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Armidale, Australia

Edwards C.,Australian Department of Primary Industries and Fisheries | Gaden C.,Beaumont | Marchant R.,Australian Department of Primary Industries and Fisheries | Coventry T.,Bailey Park | And 2 more authors.
Animal Production Science | Year: 2013

The Cicerone Project was a partnership between livestock producers, researchers and extension specialists on the Northern Tablelands of New South Wales, Australia that investigated several complex grazing enterprise issues between 1998 and 2006. It was conducted as a Participatory Action Research project, which first surveyed livestock producers to learn of their problems and then carried out investigations according to the Project's chosen motto of 'compare - measure - learn - adopt'. The Project included research into footrot diagnosis and an investigation of whole-farmlet livestock and pasture management systems complemented by a multi-faceted extension and education component, which delivered findings to a wide array of stakeholders across the Northern Tablelands and adjacent regions. This paper describes the extension and education methods and outcomes and reflects on how successful the engagement of livestock producers was through a partnership, which focussed on co-learning by all participants. Several different communication approaches were used including the production of 40 newsletters and the delivery of 61 field days. Collaborators also held two symposia, which presented comprehensive overviews of the research results. In the final year of the Project, a roadshow was held to communicate results to a wider audience in neighbouring districts. The results of the two footrot trials, which were conducted as Participatory Action Research projects, led to rapid and substantial changes in the testing regime for virulent footrot, resulting in large savings for livestock producers through more accurate detection of the disease. Other valued extension and industry outcomes were the ability to compare the biophysical and economic performance of different whole farmlets, an appreciation of the value of the whole-farm system approach, the trustworthiness of the results and the stimulation of livestock producers to think more deeply about their management systems, stocking rate and risk. The Project benefited from the research efforts of four postgraduate students and was of benefit to ∼300 high school and technical college students and also some 500 university undergraduate students who undertook learning projects in conjunction with Project members and collaborators. This Special Issue of 24 journal papers represents a substantial delivery of the findings from this complex agroecosystem Project, which broke new ground in terms of securing much closer working relationships between livestock producers, scientists and extension specialists. Ultimately, this volume will allow extension of the results of the Cicerone Project to reach a wider audience than has typically been achieved through other Participatory Action Research projects.

Coventry T.,Bailey Park | Sutherland H.,Deeargee | Waters M.,Riverton | Dutton P.,Wyanga | And 10 more authors.
Animal Production Science | Year: 2013

The Cicerone Project began as a producer-led partnership that sought, over a period of 8 years, to enhance the profitability and sustainability of livestock enterprises by improving the connection between those producers, research and extension. Following a detailed survey, the research and extension needs of livestock producers were identified and several applied investigations were conducted to meet those needs and delivered through a range of extension activities. This final paper of the Cicerone Special Issue reflects on the entire Project from a wide array of perspectives, including livestock producers, researchers, extension specialists and staff employed by the Project, all of whom are authors of this paper. A notable early successful outcome of the Project was the improved precision of footrot diagnosis, which has been of value to the entire sheep industry, and that flowed from a field investigation of benign and virulent footrot combined with detailed genetic investigations, which led to an improved testing regime. This paper also reflects on the findings of an unreplicated agricultural ecosystem research trial, which measured the impact of pasture renovation, increased soil fertility and grazing management on the profitability and sustainability of three different 53-ha farmlets. Valuable findings from this whole-farmlet trial included the need for a high quality feed supply for increasing stocking rate and animal liveweights; the ability and utility of satellite imagery to detect changes in pasture growth, composition and recent grazing pressure; the value of short grazing and long rest periods for controlling Barber's pole worms of sheep; the impact of increased stocking rates on whole-farm profitability and risk; methods of optimising decisions relating to pasture renovation, fertiliser applications and grazing management; and an integrated analysis of all key measured components of the farmlet management systems. Collectively, these findings were powerful as they were demonstrated at a scale credible to livestock producers using the 'compare - measure - learn - adopt' approach, which was the key philosophy adopted by the Cicerone Project. By comparing and measuring different whole-farm systems, and by ensuring that producers had ownership of the trial process, the Project successfully delivered objective findings that producers trusted and which increased our understanding of important drivers of complex grazing enterprises under variable climatic conditions. Some of these drivers included: the influence of soil phosphorus on botanical composition and subsequent livestock production, the role of pasture renovation and soil fertility on herbage supply, herbage quality and stocking rate, and the improved gastrointestinal nematode control delivered by intensive rotational grazing. The beneficiaries of the Project included the 180 farmer members who participated in some 61 field days and workshops; the research and extension collaborators including four postgraduates who completed their research investigations in conjunction with the Project; and some 500 undergraduate and 300 technical students who benefited from coming to understand the applied field comparisons of the three whole-farmlet systems. Having livestock producers play a significant leadership role led to valuable outcomes achieved with research collaborators; this should encourage the development of other learning partnerships which aim to explore complex farming system issues.

