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Land Water & Wool: An integrated extension program in Natural Resource Management on wool properties.

Michael Wagg1 and Andrew Lawson2

1 Land & Water Australia, GPO Box 1282, Canberra, ACT, 2601. Email mike.wagg@lwa,gov.au
2
Land & Water Australia, GPO Box 1282 Canberra, ACT, 2601. Email andrew.lawson@lwa.gov.au

Abstract

Land Water & Wool is a joint Australian Wool Innovation Ltd and Land and Water Australia Research and Development Corporation programme. It aims to provide the wool industry with the knowledge, tools and enthusiasm to minimise its environmental impact while enhancing productivity. It is a national programme that will invest in excess of $20 million over 5 years to:

    • Understand woolgrowers needs and aspirations in relation to the management of natural resources;

    • Provide motivation, capability and commercially practical tools for woolgrowers to adopt innovations to improve productivity and reduce the impact of wool production practices on key environmental issues; and

    • Identify key gaps in our knowledge base and implement scientifically sound and commercially applicable research programs to address them.

The Programme has around one year left to run. The size of the Programme and the breadth of subject matter have enabled the team to target various audiences and trial a range of extension techniques from the traditional to the quirky. This has included: woolgrower case studies, field days, dog collars, photo competitions, local networks, demonstration sites, local communications personnel, engagement with regional authorities and state agencies, woolgrower advocates and training packages. All techniques are aimed at nurturing knowledge, skills, solutions, confidence, pride and a sense of fun.

Three key learnings: (1) Assisting farmers to identify issues and conduct research in their environment assists successful extension. (2) We need to provide a range of entry points for farmers to try new technology. (3) Financial benefit is not the only motivation for practice change.

Keywords

Capacity, knowledge, needs

Introduction

Land, Water & Wool (LWW) is the most comprehensive natural resource management (NRM) research and development programme ever undertaken for the Australian Wool industry. It is a five-year collaboration between Australian Wool Innovation Limited (AWI), Land & Water Australia and numerous other investors, and comprises $20 million of AWI funding with $18 million from contributing partners, underpinned by Land & Water Australia’s significant research investment over the last ten years into natural resource management (Anon, 2005). Thirty-five thousand sheep and wool producers manage nearly 100 million sheep across 85 million hectares of the landscape, from the high rainfall areas on the costal fringe to the medium rainfall wheat-sheep belt and inland to the saltbush and mulga lands of the pastoral zone. The industry recognises that to remain viable, the resource base on which it relies must be managed in a sustainable manner.

Objectives of the programme include:

1. To identify key NRM issues from producers perspectives and understand their perceptions, needs, priorities and practices.

2. To increase wool producer awareness of and motivation to tackle NRM issues.

3. To provide wool producers with the knowledge and practical tools to address key NRM issues including productive and profitable solutions to the management of saline and potentially saline lands; rivers, streams and watering points; native grasslands and grazing systems; on-farm biodiversity; climate variability, pastoral country management and long term scenarios for future wool production systems.

4. To increase the capacity of wool producers to apply NRM innovations within their commercial enterprise.

5. To position the wool industry to reduce its environmental impact and to use environmental performance as a strategic marketing asset if it so chooses.

An industry wide survey undertaken at the start of the programme showed that 41% of wool properties (excluding the pastoral zone) have areas affected by salinity, 78% adjoin at least one waterway and 77% have areas of native vegetation; 90% of producers believe that sustainable natural resource management is important.

While LWW's main investment is in the development of new knowledge, there are also significant resources invested in the extension of existing technology for better NRM, which is being updated as new research results become available. This paper deals mainly with the approaches taken to LWW extension activities to achieve lasting change in NRM on wool properties.

Approach

LWW project activities mainly take place within 7 sub-programmes, being:

  • Sustainable Grazing on Saline Land (SGSL)
  • Native vegetation and Biodiversity
  • Rivers and Water Quality
  • Managing Climate Variability
  • Managing Pastoral Country
  • Future Woolscapes
  • Benchmarking

At the start of the Programme there was a strong recognition of the large body of existing NRM information for woolgrowers, prompting the decision to produce an "NRM Toolkit". We assumed that we would have a useful collection of knowledge that woolgrowers ought to put into practice and that all we had to do was package the knowledge in an attractive and useable format. However, some preliminary market research revealed that we hadn’t addresses a fundamental issue, namely: why would a landholder be interested in such a toolkit? What was the imperative for the toolkit that would push it up the long and time-consuming list of priorities that landholders deal with? Consequently, the concept of a comprehensive toolkit was abandoned and a rethink of our extension approach was undertaken.

