A NUFFIELD Scholar, who researched the best way to convey scientific research back to farmers, says effective extension is critical in getting the best return on investment from agricultural research development (R and D).
Chris Reichstein, a farmer at Esperance, in WA’s south-eastern cropping zone, said top quality research lost its value if it did not translate to uptake in the paddock.
“You can’t lose sight of that human factor and ensuring the message is presented to farmers in a fashion to suit everyone’s learning styles.”
Mr Reichstein said he was happy with how the Grains Research and Development Corporation (GRDC) was allocating its funds in terms of the split between research and extension.
“There is money going towards extension, towards people on the ground, and I think that is critical.”
He said he also felt the GRDC was listening to growers in the development of research priorities..
“I think initiatives like the regional panels and the regional cropping solutions network are good in terms of ensuring farmers can talk about what their research priorities are.”
“It is a good thing as even though Australia is home to some of the world’s best R&D especially in agriculture it has typically embraced the ‘top down’ model, which tends to be supply driven and directed by those off-farm like scientists and external organisations,” he said.
“More work with growers on what research they want will always be welcomed and there seems to be have been a concerted shift in this direction.”
Mr Reichstein said he toured the world as part of the scholarship and found a range of different systems in terms of R,D and E.
“In the US, for example, it is very comprehensive and there is also a lot of involvement from the private companies.
“I don’t think Australian growers would like to have chemical and biotech businesses involved in the day to day agronomy of their crop like often happens in the US.”
He also said much of the research direction came from the top down, as opposed to being grower-driven.
Ireland, New Zealand and Argentina all had strong cultures of grower-driven research and collaborative learning he said.
Mr Reichstein said getting the format of the information right for the individual grower was critical.
“For farmers there are varied barriers to learning and adoption of innovation be they cultural, economic, social, political or attitude to risk or past experience, when research identifies potential change to benefit our systems we need to ask what are the impediments to adoption and tailor the message in such a way as to cater for individual farmers need.”
“Learning about the latest in R and D shouldn’t be a one-size fits all approach. It needs to be delivered to growers in a multitude of ways including face-to-face, written and online education.
“There’s a growing trend to facilitate peer learning via grower groups – a key characteristic of the ‘bottom up’ model – which play a vital role in bringing together farmers and researchers for mutual benefit.”