What is an Experimental Farm?

Mary McMahon
Mary McMahon

An experimental farm is a farm which is used to conduct research in the agricultural sciences. Universities which offer agricultural coursework may have an experimental farm attached to their facilities, and independent research organizations can also establish experimental farms. The goal of an experimental farm is to provide a place which can be used to test out new ideas and techniques before asking the agricultural community to consider adopting these techniques.

Experimental farms may grow genetically modified crops for testing before they are released for widespread farming.
Experimental farms may grow genetically modified crops for testing before they are released for widespread farming.

While humans have been experimenting with agriculture for thousands of years, the concept of an experimental farm did not really take off until the 1900s, when a more scientific approach to agriculture was adopted. Researchers wanted a controlled environment to perform a variety of tests, and the idea of the experimental farm was born. Today, experimental farms can be found in many locations, in a broad assortment of climates, and a wide variety of research is conducted on such farms.

Experimental farms may focus on different methods for livestock care.
Experimental farms may focus on different methods for livestock care.

Experimental farms are often used to test new crops such as hybrids and genetically modified crops before they are released to the public, with an eye to developing strong, high-yield crops. New farming equipment, chemicals, and agricultural techniques can also be tested on an experimental farm. The fields at such farms often resemble a patchwork, with various tests being conducted on crops of interest in different zones on the farm. Issues like soil conditioning, the use of greenhouses, and so forth may also be explored on an experimental farm.

Many farms have a specific organic area as well, so that researchers can utilize organic farming techniques, and some have a working farm which is meant to mimic the farms of the 1900s, complete with farm animals, handmade tools, and older farming techniques which may be of historical interest. Other special areas on an experimental farm might include sections of contaminated soil for the purpose of testing plants which could be used in phytoremediation, along with laboratories which house scientific equipment which can be used detailed examinations and analyses.

In addition to being useful for crops, experimental farms can also be handy for gardeners. Some gardening publications maintain experimental farms to play around with ornamental plants, so that they can issue reports for their readers on the hardiness and growth habits of various plants. Gardeners may also utilize an experimental farm to create showcase exhibits of specific landscaping styles, ranging from formal gardens to gardens which are designed for tough climates.

Soil conditioning, new equipment and organic farming techniques are some of the things that are tested on experimental farms.
Soil conditioning, new equipment and organic farming techniques are some of the things that are tested on experimental farms.
Mary McMahon
Mary McMahon

Ever since she began contributing to the site several years ago, Mary has embraced the exciting challenge of being a wiseGEEK researcher and writer. Mary has a liberal arts degree from Goddard College and spends her free time reading, cooking, and exploring the great outdoors.

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Discussion Comments

Mor

@KoiwiGal - While there are some places where experimental farming involves more extreme kinds of procedures, like the cows with holes in their sides, most of the time experimental farms are just places where they grow crops with different fertilizers to see which one works best.

People are getting used to the idea of bizarre science and great leaps forward, but in reality most of it is like Mendel with the pea plants.

Just grow a crop, then try to grow another one which is slightly better. Or even breed an animal, then try to breed another one which is slightly better.

KoiwiGal

@umbra21 - That's pretty awful, but there are worse experimental farms than that. At least that was probably going to produce data that would eventually lead to cage hen farming being made illegal.

Some of the small scale experimental farms I've heard about keep cows with permanent holes in their stomaches, so that students and scientists can see what's going on in there. I know, I know the cow is probably not in all that much pain, she is probably given a lot of drugs to make sure she doesn't freak out, but it still freaks me out.

It's nothing compared to some of the genetic experiments that I'm sure are going on.

I'm not saying that these experiments shouldn't happen, just that people ought to make sure they are careful and cause as little pain as possible to creatures which have been scientifically proven (with experiments!) to feel emotion, just like us.

umbra21

I studied ecology at college and had the chance to see an experimental farm as a part of this.

It was a chicken farm, studying the effects of cages on hens. We had to watch and log the behaviors of caged hens and then watch and log the behaviors of hens kept in barn-like enclosures.

I have to tell you, I was anti-cage farming before this, but there is nothing like seeing it in person to really cement a thing in your mind. And this was run by the university, so I imagine they kept it as clean as possible.

The hens in the cages were scrawny, and basically had gone stir crazy from boredom. They had to have their beaks basically removed to stop them from pecking at their own feathers and flesh.

Whereas the barn raised chickens, while still not living what an activist would call an ideal life, were at least able to strut around and be chickens.

Even though the barn eggs are more expensive, I just can't bring myself to buy cage laid eggs after that.

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