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Implementing on-farm change on dairy farms using social networks to accelerate on-ground outcomes

Bronwyn Fisher

Subtropical Dairy Program and Queensland Dairyfarmers’ Organisation, PO Box 13061 George St, Queensland 4003


Dairying Better N Better for Tomorrow is an industry managed partnership approach to achieve improved resource management on dairy farms in Queensland. The objective of the program is to assist small groups of dairy farmers to increase profitability, competitiveness and sustainability through the uptake better on-farm natural resource management practices. Farmers identify their natural resource management priorities via the Dairy Self Assessment Tool and then a local workshop series is held. These tools support the farmers in developing and implementing an environmental sustainability action plan that is consistent with environmental management system (EMS) principles.

Media Summary

Dairying Better N Better for Tomorrow is an industry managed program supporting Queensland dairy farmers increase profitability, competitiveness and sustainability through the uptake better on-farm natural resource management practices.

Key words

FMS, EMS, dairy industry, on-farm adoption, Dairying Better N Better, natural resource management


Prior to the dairy industry deregulation in 2000, farmers enjoyed economic stability as a result of a set farm gate price, as well as social buoyancy indicated by regular locally driven farmer discussion groups, industry forums and farm walks. Since dairy deregulation and increasing climate variability however, environmental, social and economic sustainability have all become increasingly important for dairy farms in Queensland.

Dairying Better N Better was developed between 1999-2002 as a collaborative industry approach to identify and promote adoption of better management practices for priority natural resource management (NRM) areas and develop a knowledge-based decision support tool. This program was supported significantly by the Dairy Research and Development Corporation, Subtropical Dairy Program, Natural Heritage Trust, Australian Research Council, Queensland Dairyfarmers’ Organisation, Queensland Department of Primary Industries, Queensland Department of Natural Resources and Mines, NSW Agriculture and the University of Queensland.

Key outcomes of the program included development of Dairy Improvement Groups (farmers and advisors) in each of the dairy regions across Queensland, development of benchmarking information on current industry practices, definition of best management practices, development of decision support tools including “Better Practices” book and CD-ROM and Successful Minimum Tillage book. However, farmer surveys regarding on-farm practice change and industry awareness of NRM indicate that as a result of this program only 6% of farmers changed management practices (Gramshaw, 2002). However, as a result of the program there was broad acknowledgement that the stakeholder participatory approach utilised for the program was successful, as was the implementation of participatory action learning processes.

In 2003, the Subtropical Dairy Program, with support from Dairy Australia commissioned Rural Scope Pty Ltd to develop a model that would build onto the work conducted through the initial Dairying Better N Better program. Key objectives of the model were to help build farmer awareness of NRM issues, improve farmer knowledge regarding recommended management practices, help farmers make informed decisions and support the adoption of on-farm change. The process needed to be based on experiential-adult learning principles, whilst also incorporating principles associated with managing change and continuous improvement.

Dairying Better N Better for Tomorrow: the process

The objective of the program is to replicate a similar environment to the dairy discussion groups that existed prior to dairy deregulation and to support dairy producers to increase profitability, competitiveness and sustainability through the acceleration of on-ground outcomes and the implementation of recommended management actions.

The program involves ten to fifteen farmers working together within a local area over a six month period. The first activity in the process involves farmers identifying and prioritising the NRM issues of interest to their enterprise using the Dairy Self Assessment Tool (DairySAT) checklist and guide developed through the national Dairying for Tomorrow initiative. This is a one-on-one process conducted between the farmer and a facilitator.

Figure 1: Dairying Better N Better for Tomorrow – Overview

The DairySAT has been specifically developed for dairy farmers (Nielsen et al, 2005) and is an essential component to Dairying Better N Better for Tomorrow program and assists producers recognise and prioritise environmental issues. The DairySAT enables farmers to benchmark their current enterprise practices as acceptable industry practice, below industry practice and above industry practice. The observable outcome of this self assessment is that enterprises benchmark their own practice against local and industry standards and from this are able to prioritise areas on farm that need action (Eady, 2004). This process assists farmers to interpret environmental issues at a farm level and can clearly highlight issues that need addressing. Significant linkages have been developed between the DairySAT and the Queensland Dairy Farming Environmental Code of Practice. This code was approved under the Queensland Environmental Protection Act (1994) (EP Act) in February 2001 and establishes the basis for farmers in meeting their “General Environmental Duty”.

