(Re)Launching the PNW Farmers’ Network with Carol McFarland

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PNW Farmers’ Network

Engaging across the research scale with Dr. Garett Heineck

Contact Information:

Carol McFarland, smallgrains.wsu.edu/meet-the-team/, carol.mcfarland@wsu.edu; 509-339-4978

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Episode transcription:


Drew Lyon: Hello, welcome to the WSU Wheat Beat podcast. I’m your host, Drew Lyon, and I want to thank you for joining me as we explore the world of small grains production and research at Washington State University. In each episode, I speak with researchers from WSU and the USDA-ARS to provide you with insights into the latest research on wheat and barley production.

If you enjoy the WSU Wheat Beat podcast, do us a favor and subscribe on iTunes or your favorite podcast app and leave us a review so others can find the show too.


Drew Lyon:  My guest today is Carol McFarland. Carol is the research associate leading the PNW Farmers’ Network in association with collaborating researchers with WSU and the USDA-ARS. After getting her bachelor’s degree in agroecology from Montana State University, she worked with the World Food Program in rural Southern Africa for two years. Carol is now celebrating ten years living on the Palouse after coming here for her MS in soil science starting in 2013.

Most of her career has been spent in rain-fed wheat-based systems, with enthusiasm for science, cropping systems diversification and innovation, soil health, [and] serving growers and other ag professionals as an ever-present love for great conversation. So, Carol, how are you doing today?

Carol McFarland: I’m doing good. It’s great to be back on your podcast. Thanks for having me, Drew.

Drew Lyon: Nice to have you back. So, you’ve been busy with this PNW Farmers’ Network since we last talked here on the podcast. What have you been working on here lately?

Carol McFarland: We have been busy, Drew. We actually got support to bring on a digital content specialist, Carlos Flores, and he’s been such a big help in getting our PNWFarmersNetwork.org website up, which has been a while and coming, and we’re really excited about that resource. And we do expect to be expanding it, but currently it’s serving as a hub for our Twitter [X], YouTube, and podcast access.

One of our most recent additions was to include some of our soil health coffee hour recorded archives, so if you’ve been wanting to come to those [or] need some inspiration to come to the next ones, go check out those recordings. Of course, they’re pretty short because most of those soil health coffee hours are about conversation, so that’s been pretty fun to have that hub up.

We also have launched our Twitter [X] and that’s been a great way to share more of the real-time updates of what’s going on, both from the [PNW] Farmers’ Network when we’re rolling out events, podcast episodes, [and] again that soil health coffee hour–but also a way to elevate some of what our research collaborators are doing. Sometimes they go out and snap a pic in the field and, you know, talk a little bit about a project here and there, so it’s been fun to have that space as well.

We’re also looking forward to getting up a calendar, so we hope to feature those events and other regional ag events–so let me know if you got some coming up, especially those that are focused on soil health, cropping systems innovation, that sort of thing. I know you’ve got something very similar on the Wheat & Small Grains website as well, Drew. So that’s a great idea and helping people plan those winter education event schedules, you know, I think we all need help with that as much as we can get, at least in my case.

All of that’s been very exciting. But what I’m most excited for is the podcast. We just launched the On-Farm Trials podcast, so I’m here to hopefully talk more about that with you today, Drew.

Like I said, all of those things, they’re exciting and will hopefully serve as great resources. But yeah, this On-Farm Trials podcast I think is what we’re [here to talk about].

Drew Lyon: Okay, so let’s talk about it. What made you start a podcast–other than knowing how great this one is?

Carol McFarland: Absolutely, Drew. Well, I’ve heard that everyone likes to listen to yours, so I just wanted to be cool like you.

Drew Lyon: I wouldn’t wish my cool on anyone.

Carol McFarland: Well, but you’re also an inspiration and you’re very effective because I do think something that we do share is the desire to serve the dryland wheat-based growers and to support them becoming increasingly effective in their production goals and stewardship goals.

I have heard from a lot of folks, both growers and scientists, that they listen to podcasts while they are working on other things. And, of course, everyone is so busy that it’s nice to have the ability to multitask when you’re doing certain things, but also it’s something that isn’t just available in a single place, right? You know, everybody has their favorite social media or no social media or whatever platform–but one of the nice things about podcasts is that you can distribute it across platforms and people can–as long as they’re into podcasts–they can listen to it. And so, they’re pretty easy to access and listen to whenever it’s convenient. So whether, you know, you’re on a tractor at 5 a.m. or you’re driving to a conference, you can listen to a podcast.

