Diana Mathers from FAR is the recipient of the 2015 New Zealand Institute of Agricultural and Horticultural Science AGMARDT Technology Transfer Award. The award was made in recognition of the significant impact of her work around environmental and economic sustainability on cropping farms.
Diana is FAR’s Cropping Systems Research Manager, a role she has held for the last six years. In that time has worked hard to support cropping farmers in the areas of economic and environmental sustainability. The Technology Transfer Award recognised the significant impact of her work in both these areas, especially with regard to effective on-farm environmental management. The testimonial highlighted her work developing and delivering nutrient management plans, and more recently, a Farm Environment Plan template, for cropping farmers.
Also mentioned was her work investigating cropping options and opportunities in relation to the proposed Ruataniwha Water Storage Scheme, on-farm biodiversity projects and looking into the impacts of winter grazing on cropping farms.
Diana’s extension work is backed up by her involvement in a number of national and regional research projects, which focus on ensuring high quality information is made available to farmers in a format that is easy to understand and apply. As well as the dairy grazing and biodiversity projects, Diana is involved in a national project assessing drainage and N loss from crop systems, national projects on Overseer evaluation and regional projects such as those assessing crop options for the Ruataniwha, and the Matrix for Good Management in Canterbury.
In all these projects she focuses on using data collected on farm and farmers’ own records to inform improved on-farm decision making.
Diana is also a representative on a number of regional council groups throughout New Zealand where she helps to ensure policy is practically aligned with farm practices, particularly in relation to nutrient management, and has had training in facilitating farmer workshops and in facilitating Maori farm decision making.
Diana attributes her communication skills in part to her training as a volunteer Victim Support worker and says there is no “one right way” to get your message across.
“Victim support requires empathy, listening skills and the ability to judge when to sympathise and when to tell people to get on with it. Field days and workshops work pretty much the same way…often your audience is dealing with threats to, or major changes in their business and they really don’t know what to do. Understanding their concerns and providing clear answers and options can relieve a lot of stress.”
FAR CEO Nick Pyke says Diana’s award is fitting recognition of her determination to help growers to understand and negotiate the increasingly complicated issues associated with on-farm nutrient management.
Prior to joining FAR Diana was a senior project advisor for MAF SFF. The focus of this fund is to invest funds in projects which will benefit New Zealand primary industries.
Farm environment plans and nutrient management
Diana Mathers has been instrumental in developing a Farm Environment Plan template for cropping farms (released mid-2015). This plan has been received extremely well by farmers and Regional Councils. Its success comes from Diana’s determination that it should able to be completed easily by the landowner and form a valuable information base for the farm business. The Farm Environment Plan is being delivered to farmers through an on-going series of workshops.
Diana has also had significant involvement in benchmarking Overseer for crop farms and delivering information on nutrient management on crop farms to arable and vegetable crop farmers through a series of nutrient management workshops across New Zealand.
Impacts of dairy grazing on cropping farms
Recently cropping farmers have been concerned that dairy grazing may impact negatively on soil quality and subsequent crop performance. This concern is being investigated in the Sustainable Farming Fund project, Good management practices for winter dairy grazing on arable cropping land, led by Diana Mathers. This project is collecting information from North and South Island farmers who are grazing dairy cows on their arable cropping soils, in particular, it is looking at the impacts to the soil by measuring aggregate stability, bulk density, compaction, infiltration and the N load deposited in the soil. This on-going project has attracted many farmers and advisors to workshops in both the North and South Islands.
Diana has also had a major involvement in on-farm biodiversity including managing the SFF project; Building Better Biodiversity on Arable Farms and co-ordinating with the Trees for Bees project. These projects involved everything from on-farm discussions to helping with the planting of native species on crop farms.
2015 NZIAHS AGMARDT Technology Transfer Award
The award was presented at the New Zealand Institute of Agricultural and Horticultural Science (NZIAHS) Canterbury Section Forum at Lincoln University.
Judging for the NZIAHS AGMARDT Technology Transfer Award takes several factors into account, including:
• Social, economic, scientific or environmental impacts on the farming, agribusiness or food industries.
• Innovation in two-way communication and dissemination of information between researchers or consultants and clients.
• Achievement in communications and effective use of science and technology in agriculture.