Transfer of fit-for-purpose practices

Beef + Lamb NZ’s Lucerne Management Text Message Service – an example of ‘Transfer of fit-for-purpose practices’.

When it comes to using lucerne as a forage, timing and attention to detail are key to achieving top performance. However, farmers might put lucerne in and then continue to manage it in the way they would for grass – not realising there are key differences to the two. The lucerne stand would fail and they’d give up on it. When they shared their experiences with other farmers, this would compound the problem – no-one would want to convert to lucerne, because it had been “proved” to not work in their area.

So a critical farmer need that had to be met if they were to successfully adopt lucerne as a forage crop was to provide them with expert management advice and grazing tips in a timely and accessible way. The Lucerne Management Text Message Service, a collaboration between B+LNZ and Lincoln University which started in 2012, helped solve this problem.

Farmers can sign up to receive the free text messages from the service, which is facilitated by a Beef + Lamb New Zealand Extension Manager and supported by a lucerne-specialist, plant scientist Professor Derrick Moot. The messages include:

  • timely reminders and suggestions for what to do (or not to do!) at each point in the season to get the best out of their lucerne pastures
  • information on the latest research and notification of upcoming lucerne related field-days in their area
  • as well as observations from other farmers.

Scientist measuring grassFarmers who have subscribed can also send in questions, which will be answered by a lucerne expert – in effect, giving farmers access to their own personal advisor on the end of the phone.

The messages are posted on Twitter at the same time as the texts are sent, thereby creating an archive of messages so farmers can go back and easily review them at any stage. In addition, some farmers and advisors choose to follow the service on Twitter instead of receive the texts.

The extension activities used included:

  • B+LNZ Extension Managers gathering observations of an increase in requests for information on lucerne management, following some high profile case studies
  • advertising and articles in B+LNZ emails and website, and in farming media to promote the service once it was established
  • advice from specialists offered through the text/Twitter service itself.

‘Transfer of Fit for Purpose Practices’ as an extension approach worked well in this situation because:

  • the initial focus required was on understanding farmers’ needs and constraints for successfully adopting and implementing a new practice – in this case it was the need for clear and timely communication to farmers around the critical management practices (grazing, spraying for weeds etc.) for lucerne 
  • a ‘fit-for-purpose’ practice – communication via text messages and Twitter – could be established, and this tool served to further raise awareness of the management practices and benefits from this farming practice (lucerne as forage) across the farming network.
  • the service supports advisors as well in ‘real time’, and through them reaches more farmers (B+LNZ know that a number of agronomists for example subscribe to the service and use it to ensure their advice to farmers is timely and accurate).