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Econnect Communication. Bringing science to life
Bringing science to life

Surf Club

Yorkshire-man Dr Clive Dalton, an agricultural communicator, shares his tips for communicating with farmers on his Woolshed 1 blog.

He includes some sound Yorkshire advice for public speakers:

1. Stand up
2. Speak up
3. Then SHUT UP!

Quotation of the month

Farming looks mighty easy when your plow is a pencil and you're a thousand miles from the corn field.

- Dwight D. Eisenhower

For some time now, we’ve been working with a group of 34 farmers from a variety of commodities and regions around Australia.

They are all members of the national Climate Champion program which aims to bring farmers closer to researchers so they can each share their knowledge of how best to manage a climate that is highly variable and is already exhibiting more extremes, as is predicted for Australia.

In February, we got the group together for a national workshop in Adelaide, with some side trips to a number of farmers’ properties in South Australia.

We love working with farmers – they seem to have such great attitudes in the face of continued adversity. We thought we’d share with you some of what we learnt about communicating with them.

Econnect Communication

iFarmer - a new way of communicating with farmers

By Robbie Mitchell

Agricultural advisors are a great communication tool when you’re trying to communicate with farmers. They are able to talk directly with farmers and start discussions, which often spread like wildfire through smaller farming communities that can be hard to reach.

Over the past 4 years, there has been a shortage of advisors in Australia’s agriculture industry. This has placed greater pressure on those advisors already in the job to take on more work, and on graduate advisors to get up to speed more quickly.

Some farmers I spoke with recently said the shortage was affecting not only the amount of time they get with their advisors but also the quality of information the advisors impart i.e. advisors, old and new, are having a hard time keeping up with all the information.

I started to think about how new technologies could help them with their dilemma.

Listed below are a few tools, and ideas on how to use them.

Phone services

Nearly all advisors and farmers rely on their mobiles every day. And because the technology is so readily available, it is cheap and easy to take advantage of.
  • Applications for smart phones are easy to create and can have lots of features. The Agriculture Dictionary is an example app for the iPhone. Apps can also be useful for mining data (where, for example, you type in your yield, weather, or local market prices). Scenario-calculator apps can, for example, calculate which crops would be suitable to plant this year to combat certain diseases.
  • Advisor/extension support centres could be established for farmers and advisors to ring for on-the-spot advice. This initiative would take a leaf out of the Victorian Government’s NURSE-ON-CALL phone service.
  • SMS updates could remind advisors and farmers to consider certain diseases / pests / climatic factors in their crop-rotation choices for the coming season.
iPad apps
We recently developed 4 iPad applications for raising grain growers’ awareness of nematodes and how to manage them.

We supplied researchers from the Grains Research & Development Corporation with the apps loaded on an iPad for them to show to farmers at field days.

The app included information pages, videos, interactive maps, and a survey.

The idea was to capture the farmers’ attention with the novelty and interactivity of the iPad, and deliver the information quickly and in a concise, self-explanatory and memorable package.

Phone and web conferences
You could distribute information to a group of farmers through a live online presentation which could also be downloaded later. This would work along the lines of Open Universities Australia’s online courses.

YouTube channels
We recently created a YouTube channel dedicated to nematodes, to show farmers and advisors how to take soil samples for nematode testing. It’s a good way to present ‘how to’ videos of farming-related tasks.

The 5 Ls of communicating with farmers

By Jenni Metcalfe

When I first got into science communication some 21 years ago as communication manager with the then CSIRO Division of Tropical Crops & Pastures, I found that I needed to talk with farmers as part of my job.

For a young girl from Sydney, this was a new, challenging and somewhat scary experience.

But now talking with farmers is the highlight of my job. I always learn new things and get inspired when I spend time with them.

The Climate Champion program is the most rewarding and interesting project I have ever been privileged to take part in. It is based on the premise that farmers learn best from other farmers

Other top tips I’ve learnt over the years about communicating with farmers include:
  1. Listenand find out how they want to be communicated with, and don’t assume all farmers are the same.
  2. Lookat what they’re doing by visiting their farms and finding out their successes and challenges. Video and write up their stories as case studies for other farmers (but allow for those who don’t have broadband).
  3. Use their language. It’s often visual, simple and clear; for example, cutting wheat to leave the stubble at ‘beer-can height’.
  4. Support farmer leaders to communicate with other farmers in their district and in their industry, and give them the information and skills they need to do this better.
  5. Learnfrom what they say and do; they’re smart people who have been managing all sorts of risks for a long time.

A value of downtime

By Sarah Cole

Seeing people standing around and chatting at, say, a conference can seem like an ‘accessory’ to more formal methods of communication, such as conference presentations or written articles.

To me, it’s the most effective way of getting farmers and scientists communicating with each other.

At the recent national Climate Champion program workshop in South Australia, both farmers and scientists presented to the group of, mainly, farmers. The workshop was preceded by tours to the properties of a number of the farmers taking part.

Afterwards, we asked for people’s feedback on the workshop.

Many of them said that the most important part of the workshop was the opportunity to informally interact with other participants, including presenters.

These opportunities came in the form of lots of talk time during on-farm tours, on the bus, during meal times, after presentations and via phone and email after the workshop was done.

This concept was echoed at the National Climate Change Research Strategy for Primary Industries conference in Melbourne in February.

In her presentation, Susan McNair of Currie Communications said that decision-making for farmers revolves heavily around talking about their ideas with others. Farmers hear about an idea, they think and talk about it, they check their understanding by talking about it, and they test their ideas by talking about them.

I believe that conversations share an important feature with many genuine communication efforts: dialogue.

With a presentation, there’s a one-way flow of ideas and an elevated ‘leader’ of those ideas. But talking over lunch, for example, can bring people together as equal ‘exchangers’ of ideas.

If you are planning a communication event, I recommend you allow for lots of downtime. For example, allow longer breaks between presentations, more question time, slightly longer morning teas, conference dinners and breakfasts.

Although the word ‘downtime’ refers to periods of non-operation, and standing around with a cuppa may appear to be just that, these periods will be the most important for facilitating informal and equal exchanges.

Reaching more farmers through a diversity of channels

By Sarah Cole

Tailored communication strategies consider how audiences want to hear about the issue at hand. Similarly, communicators need to offer multiple options for how information is delivered.

Farmers, like any group of people, have diverse preferences for content (the ‘what’) and its delivery (the ‘how’).

Skeptical Science is a good example of how you can adjust the ‘what’ of communication.

I like how it presents technical information in varying levels of complexity. For example, the question of whether the sun is causing global warming is answered at 3 levels: basic, intermediate and advanced.

Adjusting the ‘how’ of communication requires you to be flexible and open to multiple ways of getting messages across.

Our recent communication strategy to raise grain growers’ awareness of root-lesion nematodes included a web-based survey; videos; and presentations at field days using an iPad pre-loaded with a survey and videos showing management strategies. [see also Robbie’s iFarmer article in this edition].

When communicating with farmers in the Climate Champion program, we also aim to be flexible. Our methods run the gamut from face-to-face site visits to web-based surveys, email, a private social-networking site using NING, hard-copy mail outs, CDs, DVDs, workshops and phone calls.

That flexibility also means we can easily change how we communicate when we find that something isn’t working.

But the best way to make sure you’ll be heard is to ask the audience (at the beginning!) how they want to hear from you, and then to implement as many options as you’re reasonably able to.

Contact us

We work with science, environment and natural resource management agencies to:
  • evaluate and develop communication strategies
  • research, write, edit and publish products that meet audience needs
  • train staff and management in communication skills
We love work that allows us to help protect or rehabilitate the natural environment for all to enjoy.

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