Jeff’s 2023 December Update

November this year was the Australasian Pacific Extension Network (APEN) conference held in Tasmania and organised by John James and a conference committee.  It was 30 years ago in 1993 that I was responsible for organising an international extension conference at the Gold Coast for the Queensland Department of Primary Industries (QDPI).

That ‘first’ conference resulted from a few of us in QDPI who had the opportunity to study extension at post-graduate level – at government expense – in other countries.  We wanted to share what we had learned and to reignite interest and skills in what extension could do differently. The logic was for us to learn what was working in other countries and bring back this knowledge to Queensland (this also happened in the more technical study areas).  It came at a time when government extension was going through a bit of a crisis and rethink – there was a focus on government dealing with market failure – not providing a ‘free advisory service to farmers’.  I was also involved in developing the extension strategy for QDPI which guided it during the 90s.

Back to the Tasmanian conference.  There were well over 250 attendees – many early in their careers and many who were not involved in APEN or attended such a conference before. The other exciting aspect was the number of private and industry extension people there – extension is no longer a government dominated arena.  APEN came out of that first conference in 1993 and has been a force in developing extension practice and support now for 30 years.  It was a very well run and energetic event with very high ratings from participant when they responded to the value of the conference for them.  This energy and interest generated now needs to be supported and built upon.

While extension’s eulogy was being read 30 years ago the conference success underpinned the current vital importance of people in the equation when it comes to supporting learning and implementing change in the face of increasingly complex situations facing the agricultural sector in Australia and beyond.  A project that overlapped with the conference – we held a workshop around this at the conference – is developing an extension skills matrix, designed for the breadth of extension work and in looking ahead to the challenges facing those involved in agriculture.  In a brainstorming session looking ahead to new skills needed for extension, among many others, participants raised the need for: Virtual reality skills and use of equipment; and Embracing AI and other innovations and bringing others along (i.e. not left behind).  Such technology is not seen as a replacement for extension – but in strengthening what extension can do to support those in agriculture. 

I doubt if I will be around to see what is happening in extension in 30 years’ time – but I am confident that the need will still be there and the flame will be carried forward by the younger cohort of extension professionals.

Connecting Climate Minds: Climate change and mental health

Yesterday I was invited to attend a virtual dialogue and the start of a community of practice looking at climate change and mental health. The dialogue was part of a year-long Wellcome Trust-funded global project – Connecting Climate Minds – which aims to catalyse research and action at the nexus of climate change and mental health. The project is hosting dialogues in different regions all over the world to draw from as wide a range of experiences as possible.

The event I took part in included over 50 people from all around Australia and the Pacific with a goal to start developing a research and action agenda addressing key gaps in understanding the links between climate change and mental health. The next dialogue in October will start looking at actionable ways forward which will feed into global spaces such as COP28 and the World Health Assembly.

It was so interesting to hear from others about their experiences and knowledge from working and being personally impacted from climate change. It’s clear that climate change impacts are only gathering pace as are the impacts on people’s wellbeing – and there are some big research gaps. I think the global co-learning approach of this project is a positive way forward. If you’re interested in keeping up with this project, please fill in the contact form or send an email to the project manager (Suhailah Ali at 

One topic that came up was positive adaptions to climate change, empowering people and the messaging associated with that. We are seeing this approach to some extent in agricultural projects that focus on providing the tools and promoting strategies for producers to take control and proactively make on-farm decisions around future climate impacts such as drought.

These practice focused projects and programs are important however, I’m wondering if there might be an opportunity to more overtly include social and wellbeing outcomes? For example, as part of my PhD research, Australian farming women indicated that they experienced a positive impact on their wellbeing as a result of taking action to change farming practices to better deal with climate extremes – particularly drought. How can links between taking action in relation climate impacts and improving mental health be better made in the rural and agricultural space? If this could be done, would it encourage more on farm climate adaptations? I’d be interested to hear what you think (

Jeff Coutts is a co-author of a chapter in the recently on-line published book:  “Rural Development for Sustainable Social-ecological Systems: Putting Communities First”.

Abstract: This chapter presents a brief but critical account of trends in agricultural extension practices in Australia. Agricultural extension practices have changed significantly over the past five decades. Structural changes in agriculture, new types of agricultural technologies, tight public budgets, efforts to decentralise government and emerging information and communication technologies (ICT) have led to pluralistic advisory services. Earlier research has described the history of agricultural extension until 2010 in Australia. Using a ‘practice perspective’, this paper focuses on the practices of practitioners in agricultural extension. The chapter starts with a discussion of what extension refers to in Australia. This is followed by a brief outline of the history of agricultural extension in Australia providing insight into the diversity of current extension practices. Then the key methodological approaches that inform current extension practices are described, namely approaches that focus on (1) adoption and diffusion; (2) interactions and learning; and (3) agricultural innovation systems and systems innovation. The paper concludes with a discussion of new developments in extension practices as well as opportunities to strengthen and re-invigorate the study of extension.

Link to the journal article:

International workshop for education and advisory actors of rural areas, the agricultural and environmental sector, including the home and food economy

The networks International Academy for Rural Advisory Services (IALB), European Forum for Agricultural and Rural Advisory Services (EUFRAS) and South Eastern Europe Advisory Service Network (SEASN) as well as the Saxon State Office for Environment, Agriculture and Geology (LfULG) are organising an international workshop for education and advisory actors of rural areas, the agricultural and environmental sector, including the home and food economy, in Dresden from 10 to 14 September 2023. The theme is: The role of education and extension in the transformation process of agriculture – in the context of climate change, ensuring nutrition and societal demands.

Registration is from July 2023: