‘Recognising farmers’ unique knowledge will lead to extraordinary outcomes’

Listening to and recognising the “extraordinary knowledge” that farmers hold will lead to “extraordinary outcomes” on farms, Teagasc director Prof. Gerry Boyle has stated.

Speaking to hundreds of attendees at today’s Knowledge Transfer Conference 2019 – the sixth annual event spearheaded by University College Dublin’s (UCD’s) School of Agriculture and Food Science and Teagasc – Prof. Boyle outlined his views on this year’s theme – ‘Diverse Approaches to Supporting Farm Innovation’.

The annual conference shares learning from the UCD /  Teagasc Masters in Innovation and Masters in Agriculture Extension and Innovation programmes through a series of student and graduate-led research presentations on a variety of topics including: dairy farmers and the uptake of technology; helping farmers to manage grass better; helping farmers on environmental management; new challenges and opportunities for advisors; and more.

In his opening address Prof. Boyle said: “We learn from each other in terms of the challenges of delivering innovation on farms.

“Many of you here today, in one form or another, will build careers in supporting farmers in different ways.

“A number of you will be working in an advisory or extension capacity, and if I could offer one piece of advice – and it’s something I’ve learned over the years – and that is when you are working with farmers, the traditional model is not the way forward.

“A linear model where the advisor or the consultant was almost like a preacher that delivered from on high – we now know that is really not the optimum way to proceed in important dialogue in innovation and challenging people to change.

“My piece of advice is leave your ego in the car, or whatever transport you use to get to the farm.

“You must listen to the farmer and recognise that they have extraordinary knowledge and extraordinary energy and then you must tap into that.

“Sometimes it can be difficult for us in this profession to let go, but when you do let go that’s when some extraordinary outcomes will occur,” he said.

Embracing Failure

Jon Parry, the new principal of Gurteen Agricultural College, also addressed attendees at the Knowledge Transfer Conference in the Teagasc Ashtown Conference Centre today, Friday, October 18.

The former head of dairy knowledge at the UK’s Agriculture and Horticulture Development Board (AHDB) offered similar guidance to those in attendance.

“Innovation is about taking ideas – probably new ideas – and developing something useful from them.

That is important to hold onto. Innovation is about taking ideas and developing something that is valuable and important – you don’t necessarily have to be the author of the idea to be innovative.

In Parry’s view, he believes future innovation in agriculture is about employing small incremental steps to build on the ideas of other people.

“We must learn from other people’s experience which will lead to small incremental development.

“Advisory services and education are very closely linked in terms of knowledge transfer and knowledge exchange.

“We need to move away from that process that says ‘I’m the expert here and you just need to listen to me’.

“It’s much more about group work and teachers being the ‘guide on the side’ and having the ability to work as equals with farmers or students to say ‘you’ve got the knowledge; my job is to help you formulate that knowledge into something that is useful and powerful’.”

Quoting Benjamin Franklin – writer, politician, scientist, philosopher and founding farther of the United States – Parry advised the aspiring advisors and educators in the audience to keep the below statement in mind.

“Tell me and I will forget. Show me and I may remember. Involve me and I will learn,” he said.

For Parry, powerful education is all about team work and “involvement” in the process. He also said that it’s important to “embrace failure”.

“In education we are frightened of failure and I think that we have to embrace failure because it’s probably the most important learning process we have got.

“When things are going well, we often just move on to the next project. It’s when things go badly that you really try to analyse what happened and what went wrong and what you need to do to put it right.

“It’s the ability of using failure that leads to success,” he said, quoting author JK Rowling.

The conference is headed up by UCD School of Agriculture and Food Science lecturers Dr. Monica Gorman, Prof. Jim Kinsella and Dr. Tomás Russell.

It is also supported by a number of farm organisations and agencies including: the Irish Farmers’ Association (IFA); the Irish Creamery Milk Suppliers’ Association (ICMSA); Macra Na Feirme; AHDB; and CAFRE in Northern Ireland.