We have just completed a round of regional meetings – just ahead of the cyclone! It was - and is - a tough time for many growers and other residents in the affected regions impacted by the storm and the subsequent floods.
Roy and I had the opportunity to present to the WTSIP (Wet Tropics Sugar industry Partnerships) meeting in Mourilyan, then an extension stakeholder meeting in the same location – and on to Mareeba where we also had representation from the Cape and covered some of the grazing needs. After a weekend in Townsville I joined Peter Long in Mackay (last flight in before Debbie) and had a chance to get feedback from mostly sugar stakeholders there before everything closed down and we drove to Rockhampton where grazing and grains took a front seat. We will get to the Burnett-Mary again this month.
We presented our findings to date, the ideas for going forward and particularly focused on ‘sub-regional’ needs. Generally, we received general agreement that our findings were in keeping with people’s own experience. It was highlighted that just because there seemed to be a lot of extension positions in sugar, for example, it did not mean that there was a lot of flexibility to move beyond the demands of existing programs and organisational roles. The issue of short term contracts and positions was also raised at most meetings – and the limitations this had on continuity for individuals and well as programs.
There is obviously strong commitment to continue to address water quality and to work together to do it. WTSIP was a great example of where different stakeholders come together to share, cooperate and collectively address industry needs. There are examples in other regions of these types of platforms as well. Given that extension coordination and governance was raised so much in our initial scoping, it was an area that we have tried to address. A key issue for us was to see how coordination could work best – with ‘grunt’ – at the regional level. One message was to link coordination with existing mechanisms where possible rather than invent a completely new one, and the other is to provide some meaningful resources to build on existing programs to enable more collaborative effort with decisions being made by those within the region. So we are looking at how best to do this.
There is agreement about better access to training and the idea of “core” skills – both in the extension area (how best to work with producers) and in technical understanding (including understanding of the farming systems and the hydrology behind water quality impacts). The challenge is how to best provide this in a practical, useful and on-going way. We are working on that. We are also keen to provide relevant training of this type to producers who want to know more. Over the next months, extension training opportunities will be rolled out as a precursor to a more long term approach and framework. It will be a good opportunity for existing staff to gain some new skills and perspectives and also provide lessons going forward.
The area of broadening the extension approaches, supporting longer term, locally based extension programs and the use of new technologies including water monitoring, drones and other testing and learning approaches was also supported at the meetings.
We are currently developing the draft recommendations from the review to present to a stakeholder meeting in Brisbane later in April and then will circulate the draft for comment and further discussion as needed before finalising it.
Note the summary of the stakeholder survey on this website – some interesting reading and some great examples of positive examples of extension that is occurring across the regions.
Jeff Coutts, Roy Murray Prior, Peter Long