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Putting Researchers in the Field

Land, climate and agricultural enterprises vary considerably from one area of the state to another. To find solutions to problems in each area and to study the impacts of regional differences, the Iowa Agriculture Experiment Station puts researchers in the fields of research farms across Iowa. Farms near Ames are used for intensive studies and for teaching purposes.

More than 130 Iowa State faculty members use the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences' farms for teaching, research and extension. A similar number of staff members are involved as project leaders and workers. Each year about 2,000 students receive hands-on education experiences at teaching farms, including a farm management course in which undergraduates manage a crop and livestock farm. About 15,000 people visit Iowa State’s Research and Demonstration Farms every year.

Soil and Climate: A Base for research

Iowa has about 20 major soil associations, or combinations of soil types. Soil types are repeated from field to field within a geographic region. Soil types may differ in topography, texture, drainage, acidity, content of organic matter and nutrients and susceptibility to erosion. These characteristics partly determine the farm enterprises and management practices most suitable and profitable in a particular area.

Average annual rainfall in Iowa ranges from less than 26 inches in the northwest to more than 34 inches in the southeast. Annual mean temperatures range from about 46 degrees in the northern tier of counties to 52 degrees in the southern two tiers of counties. There are about 40 more days of frostfree weather in southeast Iowa compared with northeast Iowa.


Scientists assess the influence of soil differences and climate on agricultural practices by conducting similar experiments at several research farms. Projects at research farms often continue for many years to observe fluctuations in environmental conditions and long-term trends.

Markets and resources also vary across the state. At research farms, researchers determine the profitability of an agricultural enterprise in a given area. The research also yields clues to the potential of new crops and practices that may diversify the agricultural base.


Local nonprofit associations of farmers and business people own or lease eight of the 13 research farms. The state owns the other five. In central Iowa, ISU affiliate organizations own land for research.

Associations and affiliates lease the research farms to the Experiment Station. Income from farm product sales is used to offset research costs. The Experiment Station assumes the remaining costs of operating the farms.

The Experiment Station also is active in partnerships with ISU Extension, USDA National Resource and Conservation Service, USDA National Soil Tilth Laboratory and several Iowa community colleges.


Area producers suggest local problems that need to be studied and often offer suggestions for improving research at the farms. Producers make their suggestions as members of local advisory committees. These committees meet at least once each year with county and area extension staff and ISU researchers. The committee members are liaisons between the university and other producers.

The Experiment Station publishes research results in annual reports. Extension specialists use the reports in meetings, pamphlets, news stories, information websites and broadcasts. Local farmers can observe experiments firsthand and learn about the latest findings at field days that are held at the farms.