What Massey research shows about taking knowledge from the lab to the farm

Scientists know a major challenge is getting research out of the lab and into common practice. A Massey University research team, supported by Gravida: National Centre for Growth and Development, has found farmers, in particular, can be a tough crowd to convince.

Massey Professor of Animal Science Hugh Blair discussed the challenges and efforts being made to enhance learning within rural communities in a paper, “Translating Science into Action”.

In a media release today, Gravida says the paper was presented as a keynote speech at last month’s Association for the Advancement of Animal Breeding and Genetics conference in Napier.

The paper reports the first set of results gleaned from two projects – an experimental farmer learning project that has been under way at Massey University since 2011, running to 2014, and answers from a survey of almost 1000 lamb and beef farmers done in 2012.

One of the major findings from the survey was that farmers place a high value on information obtained from other farmers, with the farmer learning project showing a similar result.

The survey also found that farmers prefer to get information via print media over electronic media such as websites, and liked “normal-people notes”, that is, information written in plain language.

The three-year pilot learning project utilises farmlets at Massey University and worked with an initial group of 18 farmers, which increased to 26 in 2013.

The university experts included educationalists, social scientists along with animal and pasture scientists. They shared evidence-based ideas with the farmers on how to best manage herb pastures and how that affects lamb carcass weight.

This is a labour-intensive method of education. The results from the survey and the Massey team’s experience nevertheless showed that personal engagement with specialists and peers was the best method for transferring scientific research into the field and developing learning networks.

“The farmer learning project deliberately built responsive, respectful and trusting relationships between farmers and scientists and between farmers.”

The farmers initially started as learners, but as the project progressed, they came to see themselves “as co-learners and co-inquirers alongside the scientists. They became producers of knowledge with others, rather than consumers of researchers’ knowledge.”

This meant attendees at the workshops in turn shared their knowledge with other farmers, creating learning networks whose influence extended to ten times as many farmers throughout the region.

The researchers concluded that “if those wishing to change farmer behaviour were better versed in how farmers learn, and what works to support their learning, then greater rates of adoption of, for example, animal breeding and genetic technologies, might occur.”

Gravida is a government-funded Centre of Research Excellence that connects leading biomedical, clinical and animal scientists throughout New Zealand and globally.

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