University of Tasmania
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Pasture measurement technology in Tasmanian dairy farming : exploring and optimising its role and adoption for improved pasture management

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posted on 2023-05-28, 08:50 authored by Hall, AF
Improving pasture utilisation on dairy farms remains a key focus of research, development and extension in the Tasmanian dairy industry, as it is positively related to farm profitability in pasture based systems. Biophysical research has typically focused on exploring and increasing the theoretical upper limits of pasture utilisation that can be achieved. However, on-farm improvement relies on farmer adoption of emerging research findings and proven pasture management practices. Proven and recommended pasture management practices include measuring and monitoring pasture biomass with a tool; providing farmers with objective information from which they can combine with observations to make grazing management decisions. Developing effective extension activities that engage a wide range of farmers in pasture management training and leads to greater practice change must be informed by an increased understanding of farmer decision making in relation to engagement and adoption behaviours. The aim of the research reported in this thesis was therefore to explore the role and uptake of pasture measurement technology for improved pasture management in the Tasmanian dairy industry. The literature review introduces the value of pasture based systems that form a key component in supporting the efficiency, competitiveness and profitability of Tasmanian dairy farms. Factors influencing farmer decision making and adoption behaviour are discussed, including a critique of several adoption models. Farmers learning preferences and the role of extension in facilitating farmer learning is also discussed. In the context of the Tasmanian dairy industry, a gap exists in understanding not only what factors influence farmer decision making in relation to pasture management, but how and why these factors influence behaviour. Use of the Theory of Planned Behaviour theoretical framework and the Competency Learning Model in the research design allowed exploration of these influential factors and identification of potential extension interventions to support farmers to form positive intentions and progress to engaging and adopting improved practices. Mixed methods were used to investigate the adoption of recommended pasture management practices on Tasmanian dairy farms (with a focus on pasture measurement tools), and farmer engagement with extension activities. Findings of a quantitative survey and qualitative, semi-structured interviews led to development of recommendations for future extension activities and pasture management training, that were refined and prioritised by farmers using a second, quantitative survey. The survey of 162 farmers (representing 38% of the Tasmanian dairy industry) identified past and current use of pasture measurement tools, in addition to their extent of engagement with extension activities. While many farmers indicated positive intention to measure pasture, evidenced by tool ownership and trialling of measurement tools (64% of respondent farmers), fewer farmers are currently using a pasture measurement tool (48% of farmers). Only 43% of farmers had been through an intensive and extended period of measuring pasture with a tool, with past intensive use of a tool having a significant positive relationship with current use. Regular measurement of pasture for a period of at least 12 months is recognised to be an important component in the pasture management learning process and developing competency in allocating optimum quantities of high-quality feed to cows. Such a period of intensive measuring is also recognised as important in increasing farmers knowledge and confidence, as they are able to make decisions based on objective information while also developing their own skills and experience. Several additional factors were identified to have a significant positive relationship with current tool use, including farm size (herd size and land area), level of formal education received, and attendance at extension activities. A large proportion of farmers were found to attend extension activities (86%), with significantly less attending on a regular basis (only 20% attending four times a year or more). Regular, ongoing supported learning has been shown to be more successful than a one-off learning activity when developing knowledge and skills associated with intensive practices, with a goal of extension being to support a larger number of farmers through a pasture management learning process that leads to farmer adoption and/or adaption of proven practices. Qualitative interviews with 30 farmers therefore explored factors influencing farmers' intention to use a tool to measure pasture, in addition to factors influencing both ongoing adoption, adaption and dis-adoption of proven pasture management practices. Farmers were categorised into three sub-groups, based on the extent of use of pasture measurement tools (past and current use), and extent of extension engagement. The Non-users sub-group consisted of farmers who have never measured pasture or have only trialled a tool, and do not engage with extension. Farmers in the Triallers sub-group have trialled or used a tool on a non-intensive basis and are currently engaged with extension. Farmers in the Adapters sub-group have measured pasture on an intensive basis (with some continuing to do so,) and were currently engaged with extension. Factors that influence use of pasture measurement tools and adoption of recommended management practices, along with farmer engagement, were explored within these sub-groups. The influence of social factors within the following TPB constructs were explored in relation to the intentions of farmers to attend extension activities and adopt pasture management practices, and their current behaviours: attitudes, social norms, perceived control and actual control. The overall attitude of farmers across the three sub-groups was positive towards measuring pasture and attending extension activities ‚Äö- with the majority recognising the important of effective pasture management and the role of extension in farmer learning. However, the perception of limited facilitator experience and lack of topic specificity to their own farm negatively influenced the attitudes of Non-user, Trialler and Adapter farmers with respect to attending extension activities. Another widespread view was that extension activities, particularly those focused on pasture management, are designed and targeted for younger and/or less experienced farmers. This negative social norm limited the continued engagement of many Triallers in extension activities, as they viewed themselves as experienced farmers despite not having developed advanced pasture management knowledge and skills. An additional negative social norm influencing non-engagement of one third of Triallers is that extension activities are repetitive, particularly those focused on pasture management. Further development of extension content, marketing, targeting and delivery is required to re-engage this sub-group. The perception of the risks of needing to share farm information or being asked challenging questions limited the engagement of Non-users and Triallers farmers in extension activities, and was therefore identified as a significant perceived control factor. A lack of existing knowledge around applying and implementing pasture measurement data into farm decision making (another negative perceived control factor) also prevented Non-users and Triallers farmers who initially intended to measure pasture, from progressing to adopting and adapting the related pasture management practices. Some farmers had attended an extension activity that had introduced them to pasture measurement and management practices (forming a positive intention to adopt), but without ongoing support in learning how to apply them, the practice change was not possible. This research has confirmed the need for dairy farmers in pasture based systems to be supported through a learning process that includes an intensive period of measuring and monitoring pasture with a tool. The identification and exploration of factors influencing farmer engagement with extension activities and adoption of pasture management practices has led to the development of preliminary recommendations for the design of content, marketing, targeting and delivery of future extension activities. Farmers helped to refine and prioritise these recommendations, leading to recommendations for different sub-groups of farmers to assist in increasing farmer engagement for future activities. Extension programs that contain content based on foundational practices, yet are tailored to farmer sub-group characteristics, will continue improving pasture management and utilisation in the Tasmanian dairy industry. This thesis contains four peer reviewed and published journal papers, and one peer reviewed and published conference paper. Together they form the five research chapters of this thesis.


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  • Unpublished

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Copyright 2019 the author Chapter 4 appears to be the equivalent of a post-print version of an article published as: Hall, A., Turner, L., Irvine, L., Kilpatrick, S., 2017. Pasture management and extension on Tasmanian dairy farms - who measures up?, Rural extension and innovation systems journal 13(2), 32-40 Chapter 6 appears to be the equivalent of a post-print version of an article published as: Hall, A., Turner, L., Kilpatrick, S., 2019. Understanding Tasmanian dairy farmer adoption of pasture management practices: a theory of planned behaviour approach, Animal production science, 59(10), 1941-1950 Chapter 7 appears to be the equivalent of an accepted manuscript of an article published by Taylor & Francis in Journal of agricultural education and extension on 1 February 2019, available online: Chapter 8 appears to be the equivalent of a post-print version of an article published as: Hall, A., Turner, L., Kilpatrick, S., 2018. Using a participatory approach to refining and prioritising recommendations for future extension delivery in the Tasmanian dairy industry?, Rural extension and innovation systems journal 14(2), 43-52

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