Fast-track Ag Innovation
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Sustainable agriculture and sustainable food production are a regular part of our social and political debate. There is increasing interest in our food systems, in the effects of climate change, impacts on human health of the food we eat and increased demand for food due to changing consumption patterns in South East Asia.
However, agricultural productivity has remained static in recent years, and the reduction in public research, development and extension is translating to gaps in the innovation system.
The William Buckland Foundation shares FRRR’s concern about this issue and has partnered with FRRR to create the Fast-track Ag Innovation program.
In a pilot invitation-only grants program, four farmer groups across four primary industries in Victoria, will use grants of $150,000 each, over three years, to address one of their top three production constraints.
The groups piloting this program are:
- Riverine Plains Farmer Group;
- Robinvale Tablegrape Growers Association, supported by the Australian Tablegrape Growers Association; and
- Up2Us Landcare Alliance, based in Mansfield.
The program supports the four farmer industry groups to drive the adoption of science & innovation that will:
- Increase production – local and regional scale activity to increase productivity by better connection between the science lab and the paddock;
- Support farmer groups to improve or establish partnerships with researchers – reducing the barriers to ‘fast-track’ adoption by immediate and in-season modifications of technologies/practices that influence productivity;
- Support farmer groups to better communicate and translate the latest technology and knowledge to address their key productivity constraint – specific to each industry and region;
- Engage, learn and fast-track adoption;
- Manage natural resources with technology savvy monitoring systems; and / or
- Enhance the skills of young people in agriculture, natural resource management and rural communities – building entrepreneurial and business skills.
The manner in which each group will address these varies:
Using home-grown feed is the key profit driver for Gippsland dairy farms. It requires use of nutrients to boost growth and the nutrients entering water catchments are a concern to all Gippslanders.
GippsDairy are engaging dairy farmers in a regular learning group facilitated by an ag-consultant. The goal is to elevate knowledge of pasture establishment and management including use of fertilisers, with a measurable impact of knowledge and confidence resulting in changed management decisions. These meetings are linked with three workshops to study the national fertiliser guidelines and FertSmart, which is about taking soil samples, interpreting results on their farms, and having a management plan for choosing what type and rate of fertiliser application is needed.
Currently two facilitators are working with groups of up to 20 farmers. One-on-one visits to each farm are being conducted to establish benchmarks and identify goals. The facilitators and farmers are working together to develop a delivery plan, including potential topics and visits for group learning meetings. Soil testing and analysis on each farm will continue throughout the year.
2. Riverine Plains Inc.
Riverine Plains Inc is currently working on the project “Maintaining profitable farming systems with retained stubble in the Riverine Plains region”. This project aims to:
- Explore the effects of different stubble management treatments on soil Nitrogen and the implications for Nitrogen supply to grain crops throughout the growing season.
- Conduct soil testing at various project sites to help gain a greater understanding of the interactions between stubble management techniques and Nitrogen supply / loss in different landscapes.
- Use focus groups to increase farmers' understanding of the long-term effects of different stubble management techniques.
Riverine Plains Inc has also recently completed the project “Increased soil carbon by accelerated humus formation from crop residues” which investigated and demonstrated on-farm practices that could increase the amount of carbon stored in soils as well as investigated practices which could reduce nitrous oxide emissions. A booklet, Soil C, is being published to extend the results of the project to the farming community.
3. 'InnoGrape' Program for table grape producers, in partnership with Australian Table Grape Association
The 'InnoGrape Program' is an innovative table grape production grower education program delivered regionally in Victoria in the Sunraysia district (Mildura and Robinvale). It aims to provide the most up-to-date table grape production practices and production techniques packaged in a fun, easy to understand way that facilitates its uptake by local table grape producers. The InnoGrape program has produced six short training videos that educate producers on the latest in production techniques for producing high quality, export grade table grapes for key markets.
Videos completed to date include:
- Improving the colour of table grapes
- Rootstock selection for table grape vineyards
- Managing mealybugs in the vineyard
- Managing Botrytis in the vineyard
- Table grape canopy management
- Developing seedless grapes
In 2014/15 the Australian Table Grape Association (ATGA) and the InnoGrape project team delivered six InnoGrape training workshops in both the Mildura and Robinvale regions of Victoria. Table grape producers were updated on aspects of sustainable resource management issues, soil health, salinity management and integrated pest management.
Growers have demonstrated an increase in their knowledge from attending the workshops, changing or modifying practices in the management of their growing business. During 2016-17, a further nine training modules and workshops are being developed, with potential topics already selected in consultation with local table grape growers
4. Mansfield region, Up2Us Landcare Alliance
It’s fitting that one of the projects comes from Mansfield. William Buckland (1899–1964) was born and educated in Mansfield before moving to Melbourne for work.
The Up2Us Landcare Alliance, based in the Mansfield Shire, is committed to the long term sustainability of small and large farming enterprises in the region. Through this project, the group aims to increase engagement with small acreage property owners and support these farmers to increase production and diversify their farming enterprises. Evidence-based agricultural trials investigating pasture management and caper development have been established. Farmers have been engaged through a number of on-farm field days and workshops.
Up2Us Landcare has developed strong connections and in-kind partnerships with the Mansfield Producers Group, encouraging the group to support growers to be better connected and assist each other in marketing and product development. The program has appealed to the population growth of the community and is helping to contribute to the overall environmental sustainability and economy of the region. The project’s next steps are to continue growing community engagement, providing information and resources, and facilitating opportunities for field days and practical science adoption approaches.
At the conclusion of the first year, a review was undertaken to create a performance standard that can be carried out across the life of the partnership.
FRRR has established a ‘Science and Adoption Advisory Panel’ for the program, accessing key agricultural consultants, communicators and scientists to provide support and guidance to the farmer groups and key people responsible for project implementation and delivery.
For more information about the program, contact the Program Manager Mandy Grinblat on 1800 170 020.
If any other donor would like to consider a similar program to support and promote sustainable agriculture in other states, please contact FRRR.