The grass is always greener

17 Feb, 2018 04:53 PM
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Alison Hall distributed a survey to all of Tasmania’s 440 dairy farms to find out the extent of current and previous use of tools and technology for measuring pasture, including a rising plate meter or CDAX bike reader.
Levels of on-farm pasture consumption remain below what is possible to achieve.
Alison Hall distributed a survey to all of Tasmania’s 440 dairy farms to find out the extent of current and previous use of tools and technology for measuring pasture, including a rising plate meter or CDAX bike reader.

Effective pasture management is one of the most important aspects of successful dairy production, yet many dairyfarmers are not using pasture measurement equipment.

Alison Hall, PhD candidate at the Tasmanian Institute of Agriculture (TIA), is exploring the link between technology usage, extension activities and on-farm pasture management practices.

Miss Hall developed an interest in Tasmania’s dairy industry after studying a Bachelor of Agricultural Science with Honours at the University of Tasmania and working as dairy extension officer with TIA for four years. Her PhD study, ‘Technology in Tasmanian dairyfarming – exploring and optimising its role and uptake for improved pasture management’, will help to inform future extension activities for the dairy industry.

“As part of the project I’m exploring why and how Tasmanian dairyfarmers make decisions around pasture management, and what factors drive farmers’ engagement with extension activities,” Miss Hall said.

“Despite previous efforts on pasture management practices, levels of on-farm pasture consumption remain below what is possible to achieve, indicating there is potential to further increase pasture utilisation through farmers refining their pasture management knowledge and skills through measuring and monitoring of pasture.”

In the initial phase of the project, Miss Hall distributed a survey to all of Tasmania’s 440 dairy farms to find out the extent of current and previous use of tools and technology for measuring pasture, including a rising plate meter or CDAX bike reader. The survey also asked farmers about their involvement with extension activities to determine the drivers behind current on-farm practices.

“With a high response rate of 38 per cent, the survey has been able to provide a snapshot of what is currently happening on Tasmanian dairy farms in terms of pasture measurement and monitoring, and what factors have impacted on this,” Miss Hall said.

“The survey found that three out of five dairyfarmers in Tasmania own a pasture-measurement tool, but only two out of five currently use them. It also found that farmer engagement with extension in Tasmania has been high, with 86 per cent of farmers having attended general extension activities, and 76 per cent having attended an activity specifically focused on pasture management.”

Miss Hall said an important component of the study was understanding what factors motivated some farmers to purchase a tool and start using it, or in some instances purchase a tool and not use it, and why some farmers continued to use a tool to measure pastures and others did not.

She said there is a need to understand what was happening in terms of the adoption process and how extension could support farmers to start or continue through the learning process.

“Analysis from the surveys was used to inform a series of in-depth interviews with farmers to explore what influenced changes to past and current practices, how pasture management has changed over time, and the sources of information and learning,” Miss Hall said.

There’s a positive link between farmers attending extension activities and currently using a tool to measure pasture. As a result of attending a pasture specific extension activity, 38 per cent of farmers made a change to their management – with 35 per cent purchasing a pasture measurement tool, however only 7 per cent started using that tool to measure pasture.

“Through understanding this level of detail in what drives decision making behind adoption, I hope to understand how farmers can be further supported in optimising their pasture management, and how we can continue working towards this goal in extension,” Miss Hall said.

A key focus of research, development and extension in the Tasmanian dairy industry has been on increasing awareness, knowledge and use of best practice pasture management principles and practices in order to optimise pasture management and production on farms.

Other studies have found that farmer confidence in managing pasture increases through the intensive use of pasture measurement tools, partly due to their role in the pasture management learning process.

Mis Hall is undertaking a PhD through the Tasmanian Institute of Agriculture, University of Tasmania, as part of the Dairy on PAR project, funded by Dairy Australia and the University of Tasmania. Additional funding for this project is also provided through the AW Howard Memorial Trust.

Alison Hall presented this paper as part of the Australian Dairy Conference's 2018 DOW Agrosciences Young Dairy Scientists Award, which she won.

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