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Kaine G.,Australian Department of Primary Industries and Fisheries | Doyle B.,RMTeK Pty Ltd | Sutherland H.,Deeargee | Scott J.M.,University of New England of Australia
Animal Production Science | Year: 2013

The inaugural committee of the Cicerone Project commissioned a survey of livestock producers in the New England region to determine the research problems and production practices which were of greatest importance to graziers. In addition, an assessment was made of the level of interest livestock producers had in participating in a proposed producer-led research and adoption project. The survey was mailed to livestock producers in five districts across the New England region during October and November 1997. The survey results concerning land and pasture management issues suggested that a majority of livestock producers in the New England region found the challenges of dry seasons, fertiliser use, pasture composition and pasture persistence to be major problems. A further issue identified was the problem of resistance to drenches used for internal parasite control in sheep. It was clear that producers depend largely on pastures as the primary feed source due to the high cost of supplementary feed. There was considerable interest in learning how to fill gaps in the feed supply, and the management of the feed supply through droughts. Thus, one desired focus of future studies was to explore management systems that might improve the productivity, resilience, stability and longevity of pastures in the New England region. In addition, a focus on grazing management and its effects on pastures and on internal parasite control was suggested by survey respondents. Of the 316 responses to the survey, 76% expressed interest in becoming involved in the Cicerone Project, confirming the desirability of forming a producer-led research and adoption network within the New England region. One hundred and eighty-one respondents expressed an interest in becoming partner members, 100 respondents indicated they were interested in having their farm included in a network, while 139 people were interested in attending regional workshops where further details about the nature of the Cicerone Project would be developed. The survey was clearly of interest to commercial-scale livestock producers as the average size of respondents' sheep flocks and cattle herds was over 5000 and 500, respectively. The results of this survey provided empirical evidence to support the formation of the Cicerone Project, which was created in 1998 following the approval of a business plan by the primary funding agency, the Woolmark Co.

Sutherland H.,Deeargee | Scott J.M.,University of New England of Australia | Gray G.D.,Australian Center for International Agricultural Research | Woolaston R.R.,30 Airlie Road
Animal Production Science | Year: 2013

A unique project led by livestock producers, called the Cicerone Project, was undertaken on the Northern Tablelands region of New South Wales, Australia, following acknowledgement by those producers of a widening gap between them and research and extension information. The overall aim of the project was to co-learn, through a partnership between livestock producers, research, extension and other specialists, how to improve the profitability and sustainability of grazing enterprises in that region. It was hypothesised that closer engagement would help to guide relevant research efforts and also enhance the adoption of research findings. With the support of industry funding and the collaboration of key research, education and extension partners, the inaugural steering committee of the Cicerone Project commissioned a survey of over 300 land managers in the region to explore their research and adoption needs. The survey identified the most important issues and found a high level of commitment to the formation of this producer-led project. Negotiations between all collaborators led to the creation of a Business Plan prepared as the basis for an initial funding period of 5 years. Subsequent reviews of the project allowed for extensions with associated activities over an additional 4 years. In order to study the key farm management alternatives identified from the producer survey, the Cicerone Project Board decided to adopt an agricultural ecosystem approach which conducted studies using three whole-farmlet systems. The farmlet experiment compared three contiguous farmlets by measuring as many aspects of the farm systems as possible using an approach summarised in the motto adopted by the Cicerone Project of 'compare-measure-learn-adopt'. A wide range of field days and seminars were held over the duration of the project to deliver the results to the producer members. This paper provides an introduction to a Special Issue containing 24 papers which report on the entirety of the project from planning, to execution, results, and reflections on the value obtained from the many research and extension activities, with particular emphasis on the farming systems trial conducted between 2000 and 2006.

Scott J.M.,University of New England of Australia | Munro M.,Rural University | Rollings N.,Rural University | Browne W.,22 Trim Street | And 4 more authors.
Animal Production Science | Year: 2013

Most research comparing different farming systems has been conducted on relatively uniform plots at small scales made necessary by the desire for sufficient replication of the systems and cost limitations. This paper describes an alternative approach to plan the allocation of land to three unreplicated whole-farm management systems such that each farmlet had equivalent starting conditions and yet was at a scale credible to both livestock producers and researchers. The paddocks of each farmlet were distributed across the landscape in a 'patchwork quilt' pattern after six iterations of a mapping exercise using a Geographic Information System. Allocation of paddocks took into account those variables of the landscape and natural resource capacity that were not able to be altered. An important benefit of the procedure was that it ensured that the farmlets were co-located with contiguous paddock boundaries so that all farmlets experienced the same climatic as well as biophysical conditions. An electromagnetic survey was conducted of the entire property and used in conjunction with a detailed soils map in order to classify areas into soil conductivity groupings. Equivalent areas of each soil type were allocated across the three farmlets. Similarly, land was distributed according to its topography so that no farmlet would be compromised by being allocated more low lying, flood-prone land than any other farmlet. The third factor used to allocate land to each farmlet was the prior fertiliser history of the original paddocks. This process ensured that each farmlet was objectively allocated equivalent areas of soil type, topography and fertiliser history thus avoiding initial bias among the farmlets. After the plan for all paddocks of each farmlet was finalised, new paddock boundaries were drawn and where necessary, fencing was removed, modified and added, along with re-arranged watering points. The farmlet treatments commenced in July 2000 when the first pasture establishment and differential fertiliser applications were carried out. Evidence from the electromagnetic survey and the Landsat imagery confirmed that the distribution of hydrologic soil conductivity and vegetation greenness were similar between all farmlets just before the commencement of the experiment.

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.

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