Grain growers need evidence from peers

By Country News

When it comes to changing grain growers’ perceptions and motivating practice change on-farm, American agricultural academic Drew Lyon believes it does not matter where in the world you are, the challenges are strikingly similar.

Professor Lyon, who is from Washington State University in the United States, was in Toowoomba recently to compare strategies with Grains Research and Development Corporation extension officers and key weed researchers.

While he said the weeds changed from country-to-country, the process of getting growers to change how they perceived and then tackled the problem of weed management remained a universal challenge for those working in research and extension.

‘‘What we have found is that the facts are not enough any more when communicating messages,’’ Prof Lyon said.

‘‘For information to be received positively there needs to be an emotional connection between the grower and the message or the message deliverer.’’

The US academic is in Australia on a six-week Nancy Roma Paech Visiting Professorship in Agriculture from the University of Sydney.

NSW-based researcher Michael Walsh, who is the director of Weed Research for the University of Sydney, has played tour guide during Prof Lyon’s trip, which has included visits to northern NSW and southern Queensland research facilities and grain properties.

Dr Walsh agreed with his international colleague that an emotional connection to complement facts was critical when it came to grower practice change and he had first-hand experience of the combination working in Australia.

‘‘I spent five years explaining to growers in Western Australia the benefits of harvest weed-seed control, however, it wasn’t until a few growers who were early adopters, started doing the talking that the concept gained a foothold and led to on-farm practice change,’’ he said.

The example comes as no surprise to Prof Lyon.

‘‘We have found not even overwhelming research evidence is enough to shift growers’ perceptions, instead they want to hear information and the shared learnings of their fellow growers before they make a change,’’ he said.