‘Onland to Online’ for Wet Tropics farmers

May 21, 2020

Wet Tropics farmers are not letting COVID-19 stop them from learning more about soil health.

When on-farm group workshops had to be cancelled, farmers from Mossman to Ingham turned to Zoom and other apps for interactive soil and grazing sessions via their laptops, ipads and mobile phones.

Terrain NRM’s Rowan Shee said a group of farmers in a Digging Deeper Plus program helped to pilot the organisation’s move to online learning.

“They were keen to keep the momentum going when our on-farm sessions with soil agriculturalist David Hardwick had to stop, and that fitted in with what we wanted to achieve with our new Onland to Online project,’’ he said.

“We looked at a lot of different options to see what would work best for our farmers. It’s been great to see everyone’s enthusiasm. The first online workshops weren’t without glitches given the challenges of new apps and internet connectivity in rural settings but it’s all running smoothly now and we’re getting some great responses from landholders.”

Terrain NRM is a not-for-profit organisation leading innovative solutions to protect the landscapes of our region, while also supporting local industries and communities to continue to prosper. Through two Australian Government-funded and one Queensland Government-funded program, Terrain has been supporting farmers to learn about soil health practices.

Malanda farmer Michael Cavanagh said the switch to online learning had been relatively smooth.

“I had no idea what Zoom was beforehand, but we followed the directions and got hooked up and it’s been good. I think we could keep going from here, once Coronavirus restrictions change, with a mixture of both being out in the paddock and online.”

Mr Cavanagh has been part of both the Digging Deeper and Grazing Naturally workshops, with an interactive online session this week on how to better understand each farmer’s soil test results in Digging Deeper and a session with Dick Richardson on planning paddock rotations at the end of the pasture-growing season in the Grazing Naturally program.

Terrain NRM’s Jen Mackenzie said Grazing Naturally workshops had been tailored to the online world, with smaller groups of landholders and shorter sessions.

“Some graziers have told us that the online workshop format is easier for them, especially with kids doing their schoolwork at home while adults are doing their learning,’’ she said.

“This is the chance for us to cover the theory sections so everyone is up to speed when we next get a chance to get out in the paddock together.”

Plans are now afoot to expand Terrain NRM’s online learning opportunities.

“At the moment we are focused on the needs of landholders in our regular programs but we are also now looking at opportunities for the future,’’ Terrain CEO Stewart Christie said.

“This technology will never replace face-to-face interactions and learning, but we believe this approach can be expanded throughout our organisation to reduce health and safety risks to staff and partners, increase productivity and reduce our carbon emissions.

“We have invested heavily in recent years in remote working and on-line learning. COVID-19 has forced us to accelerate and innovate in this area and it is a no-brainer for us to keep expanding the delivery of our other programs.”

The Digging Deeper Plus program is supported by Terrain NRM through funding from the Australian Government’s National Landcare Program. The Grazing Naturally workshops are run through the Herbert Gully and Grazing Program and Upper Johnstone Integrated Project and funded by the Australian Government’s Reef Trust IV program and the Queensland Government’s Natural Resources Investment program respectively.