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Organic Weed Management Project OF0315

Knowledge Collation and Dissemination focus group


2nd November 2004, HDRA

Summary of Minutes
Progress An overview of overall project progress, with particular emphasis on the approaches used was given (see full minutes).There was a discussion about how we record the outputs of the project, especially the learning process. There was a review of the website, which was felt to be good, though there were gaps identified. Leaflets were discussed at length, who they were aimed at and what format they should take (see full minutes for details). They will be freely available and we will encourage people to copy them and distribute them. Other forms of dissemination were discussed briefly, including audiotapes, videos, posters advisors and farmer groups, which were thought to be a potentially valuable conduit for information. Open days were discussed, they are thought to be one of the most effective methods of dissemination. It was decided open days are best where trials are occurring, even if only informal ones, e.g. novel crops. From an evaluation of the theme area (and SWOT analysis) there was a feeling that we needed to get some idea of the proportion of organic farmers the project was reaching We are still struggling with getting farmers to do the research. This years trails have been disappointing. It was felt that we should focus in more next season, with much more researcher support. The December weeds workshop was discussed, with suggestions from farmers to attract more people being presence of specialist advisors with strong involvement from farmers as speakers was thought to be important. Some discussion occurred about how we assess the project and next years program. Action points Make modifications to web site fill in gaps, add survey form, especially on livestock and pursue links with relevant sites, develop area with downloadable documents. Develop case studies to fill in gaps (point above) or develop specific theme areas. Develop leaflets and investigate ways of distributing them. Contact and inform other advisory/research bodies to inform them of the programme and progress to avoid duplication of effort or conflicting advice. Contact IGER to develop information on weed management in livestock systems. Forge links and share information, offer website as resource. Make contact with and elaborate activities with interested farmer groups (over the next few months). Review project evaluation and outputs. Contact Lois Bolk Institute for possibility of critical mid-term review. Organise weeds workshop incorporating elements discussed.

Organic Weed Management Project OF0315

Knowledge Collation and Dissemination focus group


2nd November 2004, HDRA

Minutes
Present: Famers Steve Castle, Adrian Hares, Keith Walby. Advisors Jean Burke, Mark Measures Researchers Phil Sumption, Gareth Davies, David Gibbon, Paul Gosling. Apologies: Mischa Phillips-Aalten, Bill Bond, Andrea Grundy, Alasdair Smithson, Andrew Mead Aim of the Day The broad aim of the day was to provide updates on and evaluate progress in knowledge collation and dissemination as a topic within the organic weed management project. Specific objectives to the day were to ask if the current work on this topic was addressing the relevant issues and providing useful outputs? Other objectives included discussing the direction of future work on this theme, discuss events for the coming season (2005), discuss the programme for the upcoming weed management workshop and to start planning any necessary activities. Progress to date Project Overview A general overview of the project was given to give the context for the knowledge development and dissemination work. This included: (1) the aims of the project (to define weed problems together with organic farmers and growers, propose ways of addressing these problems, and then research solutions in order to arrive at the most appropriate for use in organic systems), (2) the project approach (learning and gathering knowledge from farmers, extensive review of scientific literature relevant to organic weed management, identifying (and prioritising) problems, monitoring and trialing weed management strategies and technologies on-farm, promoting sharing of knowledge through the organic farming community) (3) and the project methods (meetings/workshops, field walks/open days, case studies, literature reviewing, monitoring weed management practices, small researcher led trials, farmer led trials, website development, information dissemination (leaflets, press, scientific journals). Three major themes have emerged during the project (1) docks and perennial weeds, (2) systems studies and (3) knowledge collation and dissemination. The results of this work are available on the www.organicweeds.org.uk website. Two major questions were posed at this point:

How do we best communicate (ideas and knowledge) about weeds? How do we encourage further engagement with the project. Various points arose in discussion around the overview: There was discussion about how best to record the outputs of the project. These are not going to be facts, figures and robust scientific data. The learning process is a central part of the project, so we need to know what farmers have learnt. The question was how could we document the learning process. The best way was felt to be asking if they had changed their practices or views (perspectives) on weeds as a result of the project. There was some discussion on the website and communication which has been included in the relevant sections below for ease of reference and context.

