CREATING A RESEARCH DATABASE
EVERY YEAR, GRAIN Farmers of Ontario invests nearly $2 million in research. This investment is targeted towards four priority areas — agronomy and production, weeds, diseases, and insect pests, breeding and genetics, and crop quality and utilization. More than 60 projects are currently underway in conjunction with industry and government partners.
“Our goal is to target our research and innovation investments toward opportunities that will enhance our farmer-members’ profitability,” says Dr. Josh Cowan, manager of research and innovation for Grain Farmers of Ontario. “Investment in research is a long-term strategic initiative of Grain Farmers of Ontario. The work we do provides the background information required to generate robust production system recommendations, improve cropping system inputs available to growers, and explore new market ideas to keep Ontario’s grain farmers competitive in the global marketplace.”
AN INFORMED FARMER-MEMBERSHIP
Keeping farmer-members informed of the research investments being made is a priority of Grain Farmers of Ontario’s research department. In the past, updates have been provided at district meetings, through special research inserts and articles within the Ontario Grain Farmer, and by request, in addition to the communication efforts undertaken by the researchers themselves. However, a centralized database of research projects that have been approved for funding has not been publicly accessible — until now.
“A web-based, public database has been a concept we’ve wanted to establish for the past couple years. Over the past year, we have been diligently working to achieve this goal,” says Cowan.
There were several challenges with creating the database given the number of projects that have been funded since the inception of Grain Farmers of Ontario and multi-year projects that originated with the legacy organizations and wrapped up after the merger. Over the years, different forms have been utilized for gathering information from researchers, including proposals, project reports, and external funding applications. The new database simplifies all of the details contained within these various forms.
“We’ve created a uniform format so that similar details of each research project are included in the database. We’ve also worked with researchers to ensure the language used in the project summaries is easy to understand, yet accurate,” says Cowan.
The database was built in-house and is hosted on the organization’s website.
“Like everything we build for GFO.ca, there were some unique technical requirements. We needed the page to be light and responsive — it had to look good on small screens because so much of our traffic is from mobile devices. It also needed to load quickly, because our users are often in areas that don’t always have a strong mobile data signal,” says Mark Carter, web coordinator for Grain Farmers of Ontario. “We balanced those technical requirements with the need for the interface to be easy to use and styling to fit our online brand, and we’re very happy with what we were able to develop.”
The database can also be utilized by researchers interested in receiving funding through Grain Farmers of Ontario. They can search to see if their topic of interest has already been investigated and what objectives were achieved by previous principal investigators. This will allow them to better tailor a proposal for research that will address new issues and concerns for our farmer-members. Researchers can also make use of the simplified project descriptions for communication initiatives with farmers and the broader industry.
Project descriptions are available for research that has been ongoing or initiated since January 1, 2015. Research projects for which funding ended prior to this date can still be found in the database but with limited details, such as the principal investigators name, project title, and start and end date of the project. If a farmer or researcher has an interest in any of these older projects, they can contact Grain Farmers of Ontario or the principal investigator for more information. Going forward, the database will be updated as new research projects are funded every year.
“The creation of this database is part of a more complete knowledge transfer strategy that the research department is currently in the process of developing and implementing,” says Cowan. “Through this year’s research survey, we have been identifying effective ways to transfer research knowledge to our farmer-members — this knowledge not only includes what we are investing in but also the results of this research and how farmers can apply it to their own farms. Going forward we will work with our researchers to resolve gaps in knowledge transfer.”
The database is mobile-friendly, fully searchable, and sortable. Go to www.gfo.ca/research/projects to access the database. •