Massey offers new horticultural science degree

Massey University will offer a stand-alone horticulture degree in 2019, the Bachelor of Horticultural Science.

The degree was developed with the horticulture industry.

The Head of the School of Agriculture and Environment, Professor Peter Kemp, says the excitement for the degree from the industry and students has been incredible.

“It goes to show that this degree was really needed.

“It will give students the broad knowledge they will need in future jobs. They will learn about horticultural science, technology, production, logistics and pre and post-harvest management with an applied focus on experiential learning and real-world competencies. The feature of the degree is its interdisciplinary approach that combines science, technology and business applied across the whole value chain from genetics to the final consumer in the international markets, as opposed to focusing on one part of the value chain and one discipline.”

Professor Kemp says co-development was key from the start and the degree has been developed with close engagement from industry leaders, with particular support from the Horticultural Capability Group, Horticulture New Zealand and their respective member entities.

“Together we have been looking at how to best educate future graduates for what will be needed and we’ve been looking at how we may attract more people into the well-paying careers.”

Bachelor of AgriScience student Cam Vincent, based in Christchurch and studying via distance, plans to switch to the new horticulture degree.

“My passion is horticulture and my plan is to become a horticultural entrepreneur, creating environmentally friendly businesses which focus first on staff, then customers, then profits.

“The new degree seems to focus more on horticultural production and technologies used in horticulture, which I believe will help prepare me and others for the future horticulture is bringing to New Zealand.”

Mr Vincent said he finds horticulture is changing rapidly with new technologies. To focus on the new breakthroughs in horticulture excites him.

Source: Massey University

Knowledge transfer: how to encourage farmers to adopt innovation in agriculture

An award-winning study from Massey University has found that getting farmers to understand and adopt the newest ideas and innovations from agricultural science relies not only on the strength of the research but also on the way farmers learn and their learning environment.

Agricultural extension involves educating farmers about how scientific research can be used to improve agricultural practices on farm. Typically, it involves knowledge-holders like consultants, academics and scientists, speaking at field days, seminars, or communicating through print or online newsletters.

This model requires complex science to be transferred over short-periods of time and is often one-way. This can have mixed results in the actual uptake from farmers.

The innovative agricultural extension programme involved farmers aged between 35 and 70 who classified themselves as existing users of herb pastures, new users, possible new users or non-users, for an initial 18-month trial and a three-year second phase, of a herb-mix pasture establishment and management trial.

The ultimate proof of the programme’s success was the changes farmers made to their farming systems using herb pastures, with all of the farmers making changes.

The Head of the School of Agriculture and Environment, Professor Peter Kemp, says new ideas coming from universities aren’t always understood by farmers and changes are slow to occur on farm.

“From the production side of things, we had some theories of lamb finishing on herb-mix pastures and we were ready to start getting farmers involved in the trial, but we knew the difficulties in transferring this knowledge and successful adoption by farmers is relatively difficult due to the complex grazing management required in comparison to traditional pastures.

“So we thought, why not engage with people from Massey who know about education to see how can we best explain that to farmers and help them think it through themselves and get them to the point where they might adopt it.”

The programme enlisted the expertise within Massey’s Institute of Education to design learning techniques the agricultural scientists could use to share their research.

Those experts stayed on during the trials, improving the learning programme as it progressed by interviewing farmers one-on-one and in groups to see what learning methods were working and feeding those back into the programme to improve its effectiveness.

Lead author Associate Professor Alison Sewell, from the Institute of Education, says from the outset it was clear the methods of traditional extension were based on outdated education theories.

“Our new learning experiences were based on contemporary theories in education like sociocultural approach and theory,” she said.

“For example, we worked to build learning communities between farmers and scientists, rather than short, one-way exchanges. While these communities have been proven effective for some learners, we didn’t know what factors might support or hinder farmers when they too were introduced to these more collaborative ways of learning.

“They proved to be one of the programme’s greatest successes. Rather than ad hoc farmer engagement in learning, or the use of off-the-shelf extension programmes, the promotion of farmers’ learning was embedded within a sustained learning community.”

Dr Sewell says the scientist-farmer learning community led not only to the development of respectful relationships, but also to the co-construction of new ideas about pasture management.

