Demonstration Sites in Extension

Demonstration sites are a great way for farmers to assess new technology under circumstances they are familiar with, on their own soil types and rainfall.

Using the approach, farmers can come together in a district and better understand new technology or practices and and how they behave under their conditions. This then provides information that they can use to more confidently assess the option for themselves.

It is a very important tool for extension agents. It can be used for simple practices, for example sowing depth; to complex farming system wide technology changes, such as minimum tillage.

The farmers can work together with local agribusiness or extension staff. Farm inspections and field days allow groups of farmers to follow the progress of the demonstrated new technology or practice.

Agricultural productivity is largely dictated by a combination of climate (which is a regional characteristic), soil type and topography; both of which are on site characteristics.

Demonstration sites are an extension tool primarily; but also an important bridge between agricultural research and the adaptation of the new technology or practice (through testing and evaluation) in local field conditions, at a commercial scale.

By working as a group, farmers are more likely to attract the support of the researchers  behind the new technology and get their assistance with recommendations on how best to set up the demonstration in their own location and in analysing results.

Source: The Liebe Group in Western Australia explore the effects of soil compaction and controlled traffic farming

Steps to Setting Up Effective Demonstration Sites

  1. The desired outcomes and what the agenda and context is, need to be very clear. Please note that a demonstration site may not prove the technology or practice in question and and if that is the agenda, then demonstration sites are not the solution. Unless the technology is extremely well proven and there is a high probability of success. Having said that, the technology or practice in question, must have a predictable beneficial outcome, founded in the research, in order for it to be worth demonstrating.
  2. How the site is to be funded needs to be clear and guaranteed for the proposed life of the demonstration site.
  3. Who the decision makers are in respect to the practices undertaken on site needs to be clear and how recording of those practices and their results is to occur needs to be well set up and rigourous.
  4. The target market, the audience for the demonstration site needs to be clearly defined.
  5. Sites need to be carefully selected so that they are easy to relate to in terms of climate, soil type and topography by the audience.
  6. The site should be easily visible from a road, so that they can be casually observed over time by any interested parties.
  7. Importantly the farm, the farmer(s), its farming system and the scale of the demonstration also need to be easy to relate and representative of the district, in a commercial sense.
  8. It needs to be a “normal” farm and the demonstration should not involve any abnormal inputs or operations that will effect its credibility.
  9. The closest weather station that has at least 50 years of records needs to be identified, so that the weather for the site can be compared. How the weather for the site is to be recorded needs to be agreed to and the recordings strictly carried out.
  10. The timing of operations needs to be clear and there needs to be solid commitment from those undertaking the works to carry them out to the agreed time schedule. Farmers will relate best to the farmer of the demonstration site undertaking the work as much as possible, as part of normal farming operations.
  11. An agreed communication plan needs to be set up for the demonstration site, which shows how the site is going to be communicated on and when. Any stakeholder responsibilities need to be defined and an action plan drawn up as to who is doing what when, in relation to communications.
  12. Note that demonstration sites are an extension or education approach, not a statistically validated research approach. To bring statistical rigour into a demonstration site, requires the setting up of multiple sites (at least five) and collecting and comparing the results. Even then, this does not replace the rigour of a replicated trial.
  13. Yield data is of particular interest to farmers looking at demonstration site results. To make yield data meaningful (particularly as is not statistically valid); it is extremely important that the story behind any yield results is very clear from a climate, or any other factors that had an effect on the yield of the site for the season in question.
  14. Timeline photographs, videos, interviews with the people who do the work on the site, collect the data and analyse the results; is all good information to gather overtime as part of the demonstration site story.
  15. The four Ps: Prior preparation prevents poor results. It is critical to plan, prepare and implement the demonstration site well. Poorly implemented demonstration sites do a disservice to the technology in question, potentially damage the reputation of the stakeholders involved and adversely effects the likely uptake in that locality.
  16. Evaluation needs to occur, to understand the perception of stakeholders as they interact with the demonstration site and any communications.

Communication is the Key

Well communicated demonstrations is a real key. The practices undertaken and their timeframe need to be recorded as do the yield results relating to the demonstration site as part of the demonstration site story. Setting up a demonstration site should incorporate enough rigour to make the results observable and meaningful, but as pointed out they are not meant to have the rigour of fully replicated trial sites. Enough detail needs to be provided in the communications,  to help farmers to identify whether, under their local conditions, the new technology or practice is showing enough potential that they may consider adopting it themselves. If there are problems that effect the outcome of the demonstration in anyone season, then these need to be understood and then explained quickly and effectively, so that there is not an inadequate assessment of the new technology or practice by stakeholders, most importantly the audience.

Source: Results being discussed at the Hart field trial site in South Australia


Advantages of Demonstration Sites as an Extension Tool

  1. Visual: Viewing results first hand under local conditions can be a powerful motivator for farmers.
  2. Practical: Farmer to farmer, hands on learning is a proven extension approach that works wel.l
  3. Risk management: Individual farmers can see it tested under their own field conditions, without taking the risks themselves.
  4. Efficient: Large numbers of farmers can be engaged with a new practice or technology at once, this can lead to ongoing networks around the adoption of a new practice or technology.
  5. Proven approach: Demonstration sites have been used in agricultural extension for a very long time, as a proven technology transfer approach
  6. Suite approach: A single demonstration can be part of a wider extension program and a number of demonstration sites across a geographic region. Farmers who are early adopters of the technology or practice can also be engaged with and their results assessed as to whether they add value to the stories coming out of the demonstration sites themselves. Learning from the demonstration site(s) can also be used to help the early adopter farmers.
  7. Link with research: Demonstration sites extend research, but also their outcomes can inform the need for future research.
  8. Engagement: Demonstration sites are a key engagement point with stakeholders and this engagement can then be extended into other extension processes or programs.

Demonstration Site Examples

The Macalister Demonstration Farm (Dairy) in Gippsland in Victoria is over 50 year old as is an example of the long term adoption of a demonstration site approach.

Source: Macalister Demonstration Farm that has been operating continuously for over 50 years.

Farming systems groups have a long history of providing demonstration sites. There are very active and successful farming systems groups in Australia. Some good examples include: Birchip Cropping Group (VIC), Central West Farming Systems (NSW), Mingenew-Irwin Group (WA), Southern Farming Systems (VIC and TAS), MacKillop Farm Management Group Inc (SA) and Hart Field Site Group (SA).

Research and development organisations aim to shorten the lag between technological innovation and the adoption of the new technology or practice by farmers. They support the establishment of demonstration sites as one way that farmers can assess things under their own conditions or conditions that they can easily relate to.

For example:

  1. Dairy Australia supported setting up a national network of on-farm demonstration sites to show adaptation and mitigation strategies in action in respect to climate change. This is part of the Future Ready Dairy Systems initiative.
  2. Meat and Livestock Australia have a project called PDS, which stands for Producer Demonstration Sites. Under the initiative producer groups are provided with a practical hands on environment that enables them to share experiences and participate in the commercial application of research outputs.

For Further Information

Demonstration sites are not an exact science. Use the networks provided in this article and engage with extension agents who have set up demonstration sites for the same industry and similar technologies and practices and learn from them what has worked well and any issues they may have had, that can help with the planning of your site.