University of Tasmania
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Farmlets as learning platforms for the Australian dairy industry

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posted on 2023-05-26, 03:19 authored by Weatherley, JM
The Australian dairy industry has a farmgate value of AU$3 billion and employs over 40,000 people across the supply chain. Without doubt, the success of the industry is based on a strong foundation of competitiveness, created through a long history of research, development and extension (RD&E). Understanding how the research and extension continuum works and learns together is a fundamental issue implicating the effectiveness of innovation development along with deployment of industry funding. Farmlets have been a key tool for Australian dairy RD&E, and are small scale dairy farms used to research farming system management issues. Within most of these projects is a team of researchers and extension practitioners working together with their regional farming community to improve management systems, and increase the profitability and sustainability. However, little is known as to what the requirements and possibilities for learning from these farmlet projects are. Anecdotal evidence suggested that farmlet stakeholders consider farmlets to be a learning platform for the dairy industry. But just how do farmlets act as a learning platform for the Australian dairy industry? Cultural Historical Activity Theory (CHAT) was used as the theoretical framework for underpinning this research. A qualitative, constructionist approach to the research methodology utilised four case studies of regional farmlet project activities which were supported by two national dairy project case studies, for analysing learning platforms. Evidence was sourced through interviews, participant observation and secondary data. Strassaurian Grounded Theory method was employed for data analysis, using Nvivo qualitative data analysis software and thematic analysis techniques. Critical to the approach was for the student to work within the programs both as a contributor to the teams activities and as an observer. This research concluded that farmlets do act as learning platforms for the Australian dairy industry which is defined as \an intellectual construction that aims to take the process activities outputs and outcomes that the dairy RD&E continuum use to set joint objectives and share physical and intellectual resources to manage adaptation\". What underpins this construction is fundamentally a series of processes and contradictions that challenge cultural norms and adequacy of practice. It commands embracement and management of contradictions as a fundamental part to practice rather than an inconvenience or interfering event. Overall the research seeks to encourage broader questioning of not just on what we do in terms of dairy farming systems RD&E using farmlets but how we work learn and share knowledge throughout the process of implementing a project. It seeks to make a contribution to the domain of farming systems RD&E along with stimulating greater dialogue and thinking and subsequent practices that will better capture and utilise transformation processes across the continuum. The new age of current competitiveness and accountability against the deployment of industry funds commands this as a narrow focus on just providing industry with technical on-farm knowledge outputs is no longer adequate."


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