Tuesday, 27 September 2016

Being a good listener and speaking a common language

Susannah Bolton, Director of Knowledge Exchange at the Agriculture and Horticulture Development Board, took on a rapporteur’s role at the recent Landbridge SIP workshop, which gave her a useful insight into how sustainable intensification – or maybe these kinds of practices under a different name - could make a real difference on the farm and what land based professionals need in order to make this happen.


It was a very interesting workshop hosted by Landbridge at Nafferton Farm in Northumberland which brought together a very wide cross-section of individuals to discuss the role that advisers can play in integrated farm management for sustainable intensification. Not surprisingly one of the key things that we discussed was the problem of jargon and how the term ‘sustainable intensification’ does not help in making the output from the work funded under the Sustainable Intensification Platform (SIP) any more accessible. Finding a common language seems so very simple, but failure to do this lies at the heart of much of the breakdown in knowledge exchange between researchers and agricultural practice. Dumbing down certainly isn’t the answer, rather we have to find a shared language that makes sense to all parties. This involves translation, which is a skill that we should value increasingly – good translators also have to be good listeners. One of the really nice things about the Landbridge workshop was that there was a great deal of listening going on.


We heard about some great case studies of integrated farm management based on farm platforms around the country. The helpful feature of these examples is that they are all on farms that can be used to demonstrate and host discussions. There is nothing quite like seeing the work in practice and on the ground to encourage people to consider how these techniques could be used on their farms or by their clients. A key to getting practices taken up more widely is to understand the decisions that farmers and their advisers need to make.  We have to grasp how we can provide the underpinning science and understanding that will inform those decisions most effectively. It’s not about a right or wrong answer, it’s about understanding risk and benefit in the context of farm businesses. Quite often when risks and benefits are assessed in terms of the longer term resilience of the business, it becomes apparent that environmental sustainability and intensification are no longer at odds with each other and that the apparent oxymoron is in fact a win-win. But we do need the underpinning science and the skilled translators to frame this in the right language.