We adopted the principle that in order to achieve management changes on farms, the manager must identify a need or motivating factor for change. This must be supported by the required knowledge or technology being available, along with a capacity to implement.

(Modified from Zammit, C., Pers. Comm, 2005)

Without all three factors in place the desired objective won't be achieved. LWW extension activities are now designed to support one or more of these factors within defined target audiences that are either direct (woolgrowers) or indirect (eg. extension staff, policy makers, regional NRM bodies). The following represent a small sample of our activities and address one or more aspects of the principle outlined above for a range of audiences.

Farmer-initiated demonstration sites

In the SGSL Sub-programme, we’ve combined five formal, scientifically rigorous research sites with 120 woolgrower-initiated demonstration sites (involving about 1,200 farmers) in which local landholder groups (such as landcare groups and farming systems groups) tackle a salt-land issue relevant to them. This recognises that as research managers, we don't always know what the need is that sparks a woolgrower to change practices. The result is a tremendous feedback process between the scientists on the formal research sites and the growers with their demonstration sites. The engagement and enthusiasm of growers involved is palpable - Malcolm Schaeffer, one of our woolgrowers on Kangaroo Island, South Australia, says that the reason he has become so excited about his involvement with Land, Water & Wool is because it’s the first time a research program has asked him about what he wants to know. An interesting unintended benefit of this appears to be an increased level of satisfaction among our research teams many of whom haven't conducted research on privately owned farms before.

Publications

All of the LWW sub-programmes have relied heavily on the use of publications to get messages across, with particular thought being given to specific target audiences for each publication. For example, in the Rivers Sub-programme, a suite of publications on river management was launched early in the year. The flagship products were two comprehensive rivers guides – one each for the high rainfall and wheat sheep zones. These were targeted at technical staff in regional NRM Bodies (who had opportunity to input to the product) who are in a position to influence woolgrowers and provided considerable detail, supported by research, on river management activities that can impact at the catchment scale. The aim was to align the interests of LWW with the objectives of the regional NRM bodies (eg better water quality) so that their staff would find the guides a useful resource when dealing with farmers. Some woolgrowers with a particular interest in how their farm relates to the catchment are also using the guides. For woolgrowers more motivated by how better riparian management could add to profit and ease of management, a more concise publication was produced that specifically met their needs. Many of the management actions presented were the same as in the guides, but the rationale for implementation focused on improved farm management rather than better catchment management. A third publication in the set was a group of ten case studies. This was targeted more at the whole farming family and links positive values about resource management with family experience of managing their river. It appeals more to an audience that responds to the non-economic values in NRM such as preserving biodiversity for the future.

Websites

For pastoralists in Queensland, the Climate Sub-programme has chosen the internet as its primary delivery tool. This recognises a couple of realities about the operating environment in the Queensland pastoral zone. Firstly, the rate of internet access is high (86% have access with 67% on broadband) and secondly, survey work in the area has shown that many farmers like to access relevant information at a time that best suits them rather than attending field days and workshops that can involve considerable time (both in travel and participation) and inconvenience. While convenient, the use of the internet has posed some challenges for our climate projects in successful knowledge transfer. Woolgrowers are hungry for tools that help them predict weather. Many management decisions are bound up in the question of whether it’s going to rain. It's especially important in the rangelands where bad stocking rate decisions have impacts that can sometimes last for decades.

However the science of climate variability is highly technical with a language of its own and a refined discourse on the issue of uncertainty. Woolgrowers and on-ground extension staff have found the discourse mind-boggling – all they want to know is: Is it going to rain? But they are confronted with explanations that encompass probability, ‘skill’, uncertainty, and a range of international models. As a result the website has been supported by introductory workshops, hardcopy materials as well as telephone support.

A more general website is the whole of programme website. This operates more as an introductory portal to the programme, although a large amount of specific information can be downloaded. We have averaged around 500 users per month since the site went live.

