Experimental Farm Network for collaborative plant breeding and sustainable agriculture research. [United States]

approaches_4199 - United States

Completeness: 94%

1. General information

1.2 Contact details of resource persons and institutions involved in the assessment and documentation of the Approach

Key resource person(s)

land user:

Kleinman Nate /

Experimental Farm Network

United States

Name of the institution(s) which facilitated the documentation/ evaluation of the Approach (if relevant)
Bern University of Applied Sciences, School of Agricultural, Forest and Food Sciences (HAFL) - Switzerland

1.3 Conditions regarding the use of data documented through WOCAT

When were the data compiled (in the field)?


The compiler and key resource person(s) accept the conditions regarding the use of data documented through WOCAT:


2. Description of the SLM Approach

2.1 Short description of the Approach

The Experimental Farm Network is an online platform facilitating collaborative plant breeding as well as other sustainable agricultural research.

2.2 Detailed description of the Approach

Detailed description of the Approach:

The experimental farm network started when Nate Kleinman and Dusty Hinz saw the threats of climate change, and wanted to have an agriculture able to cope with it. Breeding for crops like trees, or perennial wheat, takes decades and is often part of university programs which phase out with the retirement of the responsible person. These are the reasons which lead the two to build up a decentralized network for plant breeding and other experimental farming techniques.

The network is online based, open source, and with a free access to everyone having an internet connection. In the network, there are two positions for each project: researcher and volunteer. A researcher who wants to start a project describes the goals, the needs from the volunteers, and the required climatic and soil conditions. A volunteer, who has a profile where the growing conditions are described, can sign up for the project. The researcher can then contact the volunteers which seem suitable, and send genetic material. Usually, the work involves planting the seeds, growing it out, measuring some characteristics (size, yield, etc.) and sending a part of the seeds with some data back.

The EFN is organized as a non-profit cooperative with two permanent employees and a board of advisors. The sources of income were initially a crowdsourcing and the sale of seeds. Financially it is not yet totally self-carrying, as the employees are working sometimes for free. With the increase of seed sales, also from experimental and diverse varieties, it is changing.

The website helps putting people in touch and keeping records of who is working on which project, as well as for volunteers to stay updated with the projects. Some projects, with annuals, are only short term, while others, for example with slow growing perennials, may need decades if not more to produce a selected cultivar or variety of a crop.

2.3 Photos of the Approach

2.5 Country/ region/ locations where the Approach has been applied


United States

Further specification of location:

This is where the non-profit cooperative is registered. Projects take place around the world, in the USA, Canada and Australia so far.


The Network is global, with members in the USA, Australia as of 2018. Shown is Philadelphia, where the non-profit cooperative is registered.

2.6 Dates of initiation and termination of the Approach

Indicate year of initiation:


If precise year is not known, indicate approximate date when the Approach was initiated:

less than 10 years ago (recently)

2.7 Type of Approach

  • recent local initiative/ innovative

2.8 Main aims/ objectives of the Approach

Develop farming systems for a future, while tackling problems with climate change.

2.9 Conditions enabling or hindering implementation of the Technology/ Technologies applied under the Approach

social/ cultural/ religious norms and values
  • enabling

More and more people are aware of the problems with the narrow genetics of current varieties.

collaboration/ coordination of actors
  • enabling

It only works as collaborative projects.

  • hindering

Some volunteers do not return seeds, it is difficult to get reliable people.

knowledge about SLM, access to technical support
  • enabling

The exchange of the different actors in plant breeding and sustainable farming enables the work of the experimental farm network

workload, availability of manpower
  • enabling

Many breeding projects can only be done on huge areas, for example tree breeding. Spreading the workload on many people, all of them having only a limited work, enables to make

3. Participation and roles of stakeholders involved

3.1 Stakeholders involved in the Approach and their roles

  • local land users/ local communities


Volunteers help researchers with their experiments, for example by looking out for promising wild specimen, by growing out varieties under specific conditions to assess the resistance, by selecting experimental varieties, or by similar work.

  • community-based organizations

The non-profit cooperative "Experimental Farm Network"

Provides an online platform where researchers and volunteers can meet.

  • researchers


They can find volunteers if more people are needed to carry out an experiment, specially in plant breeding for sustainable farming.

If several stakeholders were involved, indicate lead agency:

The non-profit cooperative "Experimental Farm Network" has the lead, but each researcher leads his or her own project.

3.2 Involvement of local land users/ local communities in the different phases of the Approach
Involvement of local land users/ local communities Specify who was involved and describe activities
initiation/ motivation self-mobilization
planning interactive
implementation interactive
monitoring/ evaluation none

3.3 Flow chart (if available)


The Experimental Farm Network is organised as a Non-Profit Cooperative. It consists of a board of directors overseeing the the whole, and of employees. The EFN lives from donations and from the sale of seeds which are cultivated on kindly lent land.

