WHETHER it's gossip, news or rumour, word travels pretty fast on the bush telegraph.
Farmers are always thirsty for information about cutting edge production techniques or coming seasonal predictions.
And while kitchen table discussions are nothing new to the world of agriculture, an innovative university research project aims to add a broadband wire to the grape vine.
The premise of the project is simple.
Researchers from the University of Southern Queensland, Australian National University and University of South Australia will collaborate over the coming years to create a 'discussion-support agricultural climate information system' which takes the latest university-collated scientific data relating to seasonal and climatic conditions and presents the information in a series of short online films starring computer generated farmers talking around a kitchen table, tractor or shed.
It is hoped these films will supplement face-to-face meetings between farmers and government officials (including even some small talk about everyday topics such as fishing and how the kids away at university are going) while enabling the academic and scientific community to become part of these conversations and convey important information in digestible portions.
The films aim to be accessible, informative and entertaining as well as timely, with researchers believing that a video clip would need to be uploaded at least monthly to ensure viewers were provided the most up to date seasonal information.
Research project member and USQ climatology and water resources professor Roger Stone said the idea for the project emerged in the aftermath of the 2010 floods which devastated crops and paddocks state wide.
Prof Stone said there had been knowledge among some climatologists and meteorologists around the globe months in advance that an impending extreme weather event was forming over Australia. However, there were few outlets for this information to be relayed to those on the ground.
He said the short films could improve decision making among farmers and enable agricultural systems to better adapt to climate variability, water and energy constraints and changing socioeconomic conditions.
"Government and research programs might only speak to 400 farmers, but there could be 4000 farmers or more across the state in that industry so the challenge becomes how do you reach those other farmers in a discussion environment to share information about what is happening?" Prof Stone said.
"By showing real world situations in the films, where it's just a couple of farmers sitting on a veranda talking, we think it is pretty engaging to present it in this format and it will draw people in. It is also pretty cheap to run."
The project is initially being trialled in collaboration with Canegrowers to provide up-to-date climatic information for the sugar industry.
And while it is still being assessed whether the project would engage enough farmers to justify full scale production, it is hoped the project could eventually be extended to include information relevant to other industries.
Prof Stone said the United Nations was also seeking up to $70 million from various global charities to launch a similar program across other continents.
He said it had already been trialled in rural India where, apart from some complaints that the farmers looked too young and did not wear traditional clothes, it was well received and has been supported by the Indian government through the distribution of 1000 internet kiosks in poor farming regions so the films can be viewed by locals.
Prof Stone said with numerous native languages spoken among the international students at USQ Toowoomba campus, there was no reason why such global programs could not be produced on the Darling Downs.
Canegrowers environmental and natural resources manager Matt Kealley said the research project could contribute towards the adoption of best practice and improve industry performance through better on-farm management of climate risk.
"Canegrowers sees an opportunity for this innovative discussion support system to complement its proposed Professional Extension and Communications Unit or PEC," he said.
"The PEC unit will fill a critical role in the provision of RD&E to the Australian augar industry. It will interface with researchers across a range of institutions to identify leading-edge information and technologies that will contribute to improved industry performance, as well as emerging issues requiring R&D solutions. As such, this unit also offers an exciting opportunity for the research being conducted through this Digital Futures (CRN) project." Have an opinion? Will short online films starring computer generated farmers help the academic and scientific community get their messages across to real farmers? Email: email@example.com