Photo Competition

With the huge amount of on farm activity occurring among the 1,200 woolgrowers involved in the SGSL producer networks, an opportunity was identified to both allow interested people to show what salt-land management meant to them, as well as to collate a valuable library of salt-land management images. Hence the "SGSL Pride in Salt-land Management" photo competition was born. Pride has been identified as a key motivating factor from within SGSL as a reason for people to become involved in salt-land management activities such as saline agronomy. This activity had terrific momentum right from the start. A steering committee drawn from the Sub-programme, and supported by a communications company, organised sponsorship, conditions and publicity. Over 400 entries were received from across the country in a range of categories all around the theme of pride. As well as increasing awareness about SGSL, the competition also reinforced among the entrants the importance of what they are achieving. The impact of the competition continues through two travelling exhibitions of the 30 photos that were the finalists.

Field days and Workshops

Of course, a lot of our extension effort goes into the traditional activities of field days and workshops. Field days are generally based around on farm research activities and are often tied in with major events such as conferences. For example, a project focusing on the productive use of native pastures around Burra was a major site for the Stipa Conference held last October. Small paddock-scale work has shown that both grazing productivity and native biodiversity can be enhanced through better management of stock access in relation to plant physiology. Combining this field day with a conference increased our audience beyond what a LWW event on its own would have achieved.

In the Pastoral Sub-programme, workshops have been used to determine the extent to which new technologies can add value to the woolgrower’s decision-making ability. Our “Remotes Controls for Woolgrowers” project is investigating the use of satellite imagery for in-season stocking rate decisions in the pastoral zone. To the researchers, the technology is exciting and full of possibilities. However, we can’t presume that pastoralists find it similarly exciting. A series of workshops with participating pastoralists in South Australia has enabled the researchers to ask woolgrowers about the sort of information they would find useful from such technology and how they would like that information presented and packaged. It also revealed that pastoralists have interests in the technology outside the scope of the project but that the researchers are keen to investigate. In particular, woolgrowers are interested in the historical context (over decades) of land management captured by satellite and aerial photo imagery, not just within-season applications.

One of the most fascinating workshop series we conducted was a set of scenario building workshops that imagined the world in 30 years time. Participants were drawn from a wide range of backgrounds and supported by papers commissioned on topics as diverse as demographics, consumer trends and climate change. One of the key themes the process highlighted was that attention to environmental management (including credible proof of good management) is likely to become a need in the face of either regulation or market specifications in the coming decades. With this insight, LWW has had value in preparing woolgrowers for needs that they may not have previously considered through a range of extension products produced as a result of the workshops.

Media Tour

Communication of wool-industry initiatives on environmental management has two important streams. Firstly, there are woolgrowers and people who assist and advise woolgrowers at the coal-face of land management. Woolgrowers, farm consultants, State agency agronomists, Catchment Management Authority (CMA) staff gather and receive information relevant to land management from the full range of media, including print media, websites, radio and television.

Secondly, there are wool consumers and the general community who have an indirect but vital influence on the way woolgrowers manage land. The influence of the second group can’t be underestimated and is often volatile. Consumers’ purchasing decisions affect the demand for woollen textiles. Consumers make demands on the way products are produced. Urban and rural communities have expectations on the ways that woolgrowers manage their farms in terms of water-quality provided to cities, dust and nature conservation. Their informed support can assist woolgrowers manage the environment, just as their purchasing decisions and misconceptions can hinder it. Similarly, consumers gain information and are influenced by all forms of media.

Land, Water & Wool needs to positively influence both groups in order to achieve better land management on woolgrowing properties. With this in mind, we have created an opportunity for national and regional print, radio and television media to visit woolgrowing properties where environmental management is a priority and speak directly with woolgrowers and research scientists on the steps they are taking together to achieve an improved environment.

Advocates

Tangible, hard-copy documents, reports and materials are valuable in Land, Water & Wool extension. They form a permanent ‘repository’ of information, lessons, learnings and experiences that will endure long after the Land, Water & Wool programme finishes. However, these aids to extension don’t sell themselves. They are sold by people. Equally, extension is as much about building relationships between people as it is about producing permanent repositories of knowledge. In this regard, as research projects reach their conclusion and generate research findings that can be packaged in documents, websites and other tools, Land, Water & Wool intends to commission a number of ‘Advocates’ who already are well-connected with key contacts in the State agencies, CMAs and farm consultancy circles. These Advocates will take on a face-to-face communications role in delivering Land, Water & Wool products. They will be able to speak personally with woolgrower advisers about the findings from the programme and direct their attention to the most relevant information and publications available from the program. Our hope is that this will get our information out of our programme and into the hands, hearts and minds of users.

