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Aussie farmers keen to harvest knowledge

Australian farmers are increasingly embracing the role of global research in helping improve their lot.

A Curtin University-led review has found demand high for the expansion of an online international network of primary producers and scientists utilising On-Farm Experimentation or OFE.

The big data approach to agricultural advancement encourages farmers to work with professional researchers in conducting field experiments around activities like cultivation, crop management and the application of fertilisers and chemicals.

It’s hoped heightened collaboration will help the ongoing transformation of the sector and solve some of its more pressing challenges as Australia adapts to changing climate conditions.

Lead researcher on the Curtin project Dr Myrtille Lacoste says OFE provides producers with a means of testing technologies and practices amid real-farm conditions with a focus on what matters in the paddock.

It “places farmers back at the centre of innovation”, she says.

“The roots of OFE were pioneered decades ago but are only now gaining momentum.

“This has been supported by a growing demand for research practices that recognise farmers’ central role in innovation and by the rise of digital technologies that facilitate experimentation.”

Dr Lacoste says an inaugural International Conference on farmer-centric OFE held in 2021 demonstrated the scope of interest on the topic.

“We had over 180 participants from 36 different countries, networking and sharing ideas,” she said.

“We hope the results of this study will attract more funding so we can continue to build a platform to bring our international partners together.”

While currently run by farmers, civil organisations, businesses, social enterprises and scientists, the Curtin study sees merit in OFE initiatives adopting defined leadership.

Co-author, CSIRO Senior Principal Research Scientist Dr Rob Bramley, says there’s growing momentum to rethink the relationship between farmers and scientific experimentation.

“Over many years we’ve been successfully using the OFE approach in research, including for crop responses to fertiliser in WA and vineyard floor management and disease control,” he said.

“Farmers lead the investigation and make the observations, while researchers take on the role of supporter, providing data analysis and transferring knowledge.”

The study involved input from 24 institutions across eight countries.

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