Farmer-led farm experimentation and extension

Sustainability Assessment and Promotion – an example of ‘Farmer-led farm experimentation and extension’.

A group of King Country farmers, driven by the desire to leave their farming area in a better state than when they inherited it, set up the Taumaranui Sustainable Land Management Group in 2002. The group was made up of a team of interested parties including farmers, farm consultants and scientists, and they undertook a series of activities to lift awareness of how to run a sustainable farming business.

Recognising that there is a lot of stigma attached to the concept of “sustainability” that can put farmers off, they undertook to develop a farmer-friendly Sustainability Assessment and Promotion Protocol, with funding support from MAF's ‘Sustainable Farming Fund’. Developed by farmers for farmers, this is a template farm teams can use to assess what they are doing now in their business and how sustainable it is, in terms of economic, environmental and social considerations.

To develop, test, demonstrate and communicate a systematic approach to assessing sustainable land use, the group used the following extension activities:

  • Focus farms with interested farmers 
  • Farmer-to-farmer discussion groups (with input from AgResearch scientists and district Council advisors)
  • Field Days led by invited rural advisors and scientists to share information on specific topics (eg. sustainable soil fertility management on hill-country)
  • Articles in farming media to promote and explain the work they were doing, and encourage adoption of the tool created.

Farmers at a field dayThis kind of extension approach is very much demand led and problem-focused. It’s the farmers that are identifying their needs, solutions are being developed on-farm, and the practices that are developed tend to match specific regional situations.

You can see how the ‘Farmer-led farm experimentation and extension’ approach works well when:

  • The farm team is already aware of the issues, and works to set their own priorities and goals
  • Farmers are a key source of knowledge within the project themselves
  • Rural advisors, extension agents and scientists play a support role, contributing relevant knowledge, and also helping link the farm team to additional sources of knowledge and resources (including funding) 
  • Farm teams take the lead in developing and demonstrating fit-for-purpose practices to address the issues or opportunities they have identified
  • Extension activities are used to encourage and maximise information flows between all participants as well as across to broader networks outside of the immediate project team.