Ground Cover Supplement : GC Supplement - Collaboration
GROUND COVER COLLABORATION 12 MIXED FARMING SYSTEMS A WIN-WIN OUTCOME Co-investment in complex national programs, such as Grain & Graze, can provide benefits for all involved, from growers to stakeholders By Stuart Kearns UNTIL GRAIN & Graze, the sheep--cereal zone of Australia received little collaborative attention from the various industry bodies deriving levy income from the zone. Of the 39,000 producers who operate there, many pay multiple levies and thus hold a stake in two or more industry bodies. The sheep--cereal zone held many opportunities for joint research investment into profitable and sustainable farming systems. First, the zone accounted for more than 25 per cent of all farms in Australia, as well as 25 per cent of total grain production, 30 per cent of sheep and wool production and 10 per cent of beef sales. Declining terms of trade remained a major issue confronting all of these industries. Second, the National Land and Water Resources Audit report, Australian Agriculture Assessment 2001, showed the zone to be characterised by a processes, complex across-sector and interdisciplinary systems research, and using novel extension methods. Data from a survey by Agscan showed that during the life of Grain & Graze more than 27,000 farmers adopted practices recommended by the program. While not all adoption can be attributed to Grain & Graze, it is likely that the program increased overall awareness of the potential to change to improved practices. The most widely adopted change directly attributed to the Grain & Graze program related to the uptake of grazing cereals. Many of the 200 publications, tools and manuals produced as part of Grain & Graze can be sourced from the website (www.grainandgraze. com.au). The site also contains many stories of farmers' experience with adopting new practices and the results of the regional and national trials. While the adoption of improved on-farm practices that increased profit and benefited the environment were targeted outcomes that the program achieved, a number of positive unintended outcomes occurred, especially in relation to the major stakeholders. Collectively, the four RDCs reported the benefits of achieving: nenhanced partnership arrangements; nthe development of co-investment and collaborative arrangements; and nthe sharing of knowledge and information on systems-based management for sustainable mixed enterprise farming. This is quite remarkable given that during this period all nine Grain & Graze regions experienced severe, and in some cases, unprecedented, drought conditions. Perhaps even more remarkable has been the discernible improvement in soil and vegetation health and management on participating farms, evidenced by fewer dust events traditionally associated with high erosion during drought. Grain & Graze was unique in other ways. It explored from production, environmental and social perspectives the complexity involved in managing multi-enterprise farms. Crop, pasture and animal management research sat comfortably alongside studies on biodiversity, risk management decision-making and work-life balance. These unintended benefits provide a platform of experiences and procedures that can be used to facilitate future large-scale collaborations. □ GRDC Research Code AWR0002 More information: Stuart Kearns, manager, validation and integration, GRDC, 02 6166 4500, email@example.com number of land and water resource degradation issues, including dryland salinity, soil acidification, soil structural decline, erosion, loss of nutrients and surface water sedimentation. Most farms in the zone suffered from at least one of these issues. Increasing ground cover, introducing perennials and managing risk were advocated as means of dealing with the issues confronting mixed farming, while promising to provide potential improvements in profitability. Grain & Graze ran between 2003 and 2008 across nine regions of five states in Australia's medium-rainfall zone. It was also the first time that the four major RDCs -- Meat and Livestock Australia, Australian Wool Innovation, Land and Water Australia and the GRDC -- joined forces to tackle mixed-farming issues in a collaborative way. The structure of the program was considered to be a revolutionary experiment, combining bottom-up regional GRAIN & GRAZE WAS CONSIDERED A REVOLUTIONARY EXPERIMENT. Grain & Graze marked a new level of collaboration between RDCs in a zone that accounted for a large proportion of production.
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