Over January, Peter, Roy and myself have been meeting up with stakeholders across the regions and in SEQ to see where they think there are gaps and where extension and education approaches can best be strengthened. We will continue to do this in February which will include a meeting of state level representatives to discuss findings to date and gain their input. After that, we will be holding regional meetings to explore the solutions further to ensure that what is planned will work at regional level. Our focus is not a new extension project as such – but rather, how do we provide the best underpinning support for the range of extension and education projects working with producers across programs in regions to get the best outcomes for all.
Some of the findings and thinking emerging to date are summarised below:
There is a clear message that we need to have a more systematic approach to providing training support for those working in extension. There appears to be a core set of knowledge and skills needed for those working in reef regions which are combination of ‘extension skills’ (for example; extension methods; group facilitation; running on-farm demonstrations; use of social media; writing) as well as core technical areas (for example; understanding practices that impact on water quality; use of new apps, tools and information; crop nutrition and fertiliser application; grazing management etc.). The challenge is to agree on the core set and then have a process where appropriate skills training can be accessed and applied across programs and organisations. Linked to this is the need to be bringing in new graduates and assisting them in gaining experience and skills needed into the future.
There has been an increased interest in the process of supporting practice change and a number of projects have been developed around the use of flexible and different approaches to working more effectively with producers. Meanwhile, there is still an emphasis on BMP programs and they are gaining increasing traction – providing a way to look at all areas of the enterprise including practices impacting on water quality. There is also an approach being used where extension staff work with individual producers to develop Nutrient Management Plans, Irrigation plans etc. and follow up to support and report on practice change resulting from this. The Reef Alliance program has a cooperative arrangement across NRM groups where this information is captured spatially on a common data base which is great. It seems as if longer term and locality based group processes are also needed to complement these types of approaches – and there are some great examples through shed meeting groups, use of on-farm or strip trials and demonstrations and a very interesting pilot using ‘real-time’ water quality monitoring with neighbouring farms. These are about supporting producers to develop shared experiences and confidence in making changes over time for sustained gains in understanding and practice. Again, a key issue is determining the mix of extension approaches funded and having a range of time horizons. Importantly, we need to be able to measure and monitor change to inform future activities and demonstrate gains over time – and more work is needed on this.
A lot has been said about the need to improve collaboration and coordination of programs at the regional levels. There are some good examples of regional forums where different organisations and deliverers get together - although coordination is limited because of the different program funders, demands and milestones. True coordination is required at the program development levels – and there are some moves to work towards that. We are still searching for the best models and support mechanisms to support more effective regional level coordination and collaboration.
We will continue to explore these and other areas as it relates to our task and would welcome any ideas or reactions you have. You can email Jeff Coutts, use the stakeholder survey on this page, or make some comments in relation to this update. We look forward to further discussion.