The Online Farm Trials (OFT) initiative was established in 2013 by the Grains Research and Development Corporation and the Centre for eResearch and Digital Innovation, Federation University Australia. A pilot project was undertaken in partnership with industry stakeholders and experts to understand the characteristics of existing trial research data and information, develop use cases based on user needs and preferences, establish a trial database and develop the first phase of interactive web-based research applications.
The OFT website was launched in 2014 with trials contributed by Liebe Group (WA), Northern Grower Alliance (Qld), Southern Farming Systems (Vic) and Birchip Cropping Group (Vic). Through ongoing engagement with the pilot group participants, wider collaboration with other research organisations and regional partnerships with Grower Group Alliance, Ag Excellence Alliance and the Victorian Grower Group Alliance, OFT has continued to expand trial research content available on the site and further improve user applications and functionality.
A longitudinal research program was initiated in 2015 to understand the role and impact of digital platforms such as OFT on decision making and practice change. This research combines quantitative and qualitative measures to determine how and why data is sought, how it is accessed, and the impact it has on creating evidence, shaping decisions and informing practice. Wave 1 of the program was completed in 2016 with further data collection phases occurring to 2019. The research has also provided user feedback and guidance on OFT’s web applications and interfaces.
The integration of other relevant industry data with the contributed research trial information has been an important component of the technical development program from the beginning of the project. Built on an interoperable framework, OFT is drawing data from sources such as the Bureau of Meteorology, the Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organisation (CSIRO) and Scientific Information for Landowners (SILO) and programmatically joining it with submitted trial data. Embeddable applications and a trial data API have also been developed to provide programmatic access to OFT hosted data and information in other applications and websites.
An expert advisory group was formed in 2017 to provide strategic industry guidance on the future development and role of OFT. Ongoing engagement with industry stakeholders and growers through workshops, industry events, surveys and interviews, training and collaboration with research providers also guides the development of OFT to ensure it meets user needs and preferences.