps can (and should) be taken. These steps will make the best use of your time and efforts while giving you the most confidence in your outcome. This section will cover the important steps in planning and carrying out an experiment and then apply them to a sample experiment. In some instances we have used technical terms, but please do not let them discourage you. We have tried to define the words well, and have highlighted them for clarity.

Toward more Fruitful Agricultural Experimentation

For many of us the idea of “research” is scary. We are not trained in it. We picture rigorous statistical analyses that we are unfamiliar with. We have seen glossy scientific journals with technical words that we do not understand. Besides, isn’t our goal to directly help smallholder farmers? Why should we now do research? Who has time anyway?

Chances are that most of us are already involved in doing experiments at some level, but we just don’t call it “research.” We wish we had more information about some crop or agricultural technique, so we do a small variety trial or set up a demonstration to see if the idea works in our climate. How will this information be generated and distributed if not by those of us in the field? And how will we know that we can safely implement or recommend some new method or plant unless we have done adequate experimentation?