Otago Daily Times Comment "Over the Fence" · Mainstream Farming Comprimised by Vested Interests 26 November 2012

04/09/2013 at 22:04 in Otago Daily Times

Whenever I give a presentation on regenerative agriculture in rural communities, I’m always asked “how come we’ve never heard of this?” or more commonly, “where do I go to find real innovative solutions to my problems?”  There are six points about farming information that farmers need to be aware of.

Information is a Commodity

Information services are pitched at majorities.  Truly new ideas are seldom in mainstream publications, seminars, or consultants.  Majorities rule mainstream, therefore information must be acceptable to more than 50% of target audience to be of commercial value to any industry.  Anything challenging accepted thinking invites criticism and ridicule because it undermines huge investment in maintaining status quo.  Industry recipes, silver bullets, and packaged solutions rarely encourage creative thinking required for long term regeneration.  Why, because it’s better business to have repeat customers.  It’s easier to fool people than tell them they’ve been fooled. 

Information is highly subjective

Therefore, is industry information objective?  Highly unlikely.  There is always an agenda associated with information – including this column.  There is no such thing as a free lunch.  Mainstream information is often compromised by vested interests.  Always look at philosophy and commerce driving information sources and ask yourself what are they really selling?  Creativity is enhanced by exposure to new ideas, angles, and alternatives.  The more people you can discuss and explain circumstances and ideas with, the more confident you will be about any decision.  If more opinions confuse you, go back to original problem and view it from what I call landscape function.  The environment doesn’t lie.  When nature and books disagree, throw out the books.

Look to the fringe

In agriculture, true innovation never comes from research institutions; its source is usually pioneering farmers who have spent a life time doing things differently.  The most innovative farmers are 40 years ahead of institutions and when evidence of their successes mounts that’s when researchers flock to these people to find out why.   

Why?  Current research policies don’t value academics because of their discoveries, but money they bring their institutions and the number of scientific papers they write.  Such papers are seldom read by farmers so research policies steer communication away from communities academics are supposed to serve.  Activities like peer review, terms of reference, and single factor analysis stifles creativity by railroading thinking to fit status quo.  Current western education does not train people to use creativity to solve problems but to find solutions that fit existing systems.  This happens in all areas of society; arts, commerce, science, politics, and farming. 

Develop you own library

The more you can expose yourself to different ideas the more creative and resourceful you’ll become.  Read, read, read... not just local and national publications but what is happening overseas.  With high speed internet, opportunities to access information are better than ever.  Collect books and articles you find most interesting.  Visit and join websites and on-line discussion groups.  Look at any source’s advertising as it’ll reveal its agenda and whether it suits your purpose.  The important thing about reading is that it provides an ideal opportunity to reflect on management practice and outcomes. 

Attend alternative and sustainable farming seminars

Challenge yourself, spend time with tree huggers!  Seminars focusing on niche marketing and production will be full of positive people experimenting with new ideas.  These places are an ideal source of pioneers grounded in reality of mixing business and environment.  Nothing is more important in business than your social network.  The best seminars are those where you can approach speakers and discuss their ideas or promote group discussions between participants and speakers.  Seminars with farmer presenters rather than officials and consultants will provide a better experience because of their practical background. 

Visit successful farmers

Farmers wanting to do something radically different from their neighbours need to get out of their community to find advice they need.  It won’t be found over the fence.  Never let distance be a barrier to learning.  Travel opens the mind.  Whether car or plane, visit places and people that have something to offer.  If someone talks on your wave length and they live overseas, go see them or at least talk to them.  Telephone calls are cheap.  Your social network is the sounding board for ideas and where you’ll find encouragement and inspiration to do them.  Our successes often ride on shoulders of others and more people you can find to support you and your endeavours, the greater progress you’ll make.  Consultants and pioneers dealing in this kind of information often have diverse backgrounds and are overlooked by local industry.  You may have to look overseas to find out what innovative consultants are doing at home.

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