Knowledge and communications- progress Approaches: An outline of the principles approaches to developing the theme was provided including 1) documenting farmer experience/ knowledge, 2) collating scientific knowledge, 3) development of knowledge (weeds, weed managent techniques, crop strategies/ rotations, identifying research questions) and 3) defining suitable methods for engagement and communication. Knowledge development: The approach rests on incorporating two strands: 1) the organic weed management review which incorporates and collates published scientific information on weed management, 2) farmer/ advisor experience and knowledge (from case studies, field trials, informal surveys, open days and field walks). The review is being continually updated and the information and knowledge (from the two strands above) is being used to develop stand alone sections. These include for example direct weed control systems (thermal, mechanical etc.), cultural strategies (tillage, cover crops etc.), biodynamic methods. Other areas being developed include areas of special interest or research such as allelopathy, minimum tillage and biological control of docks. Also weed management in specific crops (e.g. organic onions or winter cereal) and information on management of individual weeds in various categories (e.g. perennial weeds, charlock). The latter is also developing information on rare arable and alien weeds. Several questions were posed (what do we need to do? are there any gaps we need to cover? are we developing suitable methods for recording practical knowledge?) and points arising discussed at length. The discussions are summarised below:

Livestock systems would seem to be a major omission from the current knowledge development themes. These should include weed management in grassland/ permanent pastures and grass leys and could also usefully cover green manures. Different aspects, including different animals species and breeds, temporary and permanent pasture need to be addressed. Information should also be sought from IGER on this. The cost implications of changing practices needs to be addressed in some way in the case studies and themes.

Relationships between institutes engaged in research and advisory work should be strengthened to avoid replication of outputs (and conflicting advice!). Wide range of institutes including certification bodies, research institutes and advisory bodies and farmer groups e.g. Omsco, EFRC network, SA producer groups etc.).

Communicating knowledge: an overview of the project approach to communication was given. All information is presented on the website and currently a range of this information is also being developed for presentation through A4 information sheets (2 or 4 sided Information Docs!) given farmers and growers stated preference for receiving information in this way. The aim is to incorporate the two strands of knowledge and have the information in a format that is easily updated. We should also look on open days and meetings as well as on-farm trials as a method of communicating information. Website: currently the main method of dissemination (free of charge, an overview of the website was provided as part of the day). Pros, cons and questions arising were outlined:

Pros (cheap, widely available and accessible?, easy to modify as information becomes available, potentially interactive, extensive links possible) Cons (many not used to using it, accessibility?, time consuming to maintain large database). Questions arising include who is if for? Who are the best primary targets? Do farmers need assistance in making the best use of the web? Is IT training necessary?

The web site was discussed at length at various points during the day. Points included: Though all agreed that it was a valuable resource there was still the question of how many farmers it is reaching. Though we know there are a large number of hits we do not know who from. It was suggested that a survey be added to the web site to allow users to easily identify themselves as farmers, researchers students etc. This would also be a useful output of the project. Some gaps were identified in information on the web site and in our knowledge generally. The largest of these was information on the role of livestock in managing weeds (see above also). There was some concern that the case studies had geographical gaps and that it was not possible to identify dairy farms easily. This should be possible, while using case studies from the conversion project(s) could help fill the geographical gaps. The case studies need to be followed up next season to see how the actions described worked. We should focus in on developing the case studies. Case studies from other programmes could be developed. Perhaps we also need to target particular problems and develop these on the website. There is a disappointing amount of comment on the web site, should we seed discussion? There should be a separate area listing downloadable documents and leaflets.

The question arose as to whether there would be funding for the site after the project finished. Some seemed confident that there would be. Further links could be developed to and from the site. Suggestions included EMMA and LEAF.

Leaflets: aim to summarise science and farmer knowledge in a practical way. A number of draft leaflets were given out covering various topics (Dock management strategies in organic systems, Creeping thistle management in organic systems, Blackgrass management in organic systems, Common couch management in organic systems, Weed management in organic potatoes, Allelopathy a practical management tool?, Reduced till- is it a viable option for organic systems, Weed management in organic systems- fallowing). Discussion points included: It was agreed that leaflets were a very good way of disseminating information in a user friendly form. There was some discussion about the form they take, with a division between those who wanted higher quality colour ones to make them attractive and those that thought black and white would allow us to produce more and distribute them more widely. The consensus was that colour copies should be available for a small cost (50p - 1) with B+W copies available free (they are available free to download from the website). We need a separate publications section on the website (see above) Ways of distributing the leaflets were discussed and include SA and Elm Farm publications, as well as open days. There is no copyright on them so they can be reproduced and distributed by anyone including advisors. We should indicate this on the leaflets. When asking for comments on leaflets we should include the context of the information or refer to it on the website so that reviewers can make a more balanced decision as to what to include and what not to include. We need to get feedback on the leaflets.

