Australian researchers use the online world of Second Life to teach sugar cane farmers about climate change and new technologies they can use to reduce water use and fertilizer run-off. Sharon Reich reports.
STORY: In a fast changing world, farmers can't afford to ignore new technology. So Australian researchers are using the Second Life virtual world to teach Queensland sugar cane farmers about climate change and reducing their environmental footprint. A University of Southern Queensland team produced this film, in which virtual sugar cane farmers discuss how to use climate information and new technology to reduce water use and fertiliser run-off. Researcher Geoff Dell. (SOUNDBITE) (English) GEOFF DELL, UNIVERSITY OS SOUTHERN QUEENSLAND, SAYING: "You can actually use this platform to show and demonstrate to growers a number of ways they can do things on their farm that they may not actually think about." The idea is to create an agricultural support network to foster discussion among stakeholders while increasing awareness and improving decision making. As for how the avatars are going over - Dr. Helen Farley says so far … so good. (SOUNDBITE) (English) DR HELEN FARLEY, UNIVERSITY OF SOUTHERN QUEENSLAND SAYING: "Well they are pretty receptive except that they thought that the characters we used were a bit buff." Muscle envy aside, farmers like Steve Calcagno are impressed. (SOUNDBITE) (English) STEVE CALCAGNO, QUEENSLAND CANE FARMER SAYING: "Because it's not a real person and it stands outside I think you tend to focus more on the information that's being out forward." ...Though he does admit the new format took some getting used to. (SOUNDBITE) (English) STEVE CALCAGNO, QUEENSLAND CANE FARMER SAYING: "At the start I … was a bit stand-offish on it. My young fellow (son) was really keen on it because anything on a playstation is good." The team says hooking the farmers' attention required some personal touches. (SOUNDBITE)(English) DR HELEN FARLEY, UNIVERSITY OF SOUTHERN QUEENSLAND SAYING: "We like to inject some humour into it so we've got some funny little animals and some kind of in funny sugar cane farmer jokes." The pilot phase of the program was so successful the plan's being expanded to include 400 Queensland cane growers.