The LandWISE On-Farm Trial Guide series provides clear yet comprehensive descriptions for people wanting to get the greatest benefit from on-farm research.
This post looks at the first steps: getting your goals and objectives sorted. We acknowledge the original authors; Peter Stone, Andrea Pearson and Maaike Bendall (then of Crop & Food Research).
Setting goals and objectives – what do you want to find out and why?
Know what you want to know, and why you want to know it. If you’re not clear on these, don’t start on your trial.
You need to have a clear and simple statement of what you want to know (objective) and why you want to know it (goal). Goals are statements of the overall target that you want to reach. Objectives are the specific questions that need answering for you to achieve those goals.
Let’s start with goals. A common goal would be to increase gross margin per hectare. There are obviously lots of ways that you could try to achieve this, but for the purposes of a single trial you need to focus on a single approach. Your goal might be to see whether increased plant population increases your gross margin per hectare.
Once you’ve got your goal clear, you can move onto your specific objective. In this case, a common objective would be to compare the gross margin from your current population with that from a higher population. Gross margin is made up of expenditure and receipts, so fulfilling the objective will require you to measure the amounts and values of inputs and outputs. Objectives should always be measurable.
You can see that setting a clear goal led naturally to a simple objective which, in turn, suggested the sorts of treatments and measurements that will need to be made for the trial to succeed. This gets you through the worst of the planning stage!
Setting goals and objectives isn’t usually a difficult task, but it does require some care. Fuzzy goals usually lead to poorly defined objectives which, in turn, produce unfocused trials and inconclusive results – an all round waste of time and effort.
If you find that your objective doesn’t relate adequately to your goal, have another go at it. By the same token, if your objective requires tricky treatments or more data collection than you can handle, modify it. The key is to be clear and simple.
If your goal and objectives can’t fit into a simple sentence, you’re probably biting off more than you can chew. Write them down and see if they pass muster.
If they’re not quite right, have another go at it. You’ll never regret spending time getting this part of the trial planning process just right. Mistakes made here almost always lead to trouble down the line.
Having established an achievable goal and objectives, it’s time to think about the treatments that you’ll apply and the measurements that you’ll make on your trial.
A simple statement of what you want to know and why you want to know it is the essential first step in running successful on-farm trials.
End of section critical decision point
Can you write a clear statement of what you want to know from trial, and why you want to know it? This is important if you are to get the best from the next section –Getting the treatments right.