Improved strategies for communicating climate information, technology, and forecasts will take the following adult learning principles into account:
• Adults have a bank of past experience that should be respected and valued. This experience is both a helpful resource and a potential hindrance to new learning.
• Adults should be encouraged to identify their own needs and problems and to participate in the solution(s) that are designed to improve their circumstances.
• Adults learn best in environments that reduce any possible threat to their self-concept and self-esteem and that provide support for change and development.
• Adults are highly motivated to learn in areas relevant to their current developmental tasks and work roles, i.e., perception of immediate relevance.
• Feedback is essential for development and should be given promptly to motivate further learning.
• Adults learn best when they can set their own pace and when learning has immediate application in their lives.
• Learning programs should provide the opportunity for both autonomous "semi-independent" learning and for belonging to and participating in groups.
Rather than relying on the traditional linear extension model, a more appropriate approach may be to work with farmers through the decision-making/problem-solving process (Figure 10.7). Clewett and colleagues (2000) suggest that the information delivery and learning process needs to be flexible to allow for differences among individuals, their backgrounds, interests, and aspirations, as well as family and business circumstances. No one method or approach is adequate. For example, the promotion and extension of decision support software is important. However, this must be done on the understanding that although a very high percentage of farms have a computer, only 34 percent of Australian farmers are connected to the Internet at this stage (Australian Bureau of Statistics, 2000). In a recent survey of irrigators, 67 percent rated their personal computer skill as nil or basic (Keogh, 2000). This emphasizes the need for a range of strategies.
Education and training will need to play a large role if climate information and forecasts are to be accessed and used by those in agriculture. A research paper by Kilpatrick (1996) identified that farmers who undertake one or more education and training activities are three times as likely to be using a farm plan to make management decisions compared to farmers who undertake no training. The same study found that farmers who had taken further education and training (postschool) were more likely to make changes to land management practices to improve profitability and were generally more profitable.
In conclusion, sustainable agricultural production in a variable climate requires
• a knowledge and interpretation of the local climate and the weather and climate information available;
• plans in place to manage climatic extremes, such as drought and flooding;
• a knowledge that dry rather than wet years are the norm;
• the use of improved climatic information and tools to inform "on-farm" judgments and decision making; and
• a property management plan to set out actions and priorities to minimize risk from farming.
With the fine satellite and computer technology we now have at our disposal, it is tempting to assume climatology is a "perfect science." This technology, although significantly improving our forecasting ability, has provided more momentum for asking questions than providing conclusive answers. The vagaries of weather and unforseen events will remain.
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