Previous PageTable Of ContentsNext Page

Using a change framework to design a change program: adoption of water use efficiency improvements in the dairy industry

Fiona Johnson, and Chris Linehan

Department of Natural Resources and Environment, Tatura-Kyabram, Ferguson Rd, TATURA, Vic 3616


Irrigated agriculture is the major user of Australia’s harvested water resources. Within the irrigated agriculture sector, the dairy industry is cohesive in encouraging extension and research and keen to demonstrate it’s environmental credentials. The industry has significant opportunities to increase the efficiency that it uses water and invested heavily in water use efficiency (WUE) activities. Works have included improved management systems, whole farm planing, lasergrading, drainage reuse system installation and groundwater utilisation. These works have contributed to significant improvements in WUE. The rate of WUE gains across the dairy industry in northern Victoria has slowed significantly (Linehan et al. 2001) however, frustrating some sectors of the community. As a result considerable investment by governments and the dairy industry has been made into research and adoption programs to increase the rate of improvement.

Adoption of WUE is like many other natural resource management issues where the benefit to the community (public good) is greater than the benefit to the farmer (private good). In addition the benefits may be gained over a longer time frame than is relevant for the farm business (Vanclay & Lawrence 1995). This results in the community and farmers placing a different priority on changing practices and general disinterest being shown by the farmers.

Adoption of a practice or piece of technology requires behavioural change by the end user. A number of change theories exist, many relating to the business environment. These and individual work on adoption have emphasised the importance of different elements in the adoption process such as – taking a systems approach (Emery et al 1996), overcoming barriers (Guerin & Guerin 1994), values (Sandall 2000), resistance (Waddell & Sohal 1999) and social capability (Monash et al 2001).

Change framework

A generic framework (after Integra 1998) that incorporates the different elements that lead to change (see Fig 1) has been used by the Farm$mart and Dairy Business Focus programs in Victoria for individual farm planning. For change to occur each of the conditions must be met. If any of the conditions are either missing or their focus not aligned, change will not occur and a range of consequences will be evident eg frustration, failed effort, lack of involvement.

This simple framework is effective in breaking the change process down into manageable components and is useful for identifying what is needed for change to occur.

Figure 1. Change Framework (after Integra 1998)

Once a desired outcome has been defined, this framework can also be applied at a broader program or industry level to assist in understanding why change may, or may not, be happening and to identify gaps in existing programs. The framework can help individual projects see their place within a larger context and to recognise that change across an industry requires many different approaches. It can also clarify the inter-related and dynamic nature of the work. Fundamentally it can provide a defined outcome that each project is individually contributing to achieving and support alignment of their objectives and goals.

Each of the conditions can be described in this industry wide perspective as follows:


Discontent describes a level of dissatisfaction a farmer has with the current farm situation. Farmers adopt practices to solve problems or satisfy needs with the adoption of a new farming practice usually a high involvement issue for farmers (Kaine and Bewsell 2000). This means that there is a lot of time and effort invested into the decision which tends to be characterised by active learning and product evaluation over a substantial amount of time. This in turn implies that the decision not to adopt a new practice will also be founded on reasoned argument.

The level of discontent is influenced by factors both within and external to the farm. The factors within the farm gate arise for a variety of reasons with one of the most important being the usage situation or how the practice or technology fits into the farm context. (eg number of cows, farm layout, soil type). Aligning research or extension programs to existing discontent in a community is sometimes described as a ‘bottom up’ approach (Monash et al. 2001).

The factors external to the farm, which are usually outside the control of the farmer include, government policy, community values, regulation and market drivers. Governments and industry have used external drivers to create discontent and drive change in a way that has been described as ‘top down’(Monash et al. 2001). Where no discontent exists the farmer will usually demonstrate apathy or disinterest towards the topic or issue. Market research is a useful tool to determine if discontent exists in relation to a given issue, what form the discontent takes and which segments are most likely to change their behaviour.


