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  • Writer's pictureTayah Ryan

Nurturing the Early Adopter through the Research Phase

The traditional method of agricultural research followed by extension can and has been successful in the past. But I often wonder – what if we could do the research and development phase better? More collaborative with the end user? With greater visibility and richer objectives outside the traditional norms of R&D?

Growers involved in the research process (e.g. hosting a trial, participating in steering groups, being trialists themselves etc.) are in some ways the most crucial stakeholder in any R&D project focused on practice change. Those that say yes to being involved in R&D, often have interest in the topic itself. They see potential in the innovation or change being looked at. They, in themselves, are potential early adopters participating in research. If they are not nurtured, the potential to lose them is high.

There are multiple ways to get our future early adopters more involved through the R&D process. I’ve pulled out a few thoughts below.

Time in the ute

Often overlooked in its importance, getting to know growers and their operation in the setup phase of a project inevitably leads to deeper connections between the research community and the industries they serve. It is really at the heart of so called ‘engagement’. It is through having conversations, really listening and being curious that you might come to better understand how an innovation might fit (or not) in their operation (and others for that matter).

I’ll never forget being parked up on an orchard on a beautiful area of Maori-owned land, overlooking pohutakawa which framed the ocean below, while the manager of the orchard explained why they were so engaged in the innovation I was looking to test on their orchard. Kaitiakitanga - it made sense – I understood their “why”.

‘Commercial’ scale trials

“Trials contribute substantially to both the decision making and skill development aspects of the learning process.” Pannell, et al. in the book ‘Changing Land Management’ (Chapter 2).

I’ve seen this in action in the kiwifruit industry, several projects I have led or been involved in, that when the grower is actively involved in the R&D process, they become more invested, gain greater understanding, form stronger relationships with lead scientists and other stakeholders, and form a sense of community amongst other ‘trialists’.

It also cannot be underestimated the incredible value that different perspectives, knowledge and what I like to call ‘practical sense’ bring to the outcomes of a project. All which growers tend to have in spades.

Visibility of outcomes

This might be my millennial mindset shining through, but I find the traditional research process frustratingly slow. I think the potential for increased visibility of project outcomes in certain situations is huge. There is nothing like seeing outcomes “in the flesh” at the time they are happening for increased learning, engagement and strategic thinking. It doesn’t have to be complicated or require huge investment – technologies like digital crop scanning, drone imagery, digital sensors and others have exciting potential in the research space and provide real time outcomes, often with nice visuals.

I won’t rant on for too much longer, but really there are multitudes of ways R&D projects can foster potential early adopters. People might groan with the idea of additional paperwork, but I think having a bit of a plan around this very thing at the outset of a project does wonders for making sure it actually happens. Keep it simple, achievable and don’t be afraid to think outside the box!

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