And so, it’s also been really great to have the chance to interview people and offer them the chance to share their own story in their own words. I think case studies can be really powerful, but when growers’ stories are summarized in someone else’s voice with just quotes peppered in, it’s still really meaningful and we can learn a lot from that–but it’s been really fun to hear from people in their own voices.

Drew Lyon: Okay, so that’s the focus of your podcast? Whereas, you know, here we talk to researchers mostly working in wheat, you’re actually going out on the farm and talking to the farmers?

Carol McFarland: Yeah. So, the name of our podcast is On-Farm Trials with the PNW Farmers’ Network. And you recently did have researcher Dr. Garett Heineck on your podcast, and he did a great job of describing the spectrum of on-farm experimentation–all the way from growers trying things on their own, on their own farm, answer[ing] their own questions [to] a lot of different flavors of ways that we can collaborate to co-produce research on-farm to answer our shared cropping systems innovation questions.

And then also there’s important work being done on university research farms that tend to be more long term and allow us to, you know, put up an EC tower so we can measure gas flux, which isn’t really something that can be done on a working farm but does allow us to understand carbon and nitrogen dynamics differently.

Or, I know out at Cooke Farm they have the water flow channel and they’re able to measure the–I’m not an ecohydrologist, can you tell? They’re able to measure, you know, exactly how much water, what it’s looking like, what’s in it, and measure that coming off the farm. That’s not something you can put on a working farm.

So, there’s this whole spectrum of different ways that questions are asked and answered in our  agro-eco region, right? And as an ag community, we can all kind of advance together as we ask and answer questions in the way that makes the most sense and has the most meaning. So, this podcast is really about what that process looks like on the farm.

So, that’s both with growers asking and answering their own questions on their farms. How they’re doing that, what questions they’re asking, what data, what results are most meaningful, what can they take away that they can take into subsequent years as an applied practice, or what makes them say, “Oh, maybe I should do something differently? Or maybe that is something that isn’t going to really work well for my farm.”

So, how do we dive into that? Because there’s always something new and interesting to learn and try–but making sure that the results coming out of that are meaningful, whether it’s the grower asking the question by themselves or whether we can work together to answer those questions between growers and the research community and all the different flavors that that can encompass.

So, the focus of the podcast really is me going to people’s farms. I’ve been really grateful that growers have been willing to invite me out and talk about their experiences and really share some of the questions coming out of our region’s ag community and what’s meaningful for them.

And also some of our growers have been able and willing to share some of their lessons learned too. So that’s been probably not very fun for them in the moment. But I think it’s probably very interesting for other people to take away. As you know, they’re interested in trying different things as listeners to the podcast.

So, it’s all about co-innovation within our cropping system and how we as the ag community are working together to discover and translate practices into our very diverse and moisture-limited region. Basically, I was hoping to take everyone’s favorite part of the conference–of any workshop that I’ve put on and which is of course the grower panel–see, I do read those evaluations–and expand it to give people a chance to learn from each other and in a way that’s maybe more convenient for them sometimes. And, of course, I’m also trying to capture the range of agro-eco zones that we have in our dryland grain production.

So, this, you know, we’re just getting started. We’ve got just a few episodes out so far. We just dropped another one today. But, you know, I’m really trying to go beyond just the immediate Palouse [and go] out into the drier areas of eastern Washington, north Idaho, and kind of northeastern Oregon. So really hoping to get good representation across the region as well.

Drew Lyon: All right. Sounds like a great addition to our podcast topics that are available out there, because it really does take what this podcast does and kind of expands the scope of it quite a bit. So, it’s interesting. Tell us again how somebody would get to this podcast to download it, do they just get it off their favorite podcasting app, or they come to your website or what’s the…?

Carol McFarland: Absolutely. So, it’s available on our website and is being distributed across the various podcasting platforms. So right now, as of the recording of this podcast, we are distributing it across the platforms.

We’ve been troubleshooting some things in the background over the last month as we’ve gotten out the first couple of episodes. Maybe it’s a little bit like farming where you get to try a few different things before you really get it right. So, the “on-farm trials,” I guess, extends to the actual podcast production, but it’s still been really fun to do this work.

Drew Lyon: Okay. And can you give us your website address again?

Carol McFarland: Yeah, that is PNWFarmersNetwork.org. And also, if you want to be on the podcast, you have stuff you want to share–also, if you want to, you know, nominate someone or if there’s something you want to hear about, maybe I’m not asking the right questions. Definitely reach out to me at carol.mcfarland@wsu.edu or give me a call–if you’ve ever gotten an email from me, which many people have–you can find my phone number in my email as well.