For farmers to adopt a new practice they need an understanding of their current situation, what improvements are possible, and how these improvements will meet their needs. This gives their actions a clear purpose, boundaries and a target. Without a vision farmers may quickly take action but soon feel confused and frustrated. Best management practice and benchmarking projects provide a description of what is being achieved by the current farming systems and practitioners. Research plays an important role in describing what is technically possible not only with the current system, but also with new or modified systems.


In order to achieve change farmers need clear steps to alter their current practices in accordance with their personal vision. This commonly means that there needs to be a range of options available. The ‘crop check’ programs, farm economics and advice from private providers are commonly aimed at giving the steps required for adoption. Where no plan is available the farmer will usually display a high level of frustration and information seeking behaviour.


Farmers must be able to implement their plan. The capacity of a farmer to adopt is influenced by his/her personal capacity as well as the time, resources and finances that are available. Training programs are often used to increase a farmers personal capacity while incentives are used in an attempt to assist with financial capacity.

There are other factors that affect the capacity of farmers to change. The most important one is the outside influences imposed on the farmer such as regional infrastructure or regulations.

Resistance to change

In order for change to occur all of the above conditions must not only be met but must be greater than the farmers resistance to change. There are many cases where farmers are discontented about their current situation, know what they could achieve and have the capacity to change, but are still reluctant to change. This may be for many reasons such as the compatibility of the change with personal values, the relative advantage of the change, community norms, attitude to risk or trust in the reliability of the information provider.

Feedback from industry bodies and governments funding work to improve WUE in the northern Victorian dairy industry indicated the importance of achieving further improvements but also that change was not occurring fast enough. Discussions with the various funding bodies identified that although they had different measures for WUE (eg milk/ML, $/ML, dry matter/ML) they all saw success from their investment as being a ‘10% improvement in WUE across the dairy industry within 3 years’. This defined the expected outcome and, as there was debate whether this could be achieved, highlighted the need for an effective participatory approach.

The broad objective of this project is to use a change framework to identify gaps in the current WUE program and, with the stakeholders, design and implement an integrated program to increase WUE. The application of the change framework to align a range of existing and new projects that together focus on improving WUE on irrigated dairy farms will be discussed in this paper.


The methodology is not a linear process but iterative in nature following an action learning cycle (ie review, improve, plan and do). The methodology developed is divided into discrete packages of work such that success depends on the performance of each of the packages that are described below. The packages were designed with the change framework as the basis, but in a way that related to the key stakeholders understanding of change in a farming community. Ideally packages 1-5 would be completed prior to the commencement of packages 5-9, however a number of projects were already underway and this was not possible.


Package 1. Environmental analysis

Identify issues that are external to the farm that currently or may in the future impact on the farmers level of discontent or resistance to change. Identify attitudes/values/beliefs held by the community or industry that might support or limit change.

Package 2. Service provider analysis

Identify, describe and understand the role of the existing agents and programs that provide services to farmers that influence the adoption rate of improved water use efficiency practices and what their role is.

Package 3. End user analysis

Categorise the market segments within the farming community and describe the drivers and barriers to change.

Package 4. Stakeholder analysis

Identify the stakeholders that have an interest in and influence over the success of the project as each stage from planning through to implementation. Describe the existing stakeholder networks and structures.

Package 5. Industry benchmarks and monitoring tools

Identify industry benchmarks for WUE and monitoring tools to support the strategy development, monitoring and evaluation of change.

Improve and plan

Package 6. Adoption pathways (includes evaluation)

Utilising the information gained in packages 1-5 adoption programs were designed to facilitate improvement in water use efficiency. These included extension targeted at the audiences currently discontented with their water use efficiency, modification of research to more closely address farmer needs, incentive schemes and formal training programs. Each of these programs incorporated an evaluation program to monitor progress and effectiveness.

Package 7. Research priorities (includes evaluation)

Utilising the information gained in packages 1-5 research projects were designed to develop technologies to facilitate improvement in water use efficiency.

Package 8. Stakeholder participation (includes evaluation)

An approach to involve stakeholders in the various stages of the project was developed and involved formal steering groups, communication plans, definition of roles and expectations and reporting arrangements.