Open Days: currently the most popular form of sharing knowledge with a view that smaller groups with advisors and researchers are probably of most benefit. They should probably be more focused on analysing problems and making systems work probitably with farmers. Some thought might need to be given as to the format and evaluating the impact. Discussion points included: Open days were discussed. These are a very good way of communicating with farmers; they are interactive and popular with farmers. There is a lot of information flowing at these days and we need to capture it. Tape recorders we thought to be the best way. A format for days could be to follow the LEAF format of setting up stations on a farm walk with researchers/ advisors giving information on specific topics and people walking freely between stations- allows a choice of subjects. Open days for next year could include Holm Lacey and Herefordshire group, Duchy college on farm trial and Reedsdale (livestock orientated).

Some open questions were posed for consideration on the issue of knowledge communication including are we addressing the right issues? Are we incorporating sufficient practical knowledge and are we making sufficient linkages between information? Other question posed were are there other methods? What tools have we for analysing system approaches? Could we use posters or flow diagrams? Are we developing suitable methods for participation and engagement? General points arising during the discussion around this subject included: Other methods of dissemination were discussed. There was some support for a high quality poster on the lines of a seasonal planner for managing different weeds. Video diaries could be a useful way of recording and disseminating farmer knowledge. Tapes could also be useful (tapes in tractor cabs etc.) Farmer groups were also thought to be a potentially valuable way to disseminated information and have the added value of being more interactive. There was some doubt as how to access and involve groups.There was a feeling that we need to get some idea of what proportion of organic farmers we are reaching. Duchy College are able to access 60% in the SW, which was felt to be good, can we access this number, what of the other 40%? Information from the other systems studies (conversion and sustainable veg network) at HDRA should be used to provide more information. For example on weeding costs. Information of the cost effectiveness of various approaches and change need to be addressed in our communication strategy. This is the sort of question that the funder (DEFRA) is also likely to be interested in. The trials (though not specifically part of this theme) were discussed and the importance of maintaining stability of contact between researchers and farmers was emphasised. The idea of pairing farmers for trials was also discussed and developing farmers as points of contact for the trials. Exchange visits between farms could also be arranged on this basis. Emphasis might be better on monitoring variation in practice and learning and monitoring on-going farmer research. This might improve engagement in trials work. The possibility of using students (PhD) to research specific topics was raised but they might lack the context for developing trials work but could be good on researching focused questions.

Workshop for Dec 2004: ideas for the weeds workshop in December were presented and discussed. The idea was to elaborate a programme that would be useful to both researchers and farmers and attract a wide audience to participate. Themes that have been suggested include a talk on farmer groups, a talk by a case study farm, talks in general on weeds, topic discussion involving farmers/advisors/researchers, designing flow charts for weed management, practical website evaluation, evaluation session on the project. Suggestions arising included:

we need to elaborate trials results and outcomes on the day

should emphasize that it will be a working meeting and make this explicit in the publicity should incorporate the specialist forum idea to some extent, perhaps focussing on theme areas such as perennial weeds. We could use specific weeds as examples within these forums. Need some experienced people to guide the discussion? We should be topic and solution orientated with useful outcomes Critical path analysis asking how can we be more effective on the farm? What is the process of learning about weeds and weed management? We should think about generating economic data on weed management techniques. There should be space to ask people what they have learnt about weeds and weed management and also for people to ask questions and get answers.

In wrapping up various points arose: the project was progressing, especially the dissemination of the huge amount of information we have gathered. The assumption of the researchers is more that they are providing tools (especially information) for assessing situations. This should be worked on more to enable farmers to work from information (generalities) to answers for their case (specifics). The issue is how can we do this in stakeholder meetings? There is a feeling that the project is making progress towards a participatory approach to weed management research (and development) but that perhaps we still need to accommodate further development. A possibility for a mid-term review is to ask the Lois Bolk Institute in Holland (Ton Baars) to review the process and give a critical feedback on how we could do things differently.

As a final summing up of progress a SWOT analysis was done to try and capture the strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and threats based on the discussion during the day. This is presented below as a table.

Strengths Large amount accessible research data Generally a good turn out to meetings etc. A multi-stranded approach Website Farmer contribution Addressing a priority problem Opportunities Work with other groups Create partnerships and work with other groups Farmer authorship of outputs

Weaknesses Unknown what impact is (audience, % farmers, % increase, impact) Audience not known Too ambitious? Over reliant on website? Trials methodology (priorities unclear) Threats DEFRA expectations Farmer expectations Funding? Continuity? Attitude of research institutes

The SWOT analysis clearly threw up a number of issues that will need to be addressed over the coming season and should be considered when making action plans for upcoming project events and activities.

Gareth Davies and Paul Gosling, 04 November 2004