Drew Lyon: Yeah, and we’ll put that information in our show notes so people can go find those links and email addresses easily. So, who do you envision listening to this podcast? Who would you like to be listening to it?

Carol McFarland: Well, it’s just like everything in the Farmers Network, Drew, everyone. Everyone should be part of it. But no, really, I’m hoping that this is something that is really interesting for the region’s grain growers and especially those who are interested in trying new things.

I know there’s a lot of people who are already doing a lot of their own cropping systems innovation. Hopefully they find some inspiration in it. And then there are some folks who are, you know, maybe, “Oh, I’m thinking about transitioning to no till, but, you know, I’m having some reservations about this piece of it.” Maybe they can listen to a few episodes and hear, you know, the no-till adoption is still one of the topics that is coming up and what those best practices look like, both from long-term no-tillers and people who are slowly making the transition.

So, it’s not just about whatever the most cutting-edge innovation is. It really is about wherever you are on the journey of asking and answering questions on your farm. There’s so much variation.

So, growers who farm across the dryland wheat production region of the Inland Pacific Northwest, you know, even if an interview is from–I just did one in Genesee, definitely some of the highest rainfall in the region but [it] was still really interesting to hear how that grower was thinking about trying things on the farm, asking questions, and the processes to answer them. You know, it doesn’t always matter exactly what the practice is, but there’s also that process side that’s been really interesting to hear about how various growers are approaching their own on-farm experimentation from that perspective.

I’m also hoping that researchers will listen to it too, because I hear from a lot of my research colleagues how much they love to talk with growers and hear what they have to say, what’s on their mind. But, you know, a lot of researchers are in the lab, they’re in their office working on grant proposals, or doing, you know, their own very busy workload. And it can be hard to make it out as individual researchers going to farms.

And then farmers, of course, are busy on their farms, too. And so, trying to find a place where those two can intersect and especially elevate growers’ questions. I do hope that other research colleagues will be able to listen to the podcast and hear what’s on growers’ minds.

Drew Lyon: I think that’s a great suggestion because growers and researchers learn from each other and that’s usually the best work where we take an idea somebody has and then maybe put a little science behind it. But, a lot of those ideas originate with growers out there or have a problem they want to solve.

Carol McFarland: Well, that’s the co-production of knowledge, co-production of research, and co-innovation.

Drew Lyon: We got all three cos in there. Alright.

Carol McFarland: Yeah, I feel like if we want to play with the buzzwords, that’s what it’s about though, is building that knowledge together and asking the questions and answering them.

Drew Lyon: You represent the PNW Farmers’ Network. Where do people go to learn more about it or to contact you?

Carol McFarland: Absolutely. I did already mention the website. So, PNWFarmersNetwork.org. Also, to follow us on Twitter [X], check out our podcast on your favorite podcasting platform. Also, you know, like, rate, and review–we’re still getting going so do share if you hear something that’s interesting. And, of course, people are free to reach out to me either by email at carol.mcfarland@wsu.edu or you can give me a call, that also works.

And we do have a mailing list for the [PNW] Farmers’ Network as well, so people can email me to get on that or we should be having a sign up on the website here shortly.

Drew Lyon: Okay. And I think we are going to have a link from the Small Grains website to the [PNW] Farmers’ Network as well so people who know about our website can come there and then find your website. So, yeah, all working together.

Carol, it’s really exciting to hear what you’re doing. It’s quite an undertaking. Appreciate you doing it and appreciate you sharing your information with our guests today.

Carol McFarland: Thank you so much, Drew. I really appreciate your support and inspiration as we work to serve our region’s growers.

Drew Lyon:


Thanks for joining us and listening to the WSU Wheat Beat podcast. If you like what you hear don’t forget to subscribe and leave a review on iTunes or your favorite podcast app. If you have questions or topics you’d like to hear on future episodes, please email me at drew.lyon — that’s lyon@wsu.edu — (drew.lyon@wsu.edu). You can find us online at smallgrains.wsu.edu and on Facebook and Twitter [X] @WSUSmallGrains. The WSU Wheat Beat podcast is a production of CAHNRS Communications and the College of Agricultural, Human, and Natural Resource Sciences at Washington State University.

I’m Drew Lyon, we’ll see you next time.


The views, thoughts, and opinions expressed by guests of this podcast are their own and does not imply Washington State University’s endorsement.

Categories: Podcast