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There are many important decisions that need to be made to ensure the economic and environmental viability of farming enterprises and farming communities. These include farm-level decisions about cropping patterns, investment in fertilizers and pesticides, plant population densities, irrigation regimes and the timing of planting and harvesting activities. Such decisions are predominantly aimed at optimising farm production, profitability and sustainability; however, their outcome can be influenced by seasonal conditions and weather events over the growing season. Ready access to improved regional climate information at time scales appropriate to on-farm decision making is likely to be of growing importance, particularly in regions subject to increasing climatic variability. Advances in digital technologies, their development and application in learning environments, and the steadily spreading web of the NBN across Australia suggest that web-based platforms may provide a valuable approach to the cost-effective extension of agricultural-climate information.
This paper reports on the development and deployment of a web-based ‘virtual’ discussion-support system for integrating climate information with practical farming operations. It utilises cutting-edge developments in educational web-based tools, such as video clips created in the virtual world of Second Life, to inform sugarcane farmers’ decisions around sustainable farming practices. These videos will use lifelike avatar actors and real-world, climate-based scenarios relevant to the lives and practices of sugarcane farmers to stimulate discussion amongst farmers around how to incorporate an understanding of climate risk into their decision-making. The video clips will be housed on a web portal designed around the notion of ‘discussion support’ and accessible by a range of mobile digital devices. The project will take an interactive research design-based approach to evaluating and further developing the web portal and digital tools to optimise their value to on-farm operational decision-making. It is envisaged that this web-based ‘virtual’ discussion-support system has potential to be extended to provide regionally-customised support to farmers around the world for improved decision-making and climate risk management.