The EFN has a website,, on which researchers can create an account describe projects for which they want volunteers. Volunteers can also creat an account, on which they describe their soil and climatic conditions. Researchers can then contact volunteers and ask them for help. The work for the volunteer often involves growing recieved seeds and send back records about the growth, and send back seeds to the researcher. The volunteers and researcher can connect trough the website, but some work as well trough other networks like facebook.


Stefan Graf

3.4 Decision-making on the selection of SLM Technology/ Technologies

Specify who decided on the selection of the Technology/ Technologies to be implemented:
  • mainly land users, supported by SLM specialists

Each volunteer grows a crop only if he or she wants to grow it, and gets support for it.

Specify on what basis decisions were made:
  • evaluation of well-documented SLM knowledge (evidence-based decision-making)
  • research findings
  • personal experience and opinions (undocumented)

4. Technical support, capacity building, and knowledge management

4.1 Capacity building/ training

Was training provided to land users/ other stakeholders?


Specify who was trained:
  • land users
Form of training:
  • Support for the volunteers
Subjects covered:

Depending on the crop grown, the researcher helps with information about how best to grow it.

4.2 Advisory service

Do land users have access to an advisory service?


4.3 Institution strengthening (organizational development)

Have institutions been established or strengthened through the Approach?
  • yes, moderately
  • Online
Describe institution, roles and responsibilities, members, etc.

The online network was established within the approach.

4.4 Monitoring and evaluation

Is monitoring and evaluation part of the Approach?


4.5 Research

Was research part of the Approach?


Specify topics:
  • ecology
Give further details and indicate who did the research:

Breeding is always research for better adapted crops or varieties.

5. Financing and external material support

5.1 Annual budget for the SLM component of the Approach

Indicate the annual budget for the SLM component of the Approach in US$:


Comments (e.g. main sources of funding/ major donors):

Crowdsourcing was used in the beginning, now the sale of seeds is taking over in supporting the cooperative financially.

5.2 Financial/ material support provided to land users

Did land users receive financial/ material support for implementing the Technology/ Technologies?


5.3 Subsidies for specific inputs (including labour)

  • agricultural
Specify which inputs were subsidised To which extent Specify subsidies
seeds partly financed Depending on the project, seeds are given and a return of the subsequent generation asked.
If labour by land users was a substantial input, was it:
  • voluntary

5.4 Credit

Was credit provided under the Approach for SLM activities?


5.5 Other incentives or instruments

Were other incentives or instruments used to promote implementation of SLM Technologies?


6. Impact analysis and concluding statements

6.1 Impacts of the Approach

Did the Approach empower local land users, improve stakeholder participation?
  • No
  • Yes, little
  • Yes, moderately
  • Yes, greatly
Did the Approach help land users to implement and maintain SLM Technologies?
  • No
  • Yes, little
  • Yes, moderately
  • Yes, greatly
Did the Approach build/ strengthen institutions, collaboration between stakeholders?
  • No
  • Yes, little
  • Yes, moderately
  • Yes, greatly
Did the Approach improve the capacity of the land users to adapt to climate changes/ extremes and mitigate climate related disasters?
  • No
  • Yes, little
  • Yes, moderately
  • Yes, greatly

6.2 Main motivation of land users to implement SLM

  • environmental consciousness
  • enhanced SLM knowledge and skills

6.3 Sustainability of Approach activities

Can the land users sustain what has been implemented through the Approach (without external support)?
  • uncertain
If no or uncertain, specify and comment:

It depends on the project, but usually the land users can continue to grow the crops they are testing as a part of the network.

6.4 Strengths/ advantages of the Approach

Strengths/ advantages/ opportunities in the land user’s view
Allows farmers who are isolated on the countryside to have research projects together with others.
Allows a decentralized approach, in which the research can continue even if the initial researcher did not continue.
Strengths/ advantages/ opportunities in the compiler’s or other key resource person’s view
The transparency allows other projects to be inspired to do similar breeding projects.

6.5 Weaknesses/ disadvantages of the Approach and ways of overcoming them

Weaknesses/ disadvantages/ risks in the land user’s view How can they be overcome?
Some volunteers only take the seeds, and do not give back as promised. EFN wants to implement a rating system for volunteers, in a way that researchers can see if they are reliable.
Some people do not want to create an account in another social network. They can contact some researchers directly, and work without having an account. This requires more organisational work for the researchers, but is done by some.
Weaknesses/ disadvantages/ risks in the compiler’s or other key resource person’s view How can they be overcome?
As an english speaking platform, it crosses many countries, while some seed regulation do not allow imports or translocations of genetic material due to the risks of disease transfer. Arrange the platform into countries where adequate.

7. References and links

7.1 Methods/ sources of information

  • interviews with land users
  • interviews with SLM specialists/ experts
  • compilation from reports and other existing documentation

Reading trough the website.

7.2 References to available publications

Title, author, year, ISBN:

Plant Breeding and Farmer Participation, Ceccarelli et al., 2009,ISBN 978-92-5-106382-8

Available from where? Costs?

7.3 Links to relevant information which is available online

Title/ description:

Experimental Farm Network website.


Links and modules

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