Getting research into practice
Making the jump from lab to on-farm implementation easier
By Lilian Schaer for Livestock Research Innovation Corporation
There’s no shortage of research happening in the livestock industry in Canada and around the world. Some discoveries ultimately end up being implemented by farmers and others in the sector. Many others, though, - and some would argue the majority - are never actually translated into direct action on the farm.
How to improve that conversion rate and spur more adoption of research outcomes is an issue the industry has been grappling with. Now, there are efforts underway to try to improve not just how research results get to producers, but also how to encourage change.
“In order for the Ontario livestock sector to be competitive and sustainable, farmers need a system that makes research results accessible in a way that encourages them to make effective decisions for their businesses,” says Mike McMorris, CEO of Livestock Research Innovation Corporation (LRIC).
LRIC has been working with Prof. Ataharul Chowdhury of the University of Guelph’s School of Environmental Design and Rural Development to get a better handle on the issue and find ways to improve advisory services for Ontario’s livestock sector.
Since the Ontario Ministry of Agriculture, Food and Rural Affairs dramatically reduced its involvement with extension - the term traditionally used to describe getting research results to farmers - in the 1990s, that responsibility has shifted to researchers, industry organizations and farm advisors. A similar transition has taken place across North America, creating a patchwork of regional, provincial and sector-focused efforts.
Working with graduate students Ezekiel Martin and André Melrose, Chowdhury’s research has found that livestock advisory services in Ontario lack coordination and a unified approach.
There are significant differences between what is available for supply managed and non-supply managed sectors, and fee-for-service and product-linked advice has become far more prominent in the Ontario industry.
Dr. Steven Roche of ACER Consulting presented an LRIC Horizon Series webinar earlier this year and co-authored a white paper on the issue. He says there are particular challenges with underserved areas of the province where farmers don’t have the same level of access to advisors like veterinarians, agronomists, nutritionists and geneticists.
“If the government is relying on advisors to educate and work closely with producers, there is a significant reliance on these advisors to have the right information-seeking behaviour and deliver it consistently across the province,” Roche noted during his webinar.
It’s about more than just access to information however, he added. To be successful in getting farmers to adopt new practices, those delivering the information have to understand their audience, make their message relevant, and tailor their approach to fit farmers’ needs.
Chowdhury’s research showed, for example, that although various advisory methods and tools are used, including more digital services and online media, those that are most effective focus on one-on-one, interactive communication with farmers.
Roche suggests three things the industry must think about for what’s next with getting research into practice:
- Improve and enhance our capacity to get research into practice including training, scholarships and investments.
- Better collaboration between industry, academia, government and non-profit sectors.
- More coordination through a centre or structure that could help guide activities and motivate change
There are already efforts underway to bring more coordination, collaboration and focus to advisory services. In 2019, Canada joined with the United States and Mexico to form the North American Agricultural Advisory Network (NAAAN) to bring together its farm and rural development advisors.
The Network’s creation was driven by Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada, the Secretariat of Agriculture and Rural Development in Mexico, the Association of Public and Land Grant Universities, the National Institute for Food and Agriculture of the United States Department of Agriculture, the U.S. Agency for International Development and the Extension Committee on Organization and Policy of the U.S. Cooperative Extension System.
This past summer, NAAAN launched a mapping study to get a better understanding of agricultural training, education, and advisory services and needs across North America. Results are expected by the end of the year.
The Beef Cattle Research Council has just released its five year research and technology transfer strategy for the Canadian beef industry. It is built on six core principles, including developing, enhancing and encouraging the adoption of beneficial practices and innovative technologies to support industry competitiveness, and maintaining and rejuvenating critical research capacity and infrastructure in Canada.
Click here to read LRIC’s Getting Research Into Practice white paper or watch the Horizon Series webinar with Dr. Steven Roche, visit .
For more information on Dr. Ataharul Chowdhury’s research into livestock advisory services in Ontario, please contact LRIC at email@example.com or call 519-766-5464 (Mike McMorris) or 519-767-8583 (Jean Howden).