Scott J.M.,University of New England of Australia | Gaden C.A.,Beaumont | Edwards C.,NSW DPI | Paull D.R.,CSIRO | And 5 more authors.
Animal Production Science | Year: 2013

The Cicerone Project was a collaborative effort by livestock producers, researchers and extension specialists, which aimed to explore the profitability and sustainability of grazing enterprises on the Northern Tablelands of New South Wales, Australia. A major part of the Project was the creation of a moderate scale, unreplicated farmlet experiment. The process of selecting the farmlet treatments and the design of the experiment involved considerable negotiation over an extended period in order to achieve 'ownership' by all those involved. The farmlets were designed to compare a typical farmlet (B) as the control with a second farmlet (A), which received higher levels of pasture renovation and soil fertility, and a third (C), which employed intensive rotational grazing management with short graze and long rest periods. Management guidelines were developed for all soil, pasture, livestock and grazing management decisions on the three farmlets. Whole-farmlet data are presented for the pastures sown, fertiliser applied, supplement fed, the stocking rates attained and the pattern of graze and rest periods over the experimental period from July 2000 to December 2006. Over the first 4 years of the trial, pastures were renovated on 71% of farmlet A while 8% of each of farmlets B and C were renovated. The rates of fertiliser applied to the three farmlets varied according to soil test values and the different target values for soil phosphorus and sulfur. In the first year of the trial (2000-01), the annual average stocking rates on farmlets A, B and C were 9.5, 7.9 and 9.1 dry sheep eqivalents/ha, respectively, whereas by the fifth year (2005), the stocking rates were 11.2, 7.8 and 7.4 dry sheep equivalents/ha, respectively. This paper provides details of the general methods used in the farmlet trial, of relevance to a series of related papers which explore all aspects of the farmlet experiment and its findings. It also reports on the selection and definition of the farmlet treatments and describes how the guidelines evolved over the duration of the trial in response to the practical realities of conducting this complex, agroecosystem experiment.

Scott J.M.,University of New England of Australia | Behrendt K.,Charles Sturt University | Colvin A.,Pine Grove | Scott F.,NSW Trade and Investment | And 12 more authors.
Animal Production Science | Year: 2013

The Cicerone Project conducted a grazed farmlet experiment on the Northern Tablelands of New South Wales, Australia, from July 2000 to December 2006, to address questions raised by local graziers concerning how they might improve the profitability and sustainability of their grazing enterprises. This unreplicated experiment examined three management systems at a whole-farmlet scale. The control farmlet (farmlet B) represented typical management for the region, with flexible rotational grazing and moderate inputs. A second farmlet (farmlet A) also used flexible rotational grazing but had a higher level of pasture renovation and soil fertility, while the third farmlet (farmlet C) had the same moderate inputs as farmlet B but employed intensive rotational grazing. The present paper provides an integrated overview of the results collated from component papers and discusses the inferences that can be drawn from what was a complex, agroecosystem experiment. The measurements recorded both early and late in the experiment were tabulated for each of the farmlets and compared with each other as relative proportions, allowing visual presentation on a common, indexed scale. Because of equivalent starting conditions, there was little difference between farmlets early in the experimental period (2000-01) across a wide array of measured parameters, including herbage mass, potential pasture growth rate, liveweight, wool production per head, stocking rate, gross margin and equity. Although the experiment experienced drier-than-average conditions, marked differences emerged among farmlets over time, due to the effects of treatments. During the latter half of the experimental period (2003-06), farmlet A showed numerous positive and a few negative consequences of the higher rate of pasture renovation and increased soil fertility compared with the other two farmlets. While intensive rotational grazing resulted in superior control of gastrointestinal nematodes and slightly finer wool, this system had few effects on pastures and no positive effects on sheep liveweights, wool production or stocking rate. Whereas farmlet A showed higher gross margins, it had a negative and lower short-term cash position than did farmlets B and C, due largely to the artificially high rate of pasture renovation undertaken on this farmlet during the experiment. Although farmlet B had the highest cash position at the end of the experiment, this came at a cost of the declining quality of its pastures. Modelling of the farmlet systems allowed the results to be considered over the longer timeframes needed to assess sustainability. Thus, returns on investment were compared over realistic amortisation periods and produced outcomes based on long-term climatic expectations which were compared with those that arose under the drier-than-average conditions experienced during the experimental period. The main factors responsible for lifting the productivity of farmlet A were the sowing of temperate species and increased soil fertility, which enhanced the amount of legume and increased pasture quality and potential pasture growth. The factor that affected farmlet C most was the low proportion of the farmlet grazed at any one time, with high stock density imposed during grazing, which decreased feed intake quality. The paper concludes that more profitable and sustainable outcomes are most likely to arise from grazing enterprises that are proactively managed towards optimal outcomes by maintaining sufficient desirable perennial grasses with adequate legume content, enhancing soil fertility and employing flexible rotational grazing.

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