How to motivate change on the farm
Livestock industry tackles how to get research into practice
By Lilian Schaer for Livestock Research Innovation Corporation
For the past almost two years, Livestock Research Innovation Corporation (LRIC) has been involved in an initiative to improve how the livestock sector can get research into practice. There is agreement across industry, academia and government that more needs to be done to help research outcomes make the jump from the lab to the farm – it’s the who, what, how and why that are now being worked on.
Decades ago, it was the Ontario government that took charge of extension – also known as technology transfer, getting research into practice (GRIP), knowledge mobilization or knowledge translation and transfer (KTT). That all changed in the 1990s when provincial governments dramatically reduced funding for these types of activities.
In the livestock industry, the gaps were filled by a variety of businesses and organizations, including veterinarians, nutrition companies and commodity groups, leading to discrepancy of service levels between sectors.
“We have a tremendous opportunity in the livestock sector however, because we have the University of Guelph, which is dedicated to agriculture and the Ontario Ministry of Agriculture, Food & Rural Affairs that has invested $100 million and counting into new livestock research facilities in our province over the last decade,” said LRIC CEO Mike McMorris during a GRIP-focused industry meeting this spring.
Overall, although a lot of people are involved in GRIP, there is a lack of coordinated planning and execution, and there is consensus that industry, government and academia need to collaborate on both research priorities and sharing research outcomes.
“We are positioned well where research is concerned,” he added. “Effective GRIP must consider differences in sectors and geography. It’s not a simple thing.”
Effective outreach and knowledge transfer also must take into consideration what will motivate change and how researchers can do a better job at engaging with farmers and making research outcomes applicable on farms.
That’s been the subject of considerable research by Dr. Steven Roche of Acer Consulting, who believes it ultimately comes down to people, relationships, and understanding the needs and mindsets of livestock farmers and their supply chains.
“Farmers are people at the end of the day so we can leverage existing research to try and understand behaviour, and how we can make things applicable to what is happening on-farm,” he said during a presentation at the recent GRIP roundtable.
People respond differently to different situations, so the same tactics and tools won’t be successful at reaching all farmers. Roche identified four types of farmers: the proactivists, the wait and seers, the reclusive traditionalists and the do-it-yourselfers and noted that each group is driven by different motivators and spheres of influence.
His advice for the research community and those funding research:
• Think bigger about adoption and influence
• Gain a better understanding of your audience and their spheres of influence
• Mindset will drive individual behaviour
• Relationships are key
Tara Terpstra brought the farm perspective to the discussion, sharing her approach to finding and implementing research outcomes on her family’s hog farm in Huron County. Terpstra is also a director on the boards of LRIC, Swine Innovation Porc and the Prairie Swine Centre, as well as Vice Chair of Ontario Pork and Chair of the Ontario Pork Research Committee.
According to Terpstra, clear, easy to understand communication is key, and she focuses on implementing research results one change at a time as it is important to evaluate the impact of that change on the overall business and whether the benefits outweigh any increased costs.
Her family’s 400 sow farrow to finish loose housing herd is on a Raised Without Antibiotics program, putting her firmly in the “proactivist” camp, she noted.
“I want to solve problems proactively instead of having policy brought down on me, and I adopt research more quickly when I’m struggling with a problem,” she said. “What is happening internationally (in the livestock industry) shows the need for scientific data to push back on false narratives and negative agricultural policies.”
She accesses research information through a variety of ways, from swine industry magazines and general internet reading and her veterinarian’s monthly newsletter to attending industry meetings and listening to podcasts.
“Commercial barns are not research barns, so we have to try a change for a longer time because of the many variables – and I need to see results before I adopt further changes,” she adds. “I have to evaluate if the increased costs make the benefits worthwhile; to adopt an entire practice at once presents challenges.”
A library of podcasts, videos and webinars designed to help the livestock industry get research and innovation information directly to the farm is available on the LRIC website, along with LRIC’s Horizon Series webinars and white papers focused on the big issues affecting livestock agriculture.
This article is provided by Livestock Research Innovation Corporation as part of its ongoing efforts to report on research, innovation and issues affecting the Canadian livestock industry. It was published in the July 2023 edition of Ontario Dairy Farmer.