These individual priority issues identified through the DairySAT are collectively discussed with key representatives from local catchment groups and regional NRM bodies. This process ensures that the farmer-identified issues are consistent with catchment and regional planning priorities and targets.

The collated priority issues are then addressed collectively through a series of group workshops involving all enterprises. These workshops enable producers to address “their” priorities and is therefore a “bottom up” approach resulting in a high level of farmer enthusiasm and involvement. The workshops provide information to farmers by farmer-friendly technical advisors and are conducted in a supportive environment. The workshops also incorporate key experiential learning principles including farm walks and structured discussion to enable a balance to be maintained between advisory input and farmer discussion.

Following the workshop series, farmers develop an action plan based on information gained from the workshop. This action plan is consistent with the requirements of an Environmental Management System and may also support compliance and regulatory requirements. During the development of the action plan, family-farm discussions regarding resourcing availability, on-going monitoring, applicability for incentives and record keeping are all encouraged. Furthermore, the established trust and support in the small group environment also provides accountability and provides appropriate time-lines for commitment by each enterrpise to be reported against (Eady, 2004).

Key drivers for change

People underpin the success of Dairying Better N Better for Tomorrow. The roles of a Local Farmer Advocate and Local Facilitator are critical to facilitating the change process. These roles provide the small group of farmers with a local respected farmer whom acts as a role model and engages directly with the farmers and the local facilitator. The Local Facilitator provides the link with the strategic directions of NRM with the community and the dairy industry, whilst also engaging directly with the producers at an individual-enterprise level and also as a group.

The program is delivered on a local basis and this allows NRM issues specifically affecting farmers in the local catchment to be addressed through the workshop series. Consequently, the information delivered is more relevant to the farmers involved and travel time for producers is reduced. The localised delivery of the program means that all of the farmers in the group know each other well and therefore the farmers are more comfortable discussing their issues amongst familiar people in familiar surroundings.

Dairying Better N Better for Tomorrow is a working model demonstrating a whole of industry and community approach to supporting farmers address NRM issues. This requires substantial support from the milk processing sector, agency extension support, private advisory services, national and regional research and develop groups, peak dairy organisations and community groups working together to achieve a consistent result. It has been demonstrated that the more the process is embedded into an industry and community context the more likely it is that farmers will undertake change to ensure the sustainability of their enterprise for generations to come (Eady, 2004).

A conscious effort by the dairy industry has been made to ensure that strategic linkages between Dairying Better N Better for Tomorrow and other industry and community initiatives are made where synergies exist, to maximise resource efficiency. These include the Dairying for Tomorrow Initiative implemented by Dairy Australia and funded by DAFF, the Rural Water Use Efficiency Initiative implemented by QDO and DPI&F and funded by the Department of Natural Resources and Mines and the Farm Management System Framework being developed by the Queensland Farmers Federation.


Dairying Better N Better for Tomorrow has been adopted by the Subtropical Dairy Program and the Queensland Dairyfarmers’ Organisation as the integrated approach for addressing on-farm natural resource management issues. The program is an industry managed approach which involves small social networks of dairy producers working together in a comfortable learning environment to accelerate on-ground environmental practices and farm sustainability.


Eady, J (2004) Dairying Better N Better for Tomorrow Project Report, RuralScope, Brisbane.

Gramshaw, D (2002) Dairying Better N Better Resource Management Practices – Final Report, Queensland Department of Primary Industries, Brisbane.

National Land and Water Resources Audit (2001) Sustaining our Natural Resources – Dairying for Tomorrow, Dairy Research and Development Corporation, Melbourne.

Nielsen, C and Newton, O (2005) Dairy Self Assessment Tool, Victoria Department of Primary Industries, Ellinbank

Queensland Department if Primary Industries (2001) Queensland Dairy Farming Environmental Code of Practice, Queensland Department of Primary Industries and Fisheries, Brisbane.

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