Package 9. Program evaluation

Evaluation measures related to the overall program were developed at two different levels:

  • Industry wide improvement in water use efficiency; improvements in targeted farm segments and
  • Internal program performance.


Packages 6-9 were implemented and modifications have occurred continuously using the review results.



There are a large number of external drivers eg policies and market mechanisms which currently apply to water in northern Victoria. To a large extent they act at the institutional level and at this stage very little effective policy intervention has occurred at the individual farm level.

This is reflected in that for the majority of dairy farmers saving water is not a major driver for change (Kaine and Bewsell 2000). In recent years low irrigation water allocations have resulted in some individual farmers improving their WUE but there has been no industry wide improvement (Linehan et al. 2001).

Although many dairy farmers do feel their water right is insufficient this may not translate into increased adoption of improved irrigation practices. This is because a very high proportion of farmers have already adopted the technologies that they view would save them water ie lasering and reuse systems. Other improvement options such as automatic irrigation or irrigation scheduling are not currently considered by farmers to contribute greatly to saving them water.

The scope for increasing WUE by improving the management of irrigation across the general dairy farming community seems limited. The combination of laser grading and recycling dams is far less demanding of management expertise than traditional labour intensive irrigation layouts. The high levels of adoption of this combination of practices means that over time the influence of irrigation management on variations in water use per hectare will become less and less important. Such variations will increasingly reflect differences in contextual factors between farms such as soil type and farm topography.

Given this there are however, certain farm contexts where the adoption of irrigation practices might be increased through additional efforts with extension or research. Farms with light soils could be encouraged to adopt spray irrigation if water and labour savings could be demonstrated. Farms which are very time limited could be targeted for the adoption of automatic irrigation.

If adoption of water saving behaviours are to occur at the rate that industry and governments are wanting then some type of external intervention eg market mechanisms need to be put in place to increase discontent.


Armstrong et al. (1998) and Linehan et al. (2001) both identified that there was a four fold range in WUE on dairy farms in northern Victoria. Six key factors were identified that contribute to high WUE- – use water well; grow better pastures; eat more of what grows; use feed supplements effectively; get more energy into milk production and earn more dollars per megalitre. Analysis of individual farms as economic case studies and general comparison of farm data across 5 years has also given a vision of what is possible on individual farms with different farm systems. Research projects are also identifying the potential performance of border check irrigation systems from a technical and management perspective (Dep Natural Resources and Environment, 2001).

In an attempt to quickly improve WUE, alternative irrigation technology (eg surge, sprinklers and subsurface drip) has been seen as a potential alternative to border check irrigation in recent years. However, until recently there was little if any data that compares the performance of border check systems and alternative systems. Wood and Martin (2000) determined that although alternative systems may not produce significant water savings over the whole northern irrigation region of Victoria, there were certain groups of farms were an investigation into an alternative to border check irrigation was appropriate.


Extension strategies have been developed and implementation commenced for three of the farmer segments identified through market research (Kaine and Bewsell 2000) which were most likely to improve their WUE. A separate project to increase the adoption of automatic irrigation was also developed and implemented.

Adoption of practices that improve WUE are often complex and generally impact on a number of areas of the farm business. This emphasised the importance of providing plans for individual farm contexts. The use of farm economic case studies and farm water audit technology has increased in importance in light of the findings.

Processes to include a broad range of service providers (eg private consultants, milk factory field officers) in the adoption program have been developed. Communication through newsletters, one on one visits, field days targeted at this group and the development of tools to assist in providing individualised advice have occurred.


Several very successful projects existed that addressed farmer capacity through the provision of incentives eg Whole Farm Plan Incentive Scheme and Farm Exploratory Drilling Service. Each of these projects provides financial incentives, professional expertise and a support service to encourage farmers to invest in infrastructure that results in WUE improvements. The use of incentives is under review with the development of an incentive for automatic irrigation technology.

Existing training courses for dairy farmers are being augmented by a specialised irrigation training program which aims to increase the capacity of farmers to solve irrigation problems.