“Scientists brought research and theoretical ideas, and the farmers brought practical knowledge. These communities promoted dialogue which not only supported learning but helped build farmer’s beliefs that they were capable of using new technologies.”

The Institute of Education’s Dr Maggie Hartnett says that while they expected learning communities to be successful, some findings were unexpected, and became novel ideas for use in agricultural extension.

“We found a strong need for self-efficacy in the farmers, which is people believing they have the knowledge skills and abilities that they need to be successful at something,” she said.

“It’s a bit like self-confidence but it is much more specific to a particular domain of knowledge than self-confidence. It’s the belief you can do something or can’t do something based on either your own experience or something you’ve seen others do.

“The farmers used different sources of information to make judgments of their self-efficacy, including their own personal success, as well as seeing other farmers succeed.

“For example, they may have seen their neighbour succeed growing chicory or plantain, so they are more likely to say I can do this too. This can also work in the opposite direction for failure, but this wasn’t as strong with them. We put this down to the farmer attitude and because they’re all pretty capable farmers already.”

The barriers to learning and practice change identified included issues of trialability, complexity, compatibility and risk.

The article was named the best article in The Journal of Agricultural Education and Extension for the work examining how farmer learning is supported and hindered through an innovative agricultural extension programme.

Along with Dr Sewell and Dr Hartnett, the study involved the School of Agriculture’s Dr David Gray, Professor Hugh Blair, Professor Peter Kemp, Professor Paul Kenyon, Professor Steve Morris and Associate Professor Brennon Wood.

The winning article, Using educational theory and research to refine agricultural extension affordances and barriers for farmers’ learning and practice changes, is free to access until December.

Source: Massey University 

Professor says it’s time to open up the conversation about GMOs

Professor Peter Kemp, Head of the Institute of Agriculture and the Environment at Massey University, has challenged the champions of bans on genetically modified organisms.

Writing in Hawke’s Bay Today (see here), he notes there have been no successful applications to introduce genetically modified plants or animals into New Zealand under the current legislation because the criteria are set extremely high.

But he says we need to open up the conversation about genetically modified organisms (GMOs)

…because there may come a time in the future when we will need to use this technology to save species dear to us – and a genetically modified option may be the only solution.

For example, the papaya industry in Hawaii was all but wiped out by the papaya ringspot virus, so the University of Hawaii worked on a genetically modified papaya resistant to the virus.

Although this was highly controversial, that GMO papaya now forms the basis of the industry there. The world is facing a similar issue with bananas, and one of the solutions could be a GM banana.

There is a “fear factor” around GMOs because we are dealing with DNA, Professor Kemp says.

But it’s a process that also occurs in nature.

The humble kumara that we eat is the result of bacteria inserting some genes to affect the plant hormone more than 8000 years ago. This made them bigger and better – and formed the basis of the kumara plants we eat today.

We use genetically modified products all the time. Most of the cotton used in clothing is from GM crops – which are bred to need fewer pesticides – which is better for the farmer and the environment.

Insulin and some vaccines are produced using GM bacteria – so a blanket ban on GMOs is short-sighted.

The Royal Commission on Genetic Modification reported back on its findings 15 years ago, when GM research had already been in place for 10 years.

Professor Kemp says that after a quarter of a century it is time our long-term plans for GMOs were reviewed.

Putting our heads in the sand and saying “we don’t like it, so we’ll ban it” is not helpful. This technology has the ability to save species and create a healthier environment, so we need to talk about how and when it could be used. We may still want to hold off releasing it into the environment, but we need to have the conversation around when that could potentially be.

The research on GMO products is extensive, and New Zealand needs to keep itself in the game by continuing to develop this technology. We can’t rely on other countries to do our research for us – they have no interest in kauri dieback or the potential loss of pohutukawa from myrtle rust.

But New Zealanders understand the importance of those trees to our history and our future.

GMOs undergo rigorous testing and are usually better evaluated for safety than non-GMO products, Professor Kemp says. Moreover the technology is advancing at a rapid rate.

At the same time, he says, it is  becoming increasingly difficult to decide what a GMO is, and how to identify it. Any maize-based products from the United States are likely to be genetically modified.

GMOs – he argues – are just part of the toolbox New Zealand scientists need to keep the country’s agriculture and horticulture industries competitive.