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March 2014 Blog Update

This has been a very busy time in work commitments and very interesting projects.  In between I have tried to experiment with the acrylic set that my wife, Robyn gave me for Christmas!  As you can see from the picture, I still have a way to go with it! [The painting is of a lake we walked around in Canada when we were over there recently!]

Now, on to the pressing issues emerging work-wise! Back in the 1980s there were many questions being asked about the need for agricultural extension and the role of Government in providing this.  Conversations and conferences looked at issues around market failure, cost recovery, privatisation – and governments gradually decreased their commitment to extension.Rural Development Corporations (RDCs) in Australia started responding to the challenge as governments pulled away – after all, if their research wasn’t used, then the investment was wasted.  RDCs have appointed Industry Development Officers and some have gone into directly funding extension coordinators and staff.  But still, people at farm level engaged in extension type of activities is decreasing in Australia. It is not just about improving profitability – that is a market issue – but because farms cover so much of our productive landscapes, and impact on our waterways, water quality and soil resource – there is a need to provide assistance and guidance in how best to look after this critical and long term resource across Australia.

We have Natural Resource Management bodies providing an oversight of catchments and we still have government departments.  However, in both domains, the focus is increasingly on ‘enabling’ action at the farm level – rather than doing.  But where are the doers?  In some industries, there is a very capable private sector to support agriculture – but there is a lack of people with the skills, resources and mandate to undertake proactive extension and education to work with landholders to improve short and long term sustainability of land and enterprises.  Here is the real gap facing us.

This has all come home to me as I have spent the first three months of this year travelling across Australia and working with a range of projects and organisations.  Not only is there a lack of people in extension but there is a lack of information to show what current land management practices are in place, where changes are needed and what gains have been made over time.  This limits the information available to make a case for more targeted investments in extension.

We (those of us involved in agriculture and natural resource management in Australia) cannot let this situation continue – and we must address it.  This is an area that I am increasingly getting involved with and see as my focus into the next decade.

Meanwhile, I have the opportunity to deliver a paper in Berlin at the International Farming Systems Conference (http://ifsa.boku.ac.at/cms/) on the evaluation of an Innovation System project in agriculture in New Zealand in April – and then back to London to visit Amy!  Exciting times!