Every Cambodian's mobile tool
SMS messaging, emerging as a valuable tool for grower information campaigns among vegetable producers in Western Sydney, is also breaking down grower resistance to some technology in Cambodia.
Industry and Investment NSW researchers are investigating how vegetable growers learn and how they prefer information to be packaged in Cambodia, as part of a project funded by the Australian Centre for International Agricultural Research (ACIAR).
"Surprisingly, nearly every farmer in Cambodia has a mobile phone, and one innovative project is now delivering vegetable market price information to growers via SMS messaging," said project leader Mark Hickey, from the Centre for Tropical Horticulture at Alstonville.
The aim of the ACIAR project is for NSW and Cambodian vegetable growers to benefit from the delivery of more accurate and user friendly information.
Under another project, the new Water Smart farms program in Western Sydney, Cambodian and other growers will soon also be able to access irrigation scheduling advice via SMS messaging.
"SMS is simple, direct, specific and very effective," Mr Hickey said.
"Theres no reason why we cant use this system in the ACIAR project to deliver other key information, such as notification of pest or disease outbreaks, and build around SMS messaging with other methods of communication.
"Were refining the best medium to reach farmers - the method of delivery is almost as important as the message itself."
The SMS program is a specifically tailored mode of information delivery.
On the other hand, Mr Hickey said despite the ease at which growers could access information more broadly via the internet, it was easy to be overwhelmed by the volume of information available.
"Deciding which information is relevant to your farming system, climate and crop can be difficult," he said.
"We discovered in a previous project in Cambodia that although our researchers were producing a lot of new information, farmers were not necessarily adopting the new technology, even though the benefits were quite obvious.
"This made us think more about how the message was being delivered.
"It turned out that Cambodian farmers hearing the message from another farmer they respected carried more weight than if the information came from a researcher."
Written information was not always appropriate, as some farmers were either illiterate, or had bad eyesight and cant read small print in information sheets.
"So we devised better methods of getting the information to them," Mr Hickey said.
He said a model which has worked well in Cambodia includes using farmers as trainers.
"Some of the best farmers are more than happy to share their knowledge at field days, and are invaluable at getting through to a large number of growers, both at field days and informally."
Mr Hickey said in the previous vegetable project, a series of field days were run with Cambodian tomato growers in Western Sydney.
"Attendances fluctuated depending on how busy people were.
"It made us think if we could record the field day on high quality digital video, email it or place it on a website, then growers could watch edited highlights in their own time when it suited them.
"The Australian sugar industry is already doing this via their website with great effect."
The new project will give the team the opportunity to test both electronic and written forms of information delivery.
Contact Mark Hickey, Alstonville, (02) 6626 2400, firstname.lastname@example.org
New tech for turf farmers
Hawkesbury-Nepean turf farmers have seen options to improve water use efficiency demonstrated at a field day at Freemans Reach.
Turf farmers saw sprinkler retrofits and upgrades, irrigation system conversions, water harvesting systems and water recycling systems.
"Undertaking projects with these technologies will provide an opportunity for the turf industry to reduce water consumption, invest in new infrastructure for their farms and improve the health of the Hawkesbury-Nepean River," water management program team leader with Industry and Investment NSW, Bill Yiasoumi, said.
The Water Smart Farms project is working with all agricultural industries in the lower Hawkesbury-Nepean catchment to save up to 5.9 gigalitres of water a year.
Landholders can seek a share of $15 million in grants, available to undertake on-ground works to improve water management on their properties, along with some free training, as part of the two new Smart Farms projects - Water Smart Farms and Nutrient Smart Farms.
Part of the package - an innovative new Satellite and SMS Irrigation Water Management program to enable turf and other Hawkesbury-Nepean farmers to improve their irrigation scheduling - was also presented.
The project will provide participating farmers with irrigation scheduling information via their mobile phone.
This project will combine information from various technologies to determine the water requirement of an individual propertys crops - satellite images are used to determine plant canopy size and hence water requirements, and local weather stations are used to determine weather conditions, for example, evapotranspiration and rainfall.
Irrigators then provide daily information on their irrigation history via SMS, and instantly receive a return SMS with advice on how long to run their irrigation system to achieve optimum water productivity.
The advice is based on the farmers individual irrigation system performance.
The service is free for participating farmers for the duration of the Smart Farms project.
The Water Smart Farms project is one of the most significant investments for agriculture in the Hawkesbury-Nepean region.
"I encourage farmers to get involved, take the free training and use the grants," Mr Yiasoumi said.
"Improving water use efficiency will ensure the sustainability of local farms in a variable climate, and provide recognition of the environmental credentials of the turf industry."
The other Smart Farms project, Nutrient Smart Farms, will also work with farmers to help them improve management of nutrients.
It aims to reduce up to 38,800 kilograms of nitrogen and 7200kg of phosphorus from entering the river each year.
The Water Smart Farms and Nutrient Smart Farms projects are a partnership between Industry and Investment NSW and Hawkesbury-Nepean Catchment Management Authority.
The Smart Farms projects are funded by the Australian Government through the Water for the Future program.
Contact the Smart Farms Information Line, (02) 4588 2118.