Dog-collars

Communications experts tell us that a truly effective communications product must balance concepts that come from - and appeal to - both sides of the brain. The left side is analytical, ‘scientific’, rational, logical. This is the stuff of traditional research and there is plenty of material in Land, Water & Wool that is drawn from this hemisphere and that appeals to the need for scientifically credible information.

However, the programme tries to encourage gems from the right-side of the brain wherever possible. This is the hemisphere of “curiosity, synergy, experimentation, metaphoric thinking, playfulness, solution finding, artistry, flexibility, synthesizing and in general, risk taking” (Sheldrick, 2005). One of the most novel examples of right-brain thinking in the development of extension products came out of our Native Vegetation & Biodiversity Sub-programme project in Victoria, where researcher Jim Moll conceived and developed the idea of adding a land management slogan and the LWW website address to a dog collar. The dog collars will be inserted around a photo of a sheepdog that appears on the front of a brochure on the benefits of better management of native grasses on hill country in Victoria. The dog-collar will bear the slogan:

and will be distributed for free (with brochure attached!) through Elders and Landmark outlets in areas of Victoria relevant to the research. Look out for it in at an Elders or Landmark agricultural supply store near you!

Discussion

Land Water & Wool comes to an end in December 2006. An evaluation strategy is in place and results that have been collected during LWW will be analysed over the next 6 months. Evaluation will include a benefit cost analysis and assessment of achievements versus planned outputs and outcomes. As a result, much of our evaluation information is preliminary at this stage. Some 1,380 woolgrowers are now directly involved with the program through on farm research activities while a further 6,500 have accessed directly relevant information about research in their region resulting in the distribution of over 11,000 printed products.

In managing some 80 projects, all related to achieving improved sustainability for woolgrowers, we have gained a fair bit of experience in what has worked, what hasn't worked, and in some cases we have learned to understand why. Hopefully these "understandings" will be supported (or modified) by evidence at the conclusion of our formal evaluation activities. In the meantime we have gained a fair amount of confidence in the following "insights", many of which support findings in the extension literature.

Make it locally relevant

With a national program such as LWW there is often a tension between maintaining a national profile and being locally relevant. The NRM toolkit developed at the start of the programme was rightly criticised as being too general and not dealing enough with issues at a local level. For information to be taken seriously it needs to be presented with the relevant local context in mind.

Provide plenty of hooks

A lot of agricultural extension has been underpinned by a belief that practice change is mainly motivated by profit now and into the future. While profit should never be discounted as a motivator, we have seen many examples in LWW where people have changed practices without improving profit. Even where a clear positive return on investment can be shown (for example with some saline agronomy practices) it may not be enough to get people to adopt if it is low on their priority list. Adoption can be improved if the technology can be linked to a range possible motivating factors. Ease of management, "doing the right thing", being seen as an innovator or protecting a favourite spot on the farm may all be more important that profit to some people in some circumstances.

Have plenty of entry points

Experience has shown us that while some people are prepared to adopt major management changes in one hit on the basis of a field day or research report, others prefer to 'try before they buy" and like to test out new technology on a small scale first. Enabling people to do this with low risk has improved involvement.

Understand who can help you

LWW is mainly an industry funded program aiming to provide woolgrowers with the knowledge tools and enthusiasm to improve NRM. By working with other groups with similar objectives such as Catchment Management Authorities we have been able to leverage assistance. Agribusiness is also a key contact point with farmers as well as a highly respected source of credible information. A recent report by published by the Sheep CRC (Green, 2005) reported that woolgrowers rated woolreps and stock agents at 58% and the Victorian DPI as 10% as 'decision making sources of information".

On farm research gets people involved

On farm research has been strong component of LWW. While it often has limitations in terms of scientific method, and conclusions may need to be treated with caution, on farm research is hugely influential and achieves high levels of engagement.

Conclusion

Assisting farmers to identify issues and conduct research in their environment assists successful extension. We need to provide a range of entry points for farmers to try new technology.

Financial benefit is not the only motivation for practice change.

References

Anon. (Dec. 2005). A snapshot of the Australian Wool Industries Land Water & Wool natural resource management research and development programme. Published by Land & Water Australia.

Green, B. (July 2005). Efficiency in extension – Investing in locating and accessing the target audience.. Published by Sheep CRC.

Sheldrick M. (2005) Is it true that creativity resides in the right hemisphere of the brain? Scientific American

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