Getting research to the farm
By Lilian Schaer
Improving how the livestock sector can get research into practice brought approximately 60 people together for a daylong event earlier this year hosted by Livestock Research Innovation Corporation (LRIC) in Elora.
The mixed format featured presentations from various speakers including LRIC CEO Mike McMorris, Dr. Steven Roche of Acer Consulting, and noted U.S. extension specialist Dr. Alison Van Eenennaam from the University of California Davis.
“Most Ontario livestock and poultry producers, through their service fees or checkoffs, support research in their respective sectors – but we recognize that more needs to be done to get those research outcomes into use on-farm,” says LRIC CEO Mike McMorris. “Working on how to do that collaboratively has been a priority over the last two years for LRIC and the industry.”
Extension – also known as technology transfer, getting research into practice (GRIP), knowledge mobilization or knowledge translation and transfer (KTT) – has evolved in Ontario since the 1990s, when the provincial government, in a situation not unique to Ontario, dramatically reduced its funding for these types of activities.
In the livestock and poultry industry, gaps were filled by a variety of businesses and organizations, including veterinarians, nutrition companies and producer groups, leading to discrepancy of service levels between sectors.
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.
Dr. Steven Roche of Acer Consulting has done considerable research into what motivates change and how researchers can do a better job at engaging with farmers and making research outcomes applicable on farms. Ultimately, he notes, it comes down to people, relationships, and understanding the needs and mindsets of livestock farmers and their supply chain. There needs to be more direct interaction between producers and researchers to build understanding of one another’s worlds.
Prof. Alison Van Eenennaam is a professor of cooperative extension at University California Davis and has become an expert at melding her research program with extension work over her more than 20-year career. Knowing her audience and what resonates with them has been key to her success, as has recognizing that her research needed to be applicable to farmers.
“Sometimes the incentives we have as researchers don’t reflect the translational impact on industry of what we are doing,” she said in highlighting a genomics project she worked on with a large U.S. beef producer that has had a dramatic impact on the livestock industry, but very little scientific outcome in terms of published papers for the research team.
“For me as a scientist, the best project has industry relevance but is also intellectually intriguing. I have to get a (publishable) paper out of it, but it needs to have a business interest to the company involved,” she added.
Together with Prof. Jennifer Ellis from the University of Guelph and Poultry Industry Council, LRIC has developed a new library of resources to help the livestock and poultry industry get research and innovation information directly to the farm.
More than 20 producer perspective videos showcase farmers from a variety of livestock sectors and their challenges and how they think researchers can best support driving adoption of innovation on the farm.
A series of 10 podcasts features interviews with researchers and industry leaders on their work with innovation their experiences with which approaches work and which do not.
These resources, as well as LRIC’s Horizon Series of webinars and white papers focused on the big issues affecting livestock agriculture, are available on this website.
This article was published in the October 2023 edition of Canadian Poultry.