The greatest resistance to change that has been encountered is that farmers generally do not perceive that WUE is a significant concern for their farm or the dairy industry. Farmers also do not believe that all irrigation improvement options contribute greatly to them saving water (Kaine and Bewsell 2001). Therefore, farmers who are short of water will tend to either augment supplies (buying in additional water or using ground water) or increase the available feed (supplementary feeding or better pasture management).

Communication strategies and processes to include a sub catchment perspective have been developed to address some of the resistance issues. Further work reviewing resistance is required.


The use of the simple change framework in program design has been useful in a number of respects. The framework makes sense to the broad range of stakeholders interested in improving WUE and they can relate it to their own personal and business experiences. The framework has been able to explain a number of important concepts. The key ones being – a number of factors influence whether change will occur; a range of approaches are required and each part of the change process needs to align and integrate with the others.

The framework has enabled the stakeholders to ‘untangle’ the change process and identify potential gaps. It has also legitimised the role of, perhaps, less traditional issues such as values and community norms in the change process.

The future use of the framework will continue to be modified as results from the review of the packages and of the approach overall are available. The ultimate success will be measured in the improvement in WUE by the dairy industry.


  1. Armstrong, D., Knee, J., Doyle, P., Pritchard, K., and Gyles, O. (1998). “A survey of water-use efficiency on irrigated dairy farms in northern Victoria and southern New South Wales.” Natural Resources and Environment, Institute of Sustainable Irrigated Agriculture, Kyabram Dairy Centre, Kyabram.
  2. Armstrong, D., Knee, J., Doyle, P., Pritchard, K., and Gyles, O. (2000). “Water-use efficiency on irrigated dairy farms in northern Victoria and southern New South Wales.” Australian Journal of Experimental Agriculture 40, 643-53.
  3. Brown,S & Rendell,R. (2000) ‘Water savings in the irrigated Dairy industry – A discussion paper’ Department of Natural Resources and Environment, Victoria.
  4. Chamala,S, Coutte,S, Pearson,C.(1999) ‘Innovation Management: Participatory Action Management Methodologies for R,D,E and Industry Stakeholders, workshop manual
  5. Emery,M &Purser,R.E. (1996) ‘The Search Conference – A powerful method for planning organisational change and community action’, Jossey-Bass.
  6. Guerin L. & Guerin F. (1994) ‘Constraints to the adoption of agricultural research and environmental management’ Australian Journal of Experimental Agriculture, 34,549-71.
  7. Improved Irrigation Practices for Forage Production, Annual Report March 2001, Department of Natural Resources and Environment, Victoria
  8. Department of Natural Resources and Environment, Victoria ‘Improved Irrigation Practices for forage production’, 2001, Milestone Report No.3,
  9. Integra, (1998), ‘Scoping study in the implementation pathways for the adoption of best management practices in irrigated agriculture in the Murray Darling Basin’ Report for the SI&E Irrigation Sub program, Murray Darling Basin Commission
  10. Kaine, G. and Bewsell D. (2000). Irrigation Systems, Irrigation Management and Dairy Farming. Report to the Victorian Department of Natural Resources and Environment. School of Marketing and Management, University of New England.
  11. Linehan, C.J., Armstrong, D., Knee, J., Doyle, P., and Gyles, O. (2001). “A survey of water-use efficiency on irrigated dairy farms in northern Victoria and southern New South Wales.” Natural Resources and Environment, Institute of Sustainable Irrigated Agriculture, Kyabram Dairy Centre, Kyabram.
  12. Vanclay, F. & Lawrence, G. 1995 The environmental imperative : Eco-social concerns for Australian agriculture, CQU Press
  13. Waddell,D & Sohal,A. 1999, ‘Measuring resistance to change: an instrument and its application’, International Journal of Business Performance Management,vol.1, no.4, pp. 353-367.
  14. Wood, M.and Martin, M. 2000, ‘Evaluating alternative irrigation technologies for forage production’, a paper presented to the Irrigation Australia 2000 Conference, Melbourne, May 2000, pp. 412-422.

Previous PageTop Of PageNext Page