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Acid Sulfate Soils: Using feedback

Abigail Jenkins

NSW Agriculture Wollongbar Agricultural Institute, Bruxner Hwy Wollongbar NSW 2477.
Email:
abigail.jenkins@agric.nsw.gov.au

Introduction

Acid Sulfate Soils (ASS) pose a unique land management challenge. Many of the most severe effects resulting from their mismanagement are often offsite and of catchment scale. In the broader community there is still a great deal of confusion about how to manage these soils. A 287 farmer survey (1999) in NSW ASS areas found that many farmers didn’t feel they had enough information to manage these soils or they didn’t believe they exist. The depth of the ASS layer below the surface being a critical factor for management decisions. They didn’t know about the ASS on their properties.

During the survey the NSW cane industry was carrying out on farm sampling for ASS. The industry took samples from all 800 farms on the north coast. Cane farmers were conspicuous in their positive attitude toward acid sulfate soil management. They citied extension support from the local mill and especially the on farm sampling project as a major reason for this attitude. In focus groups where survey results were presented non cane farmers identified on farm sampling as an important task, they wanted something similar for themselves.

Here was fundamental information about what farmers wanted which could be used to combat the issues of low awareness and understanding hampering better ASS management.

However the resources available to the cane industry are not accessible to most other industries. A booklet detailing biophysical indicators to look for when assessing an area for ASS risk and step by step methods for field sampling soil was thought the next best option. The aim was to produce a tool that farmers, without the resources of the cane industry, could use easily. By using indicators as awareness raising tools it is hoped that their application for long term farm monitoring will be promoted. Thus it builds on the cane model by enabling farmers to do it themselves.

Purpose of poster

The poster would showcase the publication and the process used in its development.

Responding to feedback

The fact that the booklet results directly from a request makes it a distinctive piece of extension material. . The booklet may well form the major part of a resource for groups such as landcare, drainage unions etc and extension personnel.

However it is important to note that it is not enough by itself to extend awareness of an issue. A comprehensive series of workshops and/or field days is required to walk people through using the booklet and encourage the continued use of indicator information. This is something planned for the future.

Consultation

A multidisciplinary team was put together to create the booklet. Team members came from survey, extension, landcare and technical backgrounds. More importantly an iterative process of improvement was set up. Throughout the booklets' development, comment was constantly sought from those who would be using it. Feedback regarding the usefulness and relevance of information included was essential. We started with farm visits in known ASS areas to test out the procedure and ensure the greatest farmer involvement. Subsequently various sections of the booklet were given to farmers to test, and to technical specialists to edit. To this end, the farmers involved in the initial farm visits were given the final draft to appraise. It was vital to find out if the individual methods were easy to understand and if the whole booklet worked in its entirety. In this way a process of continuous improvement was applied to our work.

Conclusions and Educational importance

The project is out of the ordinary because it employs a continuous improvement process. By building on a project that came before and soliciting constant input form both farmers and technical specialists it is an example of active extension. It shows how communities can influence the information coming out of government departments and how government departments can provide extension material that is useful.

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