Great to be here in Alberta and finally getting boots on the ground at some Canadian farms using Holistic Management or its variants. Tuesday we met farmers Steve and Amber Kenyon at Greener Pastures near Busby, at their custom grazing operation, as well as their farming friends from Athabasca, Rusty and Agnes. Steve calls what he does ‘sustainable grazing’ and combines ideas from a range of thinkers including Allan Savory, as well as running his own training. Later that day we met former HM trainer Noel McNaughton, and the next day one of his star students, Don Ruzicka at Sunrise Farms, over near Wainwright. The weather is apocalyptic, but there is nothing like getting into the field, talking to people and looking at landscape to help you shape research so it really matters.
Announcing the third version of our farm extension website, BioLOG (Biodiversity Landowners’ Guide), a reboot funded by the ECCC SARPAL funding to the NSFA for the new Wood Turtle Strides (WTS) program. Nova Scotia DNR originally funded this project to supplement their Agricultural Biodiversity Conservation program after our evaluation of it. Thanks to WTS program manager Simon Greenland-Smith for shepherding the process.
In my time doing interviews with farmers in Australia, Nova Scotia and the Falklands I have probably consumed a few hundred cups of tea. Now I’m a coffee gal, generally, but it feels social to sit with a cuppa over an interview, and I like how it structures the interaction. There are clearer rules for having tea than there are for conducting interviews – particularly being the ‘subject’ of one. In fact, the protocols that do exist for interviews I don’t like, being too formal and seeming to frame the interviewer as the expert. When you accept a cup of tea, the farmer as host takes control of the proceedings, and as guest I become a grateful recipient of hospitality as well as their expertise.
Earlier this year, Simon and Mhari and I were brainstorming how to inspire a high response rate for a survey of a small farmer population (~n=225), that had to be a single mail-out for time reasons. Simon suggested including a teabag. So off we went. Boxes of English Breakfast were purchased and individually packaged envelopes included with each survey. We hoped farmers would come back from the barn after morning chores and do the short survey over a cuppa. Well, we’re just short of 12% completion rate so far, with only a trickle now coming in. Though we have had some sweet notes about the tea (see above), I think we can confidently say that tea is not enough of a incentive. Does this indicate a cultural change to coffee among farmers? Maybe a K-cup would have been a better idea. But it was worth a try.
A quick note to thank Australian Ambassador to the US Joe Hockey for the candid discussion yesterday about grazing policy. I was following up on the source of a single initiative in the 2015 Australian budget, Mr. Hockey’s last as the Treasurer of Australia. In announcing the opportunity for accelerated depreciation for farmers to install fencing and water infrastructure, Mr. Hockey asserted their value for cell grazing, which is “far more productive and is actually better for the environment”. In discussion yesterday, Ambassador Hockey linked his statement, indeed the initiative, to his own experiences as then-owner of a grazing property in the Atherton Tablelands of Queensland. I am grateful to the Ambassador for his willingness to reveal the inner workings of policy.
Excited to highlight here our new riparian management extension video, another collaboration with the Nova Scotia Department of Natural Resources and the Nova Scotia Federation of Agriculture. Simon Greenland-Smith, MES alum and SARPAL project manager, developed this stylish video with the folks at local production company Wonderlust, as part of our series on ‘small changes’ towards biodiversity-friendly farming. During our previous evaluation of the Agricultural Biodiversity Conservation (ABC) program, modified harvest and riparian management were the two practices that were significantly increased by education. We hope through videos like this to get the word out about these ‘small changes’ to more farmers than those who opt into an ABC plan, or visit our BioLOG extension website.