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Learning opportunities: Understanding farmers’ soil testing practice through workshop activities to improve extension support for soil health management

Lobry de Bruyn, Lisa A.
Soil use and management 2019 v.35 no.1 pp. 128-140
farmers, government agencies, land management, learning, local government, motivation, soil, soil analysis, soil quality, surveys, New South Wales
This paper examines the potential for extension providers to identify learning opportunities by intentionally surveying farmers attending soil testing workshops designed to improve soil health and its management. In south‐eastern Australia, regional government agencies have been running soil health workshops since 2014, yet they have rarely surveyed the participants to understand their previous experience or learning needs, and how that may inform their design. The workshop consisted of two sessions, separated by 6 weeks. Farmers at the first Session were told how to undertake soil measurements. At the second Session, they then discussed their soil test results. The workshop participants (n = 87) at four different localities in the Northern Tablelands of New South Wales were surveyed (68% response rate) at each session. Firstly, to examine their prior knowledge and experience of soil testing, and secondly on how they applied what they had learnt, examine if the soil test results matched their expectations, and their influence in land management decisions. The survey revealed to regional government agencies that the majority of survey respondents (62%) would soil test again. Despite more than half of the respondents infrequently or never having their soil tested, prior to the workshop, 50% indicated that the test results were unexpected. The motivation for those farmers who would soil test again was the specific desire to identify their soil's potential for improved production. The survey provided a way of profiling the workshop audience and obtaining important feedback on how to improve the impact of the workshops for participants.