The effect of a global pandemic on an international project

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The effect of a global pandemic on an international project

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There are always challenges when working on a new project but throw in international partners and a global pandemic, and you would be right in thinking that such a project would be set up for failure. Fortunately, despite the challenges presented, the committed COALA project team has proved dynamic in their approach and propelled the project safely forward.   

The COALA project commenced in January 2020. We are introducing novel earth observation (EO) services to support more sustainable water and nutrient management in Australia. Then, the COVID-19 global pandemic started to take off around the world. Since its inception, the team has operated predominantly from home. The Birchip Cropping Group (BCG) is a not-for-profit agricultural research and extension organisation led by farmers in Victoria, Australia’s Wimmera and Mallee regions. And for us, the lack of face-to-face interaction posed challenges communicating with farmers across a wide range of projects, including COALA.  

Workshops like this one in 2019 were planned for 2020 & 2021

The challenges

In Australia, we have had capacity limits for events, lockdowns, and interstate border restrictions. BCG has had to postpone or cancel several field days, crop walks, workshops, and research updates over the last two years. Staff completed additional training in these areas, developing videos and podcasts to ensure growers were not missing out on the information needed to make decisions on-farm. We scheduled information to provide engaging updates without causing virtual fatigue (which has become a diagnosable issue).

The COALA project team also adapted. The pathways of extending COALA information also needed to be re-thought with workshops and event presentations postponed. Despite the pandemic affecting these pathways, through regular virtual meetings with the project team, our pilot farmers are still gaining firsthand experience with these new EO services and providing valuable feedback for further improvements to the services.

One of many online meetings with the COALA project team.

Now that COALA EO services have been operating in Australia for a couple of years and as our lives slowly return to pre-COVID normal, COALA project communication activities will be ramped up early in the new year. For BCG, this includes launching the integration of new tools into Yield Prophet and continuing to share pilot farmers Tim, Cam and Rod’s experiences with the new EO services to BCG Members and beyond.

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