It pays to engage with farmer discussion groups

Lesley Irvine, Tasmanian Institute of Agriculture (TIA)

Dairy farmers could earn an extra $208 per hectare simply by attending a discussion group, according to research conducted in Ireland.  The research found that farmers who participate in discussion groups earn more per hectare than farmers that don’t attend discussion groups, and for the average Tasmanian dairy farmer this is equivalent to an extra $40,500 per year.

In Tasmania, dairy discussion groups are organised by the Tasmanian Institute of Agriculture (TIA), Dairy Australia or private businesses. Most discussion groups are free to attend and provide a forum for farmers to discuss relevant issues with their peers and have access to the latest research.

TIA facilitates five regional dairy discussion groups that meet approximately six times per year, typically over lunch and occasionally of an evening. Discussion group meetings take place on farms around Tasmania and include discussions around a particular topic, sometimes with a guest speaker, and a farm walk to look at particular aspects of the host farm’s management practices.

At Agfest recently, the TIA Dairy Extension Team spoke with dairy farmers to find out how they benefit from attendance at discussion groups. Their answers can be summarised into two key areas – learning and socialising.

Farmers highlighted peer-to-peer learning as a particular benefit, with opportunities to pick up new information and ways of doing things through discussion or from observing the practices of the host farm. Discussion groups also provide motivation to implement new ideas on-farm to improve productivity and efficiency.  

It was also mentioned that discussion groups help farmers keep up-to-date with the latest information and practices. Key topics where farmers gained new information included feeding cows, pasture management, technology, business management and different ways of doing routine tasks.

Most farmers also mentioned the social aspect of discussion groups, with one farmer saying it was the only time they catch-up with their neighbour. Many farmers said discussion groups provide the opportunity to get off their farm for a day, to network and learn with other farmers. Farmers have also mentioned how discussion groups have helped them cope, simply through knowing other farmers are experiencing the same struggle.

The social aspect of discussion groups should not be underestimated and farmers mentioned the importance of catching-up over lunch. TIA is grateful to the support of businesses including ANZ, Fonterra, Lion, Murray Goulburn Trading, Roberts, Serve-Ag and Yolla Co-Op who have provided free lunches at discussion group meetings.

If you have never been involved in a discussion group or haven’t attended one in a while, it is well worth it. Details about upcoming discussion groups are provided on the TIA website (www.utas.edu.au/tia) or email Samantha.Flight@utas.edu.au or Symon.Jones@utas.edu.au.

Published on: 05 Jun 2018 4:07pm