NEW cattle breeding technologies have the ability to serve up massive gains in beef profitability but will amount to nothing if not taken up at the farmgate.
A facts sheet is not going to cover it.
Whole system changes and new ways of thinking in terms of farm extension and adoption will be needed.
So says Associate Professor Ruth Nettle, who has extensive experience in agriculture extension and now leads research into that area via the Rural Innovation Research Group at the University of Melbourne.
One of a long line-up of high calibre speakers at a recent big livestock breeding seminar in Brisbane hosted by Meat and Livestock Australia, Prof Nettle managed to put into clear perspective all the talk about phenomenal genetics and breeding technologies coming down the pipeline.
She described the changes in how decision making is supported at the farm level as “a different form of disruption in agriculture, something that is perhaps sailing under the radar.”
“It’s about the way science comes to benefit producers, consumers, the environment and society,” she said.
“This disruption is a slow burn. It comes from a combination of reduced government investment in extension and advisory, the commercialisation and privatisation of advice and consumer demands changing signals around everything from feeding to reproduction.”
So what is working and what isn’t?
A national survey of 1000 producers indicated demand for information, advice and support over the next five years would increase.
However, currently there was a low certainty about where to access that, Prof Nettle reported.
“This has got to be a concern to an industry trying to use knowledge to facilitate sustainable profitable outcomes,” she said.
The survey also unveiled producers were feeling pressures about being able to reduce costs of production.
“We found the type of support desired was around specific technical information, problem solving and ways to increase profitability, productivity and sustainability,” Prof Nettle said.
The work showed there was a wide range of players influencing farm decision making.
In the livestock sector, farmers are getting the vast majority of information from product resellers and farm input suppliers - 82 per cent used this source and valued and trusted it.
For 23pc, it was the main source of information.
Fee-for-service consultants came down the list and interestingly, for beef the annual average spend on consultants was $7443 and in sheepmeat $6105, compared to cotton’s $33,438 and cropping’s $13,681.
The number of advisors used for beef and sheepmeat is between 2.1 and 2.3 per year.
“What that means is an advisor working in the livestock sector has to have double or triple the number of clients than one in grains,” Prof Nettle said.
“This is a big consideration for the strength of the system.”
Are the relationships in operation actually facilitating adoption and practice change?
“Absolutely - all sources support change on Australian farms, there is no monopoly on change and adoption,” Prof Nettle said.
For livestock farmers, changes to animal health, pasture management and breeding criteria were the most common following advice.
And while 31pc of livestock producers expect to increase their use of information, advice and support services from their main source in the next five years, these main sources are not well connected to research, development and extension in the industry.
More than 70pc wanted to be kept more up-to-date, to access help with translating research for clients and to develop and deliver extension.
“There is increasing farmer demand for information and advice but producers are not finding it easy to know where to go,” Prof Nettle said.
“They are making changes to practices, with a network of trusted advisors – however these people are distributed across a huge range of organisations with a fragmented knowledge system.”
Is there a way forward? What does a culture of adoption look like?
Prof Nettle suggests it is one of co-innovation.
“That may sound like an academic term but it simply means if we don’t work together we’re in trouble,” she explained.
“There are patterns in the way things are done, in some cases decades of pattern, and some of this change will be forced.
“The bottom line is we can no longer use the same methods of technology transfer, the one-solution-for-all way.
“We need to adapt our systems.
“It’s a whole new engagement across the livestock sector in order to capture all the gains available from the breeding technologies coming our way.”
- Involve all the groups that influence farm decision making.
- Clear and straight forward messages about the benefits of taking opportunities.
- Producer ownership and leadership of the outcomes.