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Is there bias in university research?
Ohio Farm News
By Steve Bartels

In this colum, I try very hard not to editorialize, so be warned that is exactly what I am going to do in this article. A good friend of mine, a young man who was raised on a farm here in the county, went to Ohio State University for an associate degree, has been associated with Extension for most of his life in one way or the other, is one of our strongest supporters, made a statement that I have heard many times in my 30-plus years in this organization.

“Land Grant Universities try to say they offer nonbiased research backed information to farmers, but as long as industry is paying for that research, it is not going to be nonbiased,” he said.

I have to tell you, every time I hear that statement it makes me cringe. If the information that comes out of the agricultural colleges of the Land Grant institutions is not unbiased, then there is no need for the agricultural research or extension side of these institutions to exist. If researchers and extension specialists are so influenced by the companies that contribute to do the work that shows which practices are profitable or not, then the companies or the individual farmer will need to do their own research.

If people are worried about industry influencing university research results, how could they ever believe industry research? We have seen companies put in the press favorable preliminary results, results say after one year of testing, that say “According to University Trials...” After the trial is complete and there is no statistically significant differences from using their product, you never hear about it in the farm press.

It is very time consuming for farmers to do their own research. Many farmers do some research, but often it is only one or two passes through the field with and without the practice. If there are not at least four replications in a field, done over more than one year and preferably in more than one location, results can be influenced by many factors such as soils, plant populations, weather, or equipment. The more times you do the practice over, the more reliable it is. Most farmers won’t do a statistical analysis of the results.

A statistical analysis tells you how likely your results are correct. If the results of the trial are not statistically significant, that’s saying you can’t prove the difference in yield was from the practice or from something else. If you get two bushels more and that pays you a profit for implementing the practice, how do you know if that wasn’t just a fluke? Next year when you repeat the practice it costs you money!

Sometimes companies will say if you use their product and it doesn’t pay for itself or you don’t get more bushels, they will pay. How do you know if it paid?

If you split the field in two, using the product on half, how do you know why the treated side yielded more or less? Even if you used four replicated plots in one field for one year, it doesn’t tell you very much.

Farmers believe what other farmers tell them, especially if they go two states away to a conference and this farmer is a presenter or in some round table. How do you know he didn’t make his decision on how much he gained by how full the grain hopper was, watch the grain monitor bounce or even use a grain monitor that he has no idea how to calibrate? How do you know he doesn’t have some other interest in getting you to invest your money?

Last year research and extension personnel from Ohio State University put out soybean plots across the state to monitor soybean rust. These plots were called sentenial plots. While soybean rust did arrive in Kentucky, it wasn’t until November and it never showed up in Ohio.

While there were those who were advocating spraying soybeans for disease, Ohio State University researchers and extension specialists used nonbiased research to tell Ohio farmers to keep the fungicide in the jug.

Ohio farmers, for the most part, listened and saved a great deal of money. There were about 4.3 million acres of soybeans in the state. If every acre had been sprayed at a cost of $15 per acre, the cost of the application would have been over $65 million. Ohio State University’s nonbiased research-backed information saved our farmers nearly every dime.

Well, now that I’ve shown my bias and cleansed my soul at your expense, I’d like to encourage you to visit a webpage on the next rainy day or when you get some time. That is the Agronomic Crops Team website at

There is a great deal of good information here including university research, just click research.

To get the research that County Educators have completed over the last several years, click Agronomy Team on Farm Research Projects 1997-2005 on the research page.

This farm news was published in the July 19, 2006 issue of Farm World, serving Indiana, Ohio, Illinois, Kentucky, Michigan and Tennessee.