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Tasmanian researchers help Vietnamese farmers improve beef production

Through the Australian Centre for International Agricultural Research (ACIAR), Tasmanian researchers are hoping to transform the way Vietnamese farmers raise their cattle, and dramatically improve their standard of living in the process.

Dr Lydia Turner from the Tasmanian Institute of Agriculture, who is in Vietnam this week to check the progress of the project, said the Vietnamese approach to beef farming was very different to Australian farming.

"In Vietnam traditionally they're cattle keepers so they have beef cattle that are like money in the bank," Dr Turner said.  "If one of their daughters needs to marry they will sell their beef cattle and that will be what they use to fund the wedding. Their idea of feeding the cattle isn't around production, getting beef cattle ready to sell, it's more about maintenance."

"Instead of grazing on paddocks of grass they are finding little bits of dry grass they can find on the edge of roads. They then walk it for hours home. So in many cases the energy the cattle expend on getting to this grass is more than the quality and quantity of the feed they are getting."

The ACIAR has been running projects about beef farming in central Vietnam in various forms since 2004, sharing information between agricultural researchers and Vietnamese farmers.

Dr Turner said Vietnamese farmers were rapidly changing their approach to agriculture as the country developed an appetite for red meat.

"The cattle are one of their biggest sources of income.  The farmers we have worked with have achieved a significant change. Then their neighbours are looking across the fence and seeing someone doing well and therefore being able to send their kids to school. So they look at these farmers doing really well and say 'How can I do what you are doing?' because if I take up some of your practices my kids won't have to be walking these cows 5 kilometres a day and missing school."

Dr Turner specialises in understanding how farmers adopt new research and technologies on farm. She said watching the transformation in Vietnam had been insightful for extension efforts back in Tasmania.

"Over in Vietnam we do see how effective farmer-to-farmer learning is and I think that is the case here too.  I think we need to extend information through 'every day farmers' more than we do. We often hold up 'farmer champions' who are known to be the best in the industry."

"But I think many farmers have not had as much experience or opportunity and there's a big gulf between what they're able to do and what these 'farmer champions' are able to do."

"I think sometimes it brings a wall between them. If we hold up farmers who have made a little progress and are showing real promise in a certain area but are still dealing with a lot of challenges, I think they might be more relatable," Dr Turner said. 

(From ABC Rural - 15 February 2017)