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A diversity of On-Farm Experimentation practices and associated farmer-researcher relationships

Photo: © Margot Leclère INRAE
Experimentation conducted by or with agronomists on farmers' farms is not a fixed methodology, and even less a one-size-fits-all one. There is a wide diversity of ways of implementing experimental protocols, carrying out monitoring and evaluation, and making use of the results. This article proposes an analysis of this diversity via a review of the scientific literature and the identification of 7 types of on-farm experimentation practices.

The respective roles of trials in experimental stations or in farmers' fields have evolved according to the changes in the orientations and methods of agricultural research. In the 19th century, the development of chemistry and statistical methods led numerous agronomists to focus their attention and efforts on agricultural research stations. In the 1970s, more systemic approaches to agricultural practices, such as within the Farming System Research movement, raised again interest in the analysis of farmers' practices and gave legitimacy to experiments conducted on their farms.

Today, the convergence between the rise of digital technologies, the attention paid to the localized issues of transitions in practices towards agroecology, and the emergence of new models of open innovation are renewing and reviving the scientific community's interest in on-farm experimentation. This form of experimentation is supposed to be enhanced by digital tools and to allow the production of credible, relevant and legitimate science insofar as it adopts a farmer-centred perspective. But what kind of experimentation practices are we talking about?

Based on a systematic review of the scientific literature, we have identified seven types of on-farm experimentation practices (cf. box), which are differentiated according to the objectives of knowledge production and the degree of involvement of farmers in the definition and management of trials, but also according to the ways of constructing the experimentation space, of integrating unexpected events or observations, or of integrating the experimentation into a long-term perspective and coordinating it with other devices and methods. This typology provides an original basis for reflection on what On-Farm Experimentation may fit different contexts, and for understanding how new digital tools can support this experimental process.

Typologies of on-farm experimentation described in the scientific literature

1. Explore and explain phenomena

2. Validate models in diverse contexts

3. Compare new strategies with farmers' practices

4. Demonstrate a technology in farm fields to convince farmers

5. Use farm fields as research fields

6. Do on-farm research with multi-year trials

7. Set up participatory and farmer-managed trials

References :

Toffolini, Q., Jeuffroy, MH. On-farm experimentation practices and associated farmer-researcher relationships: a systematic literature review. Agron. Sustain. Dev. 42, 114 (2022).


Link to the article