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EXTENSION AND DEMONSTRATION - THE FINAL KEYS FOR SUCCESSFUL ADOPTION OF CONSERVATION TILLAGE

Packer1, B. Butler2, M. Arrow3, J. Salmon4 and P. Matthews5

1Department of Land & Water Conservation, Cowra, NSW 2794
2
NSW Agriculture, Cowra, NSW 2794
3
Department of Land & Water Conservation, Parkes, NSW 2870
4
Department of Land & Water Conservation, Temora, NSW 2666
5
NSW Agriculture, Temora, NSW 2666.

Abstract

Despite considerable effort in soil structure and conservation tillage research in southern NSW, a large number of landholders are not adopting this research. Research adoption is essential for completeness and ensuring cooperative future research. The key to research adoption is a well structured extension/demonstration program using four basic steps. These are - formulating a practical application of the research, integrate this into a best management practice, training and identifying knowledge gaps. Case studies and their success are presented.

Key words: Extension, demonstration, best management practices, conservation tillage.

Considerable research effort has been spent on identifying the extent of soil structural degradation (3) and on quantifying the environmental advantages of conservation tillage (4, 1) and the various soil and agronomic changes that occur (2, 5). Despite wide publication of research outcomes, a large number of southern New South Wales landholders are not adopting conservation tillage. Without adoption and farmer support, future research is threatened. On the other hand, adoption of conservation tillage protects our soil resource as well as establishing credibility and enhancing research.

Methods

Four main steps applied in our extension/demonstration program to promote conservation tillage were:

• formulate a practical application of research results at the farmer level;

• integrate this research with other research and practical experience into a best management practices (BMP's) for the soil type, conditions and climate encountered;

• ensure there is technology transfer to, and training of, farmers, extension people whether government or private and other researchers, to ensure a coordinated message and understand-ing; and,

• identify knowledge gaps, if any, to establish future research projects involving farmers.

Case studies are presented below of this approach and an evaluation of how successful it has been.

Results

The first case presented is via a National Landcare Program titled 'The Lachlan Soil Sustainability Project'. Within this program, soil structure decline and erosion were two major sustainability issues to address were soil structure decline and erosion. As these were closely related, they were approached as a single issue and promote conservation tillage as a solution. The first action was to collate relevant research work on conservation tillage to establish a creditable basis to adopt this technology. Relevant research work showed a significant reduction in runoff and erosion and organic carbon improvement (1, 4). Associated improvements were significant nutrient and biological improvements (2, 5). Therefore the challenge was to package this work for application at an operational farm level. Once formulated the package was targeted at the Upper Bogan Landcare group, north west of Parkes, to support their interest and attempts at stubble retention and no-tillage. The most immediate problem was unsuitable machinery for conservation tillage. A combine was converted for demonstration and rental to local farmers to solve this problem. This was a catalyst for subsequent conversions and new machinery purchases. The next step was to formulate best management practices (BMPs) using research results for profitable and productive crop and pasture enterprises. These were introduced via field days and workshops to educate and train farmers, extension and agribusiness staff. This ensured a coordinated message and a team to solve any problems when implementing the BMWs. Although the NLP program has finished the group has now become actively involved in formulating and helping to run new research projects investigating aspects related to sodic soils, farming systems and vegetation maintenance. A similar approach was taken with the Upper Tyagong and Dunedoo Landcare groups with similar results with respect to adoption and ongoing research.

Another case study which had a different approach to the adoption of conservation tillage is the Morangarell Landcare group. The group was concerned with organic matter decline and structural damage on grey cracking clays. As there was little relevant conservation tillage research on these soil types, BMPs were formulated on the basis of research results from lighter textured soils. As these BMPs had an element of both extension and research, a research site on a 'virgin' stock reserve was established to obtain data on soil and economic data using conservation tillage farming systems whilst learning practical implementation problems. Following the first crop in 1997, there has been collaboration with research groups, private and government agencies and other landcare groups. Experiments have been established with CSIRO and other groups to investigate biofumigation, lucerne effects on dewatering and nutrients and soil structure/management systems and their sustainability. The farmers control the work being carried out on the site so they can answer their management questions by having research intermingled with extension and demonstration of the best management systems.

Discussion and conclusion

These case studies highlight how a well structured extension/demonstration effort can get research adopted to change management systems and promote new research. There are however problems of trying to quantify the success of this work. A good approximation was reported by Vanclay and Hely (6) who stated farmer's knowledge about land degradation increased between 1993 and 1996 due to the NLP project. Farmers reported their high level of changed behaviour was due largely to increased knowledge and participation in extension activities of the Departments. Actual survey figures showed that cultivation before sowing was reduced from 2.8 in 1993 to 2 in 1996 due the acceptance of conservation tillage practices. Another indirect method of gauging success was the formation of the Central West Conservation Farming Association in response to the need for more research, demonstration and practical information. The group now has 350 members and has had an annual attendance of 1500 to 2000 farmers at their conservation farming seminar and field day for the last three years. More recently over 70 % of the NSW Rural Assistance Authority drought preparedness grant for conservation machinery was allocated to the DLWC Central West region. These figures support the success of the conservation tillage extension/demonstration program in this region. Hopefully adoption to this level will become statewide to address soil structural and erosion problems. Also this approach ensures future research because farmers are providing support in the formulation of projects to get answers to specific and relevant queries and problems.

References

1. Chan, K.Y., and Heenan, D.P. 1993. Aust. J. Soil Res. 31, 13-24.

2. Heenan, D.P., McGhie, W.J., Thompson, F.M. and Chan, K.Y. 1995. Aust. J. Exp. Agric. 35, 877-884.

3. Geeves, G.W., Cresswell, H.P., Murphy, B.W., and Chartres, C.J. 1995. Productivity and sustainability from managing soil structure in cropping soils of southern NSW and northern Victoria with lighter textured surfaces. CSIRO Land and Water Care publication.

4. Packer, I.J., Hamilton G.J., and Koen, T.B. 1992. Aust. J. Soil Res. 30, 789-806.

5. Pankhurst, C.E., Hawle, B.G., McDonald, H.J., Kirkby, C.A., Buckerfield, J.C., Michelsen, P., O'Brien, K.A., Gupta, V.V.S.R., and Doube, B.M. 1995. Aust. J. Exp. Agric. 35, 1015 - 1028.

6. Vanclay, F. and Hely, A. 1997. Land Degradation and Land management in Central NSW: Changes in farmers perceptions, knowledge and practices. A report to the NSW Department of Agriculture and Department of Land and Water Conservation. ISBN 1 875781 897.

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