Today has been a busy day, with 3 meetings, starting with a phone meeting at 7.30am with a previous Nuffield Scholar, then off to meet Steven Bray from the Queensland Agriculture department and then Terry McCosker from Carbon Link and Resource Consulting Solutions. All the meetings have been great, and my head is completely full up!
I was meeting Steven Bray about a project that he has been running here in Queensland with northern beef producers called Climate Clever Beef. The project has run demonstration farms to look at where emissions can be reduced and also capture the economic benefits (and efficiency benefits) of changing management.
The kind of work that Steve does relies on external funding to operate projects. Environmental money is coming in, their job is to make it useful to landholders, improve profits, working on the relationship that if you are managing land better then profitability is increased as well.
Climate Clever beef was different from previous projects in that previously they had held events and field days, and were raising awareness but not seeing practice change. At the same time, greenhouse policies were brought out to lower emissions from agriculture, but had no idea what the practices were that would achieve that or how to go about doing it. The project engaged with landholders, but only a small number of farmers with intense monitoring. As such, climate clever beef was more of a demonstration project than extension. The sites were also used to do research. There was a lot of variability between sites, conditions and practices.
The project was set up using regional teams which engaged producers in various regions, and concentrated on the opportunities that were available to them in their region under their conditions. The staff were very important, they needed to be trusted by the farmer, and for new staff members, mentors were used that facilitated early discussions with farmers until the relationship was formed. A key part of this project was the use of business analysis, to highlight the relationship with efficiency and emissions reductions.
What was also interesting in this project was the use of the properties that were involved as research stations. This not only provided the farmer with access to research and scientists, but also made sure that gaps in current research were being filled, and kept the farmer engaged with the project for the whole time. The farmers would often have to take samples or send in data, which was a good opportunity for a discussion about how things were going on a more casual basis.
The use of business analysis helped to see where efficiencies could be made, but Steve was keen to point out that tools should only be used to help show impact or suggest areas to focus on. Tools allow an assessment of where we are now and what we may want to do. The demonstration activity on the farm is the practical implementation of that and shows how it fits within the business without losing money.
The farms were used to demonstrate practice change rather than following the traditional extension model of raising awareness. Another interesting area of this project, that there was also a focus on education of policy makers on what worked and what didn’t. As such there was more of an opportunity for policy makers to work on enabling policies when they knew and appreciated what the issues were. The project brought policy makers out onto farms in Queensland and the Northern Territories, to talk with farmers and scientists, see action at farm level and understand where the trade-offs may be. Thus the project had a multi-dimensional approach – training staff, facilitating demonstrations that answered land holders questions and showed them where efforts would yield results and influencing policy.
Once the farmers were recruited, there was an initial meeting which allowed for an understanding of the business and the creation of some initial baseline data. A herd modelling tool was used to understand where the carbon emissions were being generated and where the efficiency benefits could be targeted. These hubs were also used for field days to allow for awareness raising within the local community and to inform those farmers who maybe sceptical about climate change. Steve explains, “a lot of producers think that its rubbish, but by attending the day and learning a bit about the issue, they know enough to contribute to future policy debates.” The field days were very much targeted around production based issues, with carbon also talked about, but not the main issue.
The project, which is just finishing, ran in two phases of 3 years, and Steve was confident that a 3 year time period was enough to see the results of practice change. A lot of the management that was worked on with the farmers was continued with after the project. “The practical measures around herd and pasture management, have, on the most part been continued with post project,” Steve explains, “which was the goal of this, get them to understand how to do it, and what impact it has on the bottom line and emissions, and once they are doing it, we’ve done our job.” The other thing that this project has provided is data – which wasn’t there before. Through the connection of these demonstration sites to research, they are also bridging the gap between research and practice, ensuring that research is targeted and has impact.
What is the most effective way to achieve practice change? According to Steve, it has to be face to face with people, the combination of demonstration of impact, with peer to peer learning is the most effective. However there still needs to be a reason to make that change and that differs from person to person, whether you are interested in Carbon, water quality or reducing inputs or costs.
Overall Steve thinks that this is a pretty good model to achieve the elusive behavioural change, but care is needed in terms of project design and structure. “It can’t be simplistic,” he explains, “the project needs to look at the wider objectives of the business for it to have any worth at the farm level.”