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Federation University instrumental in unlocking new research opportunities through the Online Farm Trials project

7 July 2014

The Online Farm Trials research project with the Grains Research and Development Corporation (GRDC) is enabling researchers and programmers at Federation University (Federation University) to develop new technologies to provide first-time access to the vast library of past and present grains industry research data.

The Online Farm Trials project began in 2013 as an initiative to develop a user friendly online resource for accessing information about past and present grains research trials. This project will assist industry stakeholders – including grain growers, agronomists, GRDC, government representatives, and researchers – to better respond to industry challenges associated with climate and natural resources, leading to anticipated improvements in grains productivity and sustainability.

The project is being led by Federation University’s Dr Peter Dahlhaus, together with the Centre for eResearch and Digital Innovation’s Helen Thompson, Robert Milne, Andrew MacLeod and Paul Feely. Agronomy experts Cam Nicholson (Nicon Rural Services) and Rob Norton (International Plant Nutrition Institute) are providing specialist advice and expertise in relation to grains research and grower information needs.

Since the start of this year, members of the Federation University project team together with Cam Nicholson have consulted widely with stakeholders, including growers, grain grower alliances and senior industry members, from Western Australia, Queensland, New South Wales and Victoria. A preliminary database and demonstration prototype of the interoperable online trial information system was developed. This was used to facilitate initial consultations with stakeholders – who are also the custodians of the farm trials data and ‘end users’ of the online resource – to gauge their expectations of the data requirements for this online resource.  The initial pilot involved three grower groups and included over 1,200 trial projects (over 800 trial projects with data), 11,000 individual tests, 1,000 variety types, 4,000 treatment types and 36 unique measurement types.

An important milestone for the project occurred in April with a meeting in Canberra between the Federation University project team and GRDC’s Tom McCue (Manager Delivery Platforms), Stuart Kearns (Executive Manager, Regional Grower Services) and each of the three Chairs of the three regional GRDC panels. The meeting provided an opportunity to showcase progress on the project and was well received by those in attendance; detailed plans for the next stages of the project were also identified at this meeting.

More recently the project was presented at the Digital Rural Futures Conference in Toowoomba. The Online Farm Trials project marks a new era for the grains industry with the unlocking of data from the farm trials reports that have been largely hidden away; accessible only via hard copy or basic electronic documents. Using new technologies, this data will soon become available online presenting new opportunities for growers, researchers, agronomists, and farming groups, to access research relevant to grains variety, climate, soil, agronomy, and growing techniques that could lead to improved industry practices. For Federation University researchers, new research collaborations and outcomes are anticipated, strengthened by the strong stakeholder engagement that has occurred on the project to date.

The Federation University team has undertaken extensive development and subsequent piloting of the prototype with industry grower groups. This thorough testing of the tools will ensure the website and its content meets the needs of the end user. Consolidation and digitisation of farm trial reports and summaries is occurring concurrently during the trial phase.  The Online Farm Trials website can be accessed at

For further information about this project contact the project leader Dr Peter Dahlhaus: E: or Dr Helen Thompson: E:

The project was also featured in a story in Leading Agriculture, Issue 2 (released October 2014).

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