In a rapidly changing global environment, old paradigms on how to influence change in management decisions by farmers and other managers of non-public lands continue to linger. Yet visiting every property is not a realistic plan and the state-based farm extension model is a shadow of its former self.
Farmers, Traditional Owners and Indigenous communities, and other private land managers manage around 77 per cent of Australia’s land area. Not surprisingly then, government policy makers, industry and environmental leaders invest substantial effort and resources to influence change for better economic and environmental outcomes from the management of non-public lands.
Our experience is that the sources of where farmers get their information for decision-making have changed dramatically in recent decades.
Besides the internet and commercial suppliers, the regional bodies (industry organisations, natural resource management bodies, environmental non-government organisations (NGOs), regional development organisations, local councils and so on) can and are playing a potentially powerful role in catalysing innovation in regional economies and in changing land management practices.
Many regional bodies are already accelerants of change, as we found in a review of community skills knowledge and engagement by the 56 natural resource management bodies. They do this by connecting with local businesses, understanding the demand for knowledge and providing information in formats that are valued by landowners. Collaboration and coordination is essential as it is unlikely that one organisation has all the knowledge and skills required for effective on-ground innovation.
Yet there is more to it than this. Regional bodies are positioned to add value to information and build the trusted relationships that are essential to accelerate innovation on the ground. That does not mean simply having a regional presence (industry, environmental or government) will automatically translate to better outcomes on the ground. In some cases, lack of innovation by regional bodies themselves could be slowing the process of change.
Looking more deeply, we see that policy makers are seeking a step change in industry development, environmental and social outcomes in the regions. For farm businesses, the implication is that they need to be world class. International markets led by consumers and retailers are demanding this assurance. By and large, farm businesses have made significant leaps in productivity and sustainability in recent decades (we don’t meet any apathetic successful farmers).
Yet all this assumes that industry, environmental and government organisations are themselves innovating and striving to be world class. A key strategic question is how institutional innovation can be rapidly accelerated to establish these bodies as world class institutions that:
• Leverage the insights and learning from across Australia and overseas and
• Are adaptable, highly influential and valued by farmers, governments and the community.
There is scope for such innovation so that these organisations can achieve and sustain their potential in transforming regional economies and landscapes.