A recent article in The Land underlines the growing importance of private consultants and farmer groups in positions abandoned by the traditional extension or ‘educative’ roles of government agriculture departments. These groups are now taking on the responsibility of communicating important scientific based information to farmers.
Chairman of the Birchip Cropping Group (BCG) in northern Victoria, Ian McClelland, says, “the benefits are the researchers get recognition and feedback on the key issues, the consultants have a laboratory in the field, industry sees their products being demonstrated and farmers get interaction between these people.”
Click here to read the March 18 article.
This issue also flashes back to a conversation I had with Nicole Payne, Assistant Director and North West Manager of NSW’s Department of Environment, Climate Change and Water’s Kangaroo Management Program.
You have found the communication of scientific knowledge to be lacking. Why is this so?
Scientists are very good at going along to conferences and workshops frequented by the scientific community. They all talk together and all understand each other and that’s very nice but those are not he people making policy decisions with respect to natural resource management and they’re also not the people who own and run the properties and who need to better manage those properties, whether it’s cropping, livestock production or natural resource management. So there’s this big yawning gap about what the scientists know, and talk to each other about, and what filters down to the level of the people who are making on ground decisions and actually getting things done that effect environmental management.
I think part of the reason for that has been the way funding arrangements are made. It forces scientists to publish in peer reviewed scientific journals which is not accessible to managers and people who really need to know what has been discovered.
So we’re missing an ‘information bridge’?
Yes, I think the government has also made a mistake from moving away from extension services in Departments like the Department of Agriculture and even our own because extension people bridged the gap a bit. They had sufficient scientific knowledge to understand the journals and track down research that was being done and then to translate it into something that could be usable for workshops where the more progressive and innovative landholders can come along and learn about what’s happening in the research world and how that might be applicable on their own farms. For many years now the government has moved away from those services because they’re very expensive. They used to be on a user pay basis, which makes them less accessible. Extension staffs are expensive to run.
They’re kind of like schoolteachers. Go out to help verbalise. The only ones that still remain are district agronomers. That may be because the intensive cropping industry is such high value. I don’t know who funds those positions anymore. The point of them was to let people on the ground know what research had found and how that might be applied in their own circumstances. 15 years ago I worked for the Department of Agriculture and there were livestock officers and they did some group work at workshops but once upon a time they literally went out to individual land holders properties to talk to them about the production systems they were employing and how the research might help them get better value of produce a better product. All of that’s gone now. The staff don’t have the resources to visit individual landholders. The best that is still achieved, where it’s still achieved at all, is group workshops.