Scientific Advancements

Understanding the Importance and Purpose of Applied vs. Basic Research

If you have been to an Ag Spectrum function in recent years you no doubt have heard the terms applied and basic research.  Understanding the role of these two primary research methods sheds light on the differences and provides further insight as to why Ag Spectrum invests primarily in basic scientific research.

Applied Research

Applied research focuses on the development of technology and techniques that build upon the understandings found in basic research. In recent years, much of the research focus has shifted to applied research because companies who fund research want to prove the validity of their products, resulting in commercial value for their investment.

Side-by-side trials and on-farm research plots are conducted to prove the effectiveness of particular products or methods. However, when conducting applied research, the fundamental understandings of how a plant grows, the nutrients it needs to thrive and the correct timing and placement of these applications are left unanswered, so achieving the same results is rarely repeatable.

Most research seen by growers is considered applied and is supposedly based on basic research, a method of ‘localizing’ the basic project for use ‘down on the farm’.  If a comparison treatment with a control (treated vs. non-treated) is conducted, typically a yield measurement is taken for the two treatments and the evaluation is complete. The question, “Did the treatment improve yield?” can usually be answered for that location in that weather year, but it is not necessarily transferrable long-term or in various locations. 

The primary limitation of applied research is that the results found in a project are often non-transferable to other locations or weather sets. Additionally, ‘how’ the yield was changed is often never determined. 

Another limitation is that oftentimes only one variable is altered and measured, so the total interactive system necessary for crop production is not evaluated.  These limitations often lead to a frustrating focus on ‘silver bullet’ input selection.  After a few years of trying to solve production issues with this approach one soon learns there must be a better way.

Basic Research

Discovering how soil is formed, what the genetic make-up of plants is and why plants turn yellow when they are deficient in certain nutrients are all questions that basic science has set out to answer.

This research method, also referred to as fundamental or pure research, is driven by the curiosity to answer specific questions or hypotheses that will advance the knowledge of scientific processes and provide the basic understanding for which applied research can be developed upon. 

Many scientists believe that a basic understanding of all forms of science is necessary in order for further research progress to exist.  Early in history, the majority of research done was in the form of basic scientific research in order to develop and explore general theories, ideas and questions.  This allowed the scientific community to develop a baseline understanding of the way plants, animals and all living things exist and develop.

Some may argue that basic science should no longer be priority because it doesn’t result in an immediate human benefit. But that would be like saying we know all there is to know about plants and soils. It’s safe to say that without basic research many applied research programs would be left flailing. Basic research lays the foundation for advancements in knowledge and occasionally leads to unexpected discoveries.

While both methods conduct research projects in a similar fashion, basic researchers seek to gather enough information about the complete system to understand how the underlying processes function and therefore are more likely able to mimic the responses in any environment. 

Ag Spectrum Invests in Basic Research

Every crop environment is complex, and many variables interact in order to grow a crop.  Some of these variables can be controlled by the researcher such as the ‘tested input,’ but most of the significant growth and development factors are altered by factors beyond the researcher’s control. By focusing on the fundamentals of crop production, farmers can identify the most effective timing, rate, and placement of nutrients that will aid in the plant’s ability to fight stresses and position the plant for successful growth.

Ag Spectrum has invested significantly in basic scientific research that not only advances growers’ understanding of how crops grow, but also advances the agriculture community’s generally-accepted truths of crop development. This holistic understanding of crop production has enabled Ag Spectrum to develop the Maximum Farming System, which is consistently effective across all soil and weather environments and positions farmers to make effective short- and long-term decisions.