The development of an extension network amongst growers in Tully with a view to improving industry profitability in a participatory atmosphere : final report BSS253
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The challenge for industry personnel was to develop a network amongst canegrowers in Tully that would provide more effective extension of research and development than current methods could achieve. A project in Mulgrave had been operating successfully for twelve months and was based on groups of growers that were dealing with similar issues. We used this model to design a program that would utilise extension resources pre-existing in Tully to provide an on-farm, participatory approach to increase the adoption of best management techniques within the sugarcane farming system.A steering committee was formed with representatives of the four major bodies in the Tully sugarcane industry ? Bureau of Sugar Experiment Stations (BSES), CANEGROWERS, Cane Protection and Productivity Board (CPPB), and Tully Sugar Limited. This steering committee met initially to develop the program and acted in an advisory capacity to local extension staff. This project was instrumental in that it provided the operating funds required to get the whole process off the ground and allowed it to gather some momentum.Grower groups were established in each of the seven mill districts within Tully. These were named ?Farmer Forums? to dissociate them from ?shed meetings? and to foster an interactive rather than a ?sit there and listen? type atmosphere. All of the groups were satisfied with our proposal and committed themselves to the process.The whole basis for the groups was to encourage participation and active learning. The best way to achieve this in a farming community is to get farmers' hands dirty. The program resorted to informal meetings in a shed or under a house when the weather prevented any outside activity, but generally the groups met and undertook a practical, timely exercise on-farm. These exercises ranged from timing of weed control to harvesting and transport issues.The groups also set up particular demonstration sites, managed by the growers under professional guidance, which are being used to show how best management techniques might improve current farming methods.The groups were a little slow to grasp the whole 'group' concept but were all positive about setting their own direction. As a result, the demonstration sites are a mixture of old and new technology. Some groups wanted to jump straight into the new things and other groups saw the benefit of getting the basics right before they tackled any new issues.Although the whole concept of group learning is not new to agriculture in Australia, it has proved to be a continual learning experience for both the growers and staff as we develop this program in Tully. During the course of the project we have shared these experiences with other districts and will continue to exchange ideas.Although the project and SRDC funding have finished, there is no intention to let the group process end. The steering committee will meet again to revise the program and the groups will continue to operate indefinitely.