First off, thanks to all of you who have provided input into this review through the different avenues. Over the last month many people have been happy to be interviewed, come to meetings and/or respond to our web survey on this site. It reflects a wide range of stakeholders committed to on-going efforts to provide the best support possible for producers in the reef regions and our combined efforts to ensure the best outcomes for the reef and those who live in the regions.
A total of 43 stakeholders responded to the web survey up to Friday 4th March - with about half from the sugar industry, a quarter from the beef/dairy industry, and the rest from across multiple industries and interests. Half were directly engaged in extension delivery and the rest in different management and support roles. Respondents considered the role that extension plays to be of great importance in assisting on-farm practice change.
Overall, respondents felt that there were significant gains yet to be made in the extension support area although there were many examples provided across industries of successful extension initiatives. Success factors provided included: evidence-based locally/personally relevant practical information; skilled, knowledgeable and motivated extension officers; collaborative learning experiences that have grower buy-in; innovative partnerships between NRM regions and industry; minimising financial risks involved in early adoption; and working with the right landholders who are receptive and motivated to learn and adopt changes.
In rating the areas that could best strengthen extension, stronger extension and technical skills and improved delivery methods were the highest rated, closely followed by improving collaboration and cooperation between providers and improving the planning and decision-making around the strategic use of extension.
There was good representation across organisations and industries at the Brisbane Workshop on February 23rd. The aim was to present feedback from consultations to date and gain responses and further input into developing recommendations. Discussion centred around: governance; capacity building; extension approaches; better integrating science into extension; and monitoring and evaluation.
The multiple organisations, layers and programs impacting on extension delivery in the reef regions were raised as adding governance complexity and requiring improved coordination effort. Suggested solutions included: having a lead agency responsible for E&E effort; establishing a Steering Committee to oversee this area; and having a regional level focus that communications across regions and to state and commonwealth levels. Capacity building was seen as needed because of a lack of people and key extension and technical skills in many deliverers. Solutions raised included: use of mentoring programs; incorporating skills sets into education courses; supporting informal models (e.g. Landcare); and use of short courses/competency training for skilling in specific areas. There was a recognition of the value of using a mix of extension approaches and taking a holistic view of the farming and agribusiness system with a focus on having consistent messages across deliverers about water quality practices. Working with producers and other stakeholders around their context and goals and learning from the ‘social change’ approaches was also raised as important. A range of ideas were provided around better integrating science into extension including: involving extension early in the research process; better integrating funding programs across research and extension; linking science more directly with grower groups; developing communities of practice around key topics; and having regional producer and extension forums. The importance of effective monitoring and evaluation was raised in the context of the different approaches being used, the need to be able to effectively report to Paddock to Reef (and hence the Reef Report Card) and to have paddock level reporting of practice and change. Gains in capacity (understanding and skills) were seen as also important to monitor and report as well as practice change itself. Solutions raised included: developing/using Apps; drawing from the BMP programs; use the new M&E Framework that has been developed; consider M&E as part of the planning and program management process; and provide feedback to producers on impact of changes.
This month takes us back to regions with a number of meetings to provide feedback to stakeholders on the consultation to date and to test emerging recommendations to see how well they fit in each region and industry and what extra allowances need to be made for specific sub-regions and industries. Discussions will be held around:
This review aims to propose draft recommendations by the end of March to permit planning to commence for roll out in the new financial year. There will be time in April and May to refine the recommendations based on feedback as needed.
Thanks again for your support of this process.
Jeff Coutts, Roy Murray Prior, Peter Long