Contrasting perspectives of farmers extensionists and scientists on weeds

Over the past 50-100 years human society has been formulating and using knowledge about weeds from different perspectives. These perspectives represent the views and experience of individuals and groups who have common or similar experience with weeds and recognize similar rules for processing information. In a broader context, these perspectives have been referred to as knowledge communities (Marglin, 1990; Hess, 1995, pp. 2-4). Three communities with the strongest interests in weed knowledge are farmers, extensionists, and scientists, including scientists in both industry and public institutions. Other important sectors include policy makers, regulators, consumers, and environmentalists (Campbell, 1994).

People in each knowledge community have interests in weeds for their own reasons and have their own implicit standards for what constitutes knowledge (Table 3.1). First, each community has accepted methods for generating or defining what counts as knowledge. For example, farmers value what they or their neighbors have tried more than what has been shown on a distant experiment station. Second, each community has accepted procedures for communicating knowledge. Researchers, for example, give more credence to articles on replicated experiments with significant statistics than to verbal descriptions of weed problems. Third, the spatial scale and time period for knowledge formulation and application varies among knowledge communities. Figure 3.1 illustrates the separation in time and scale of themes of interest to researchers and farmers. Scientists are interested in principles, recommendations, or products for wide application. Farmers need weed knowledge for local and particular use.

Each of the three knowledge communities can be typified by how they handle the uncertainty that characterizes crop production (Table 3.1). Researchers use formal analysis and replication under controlled conditions, usually in the laboratory or in small plots (Figure 3.1). They block, average, and eliminate outliers and failed experiments, working on a time-scale defined by administrative procedures such as tenure reviews, thesis deadlines, and grant evaluations. Extensionists work more locally than scientists and closer to crop production time. They build their weed extension programs from research results, practical publications, on-farm trials, and contacts with farmers. To take into account local conditions, extensionists develop more specific recommendations than researchers. During abnormal crop cycles, they respond with troubleshooting and special updates for their clients. Farmers are time and location specific in their application of weed knowledge to a single field in a given year within the context of the whole farm and possible off-farm activities. They make decisions about weed management based on partial and uncertain data. When they plan the crop cycle, they use accumulated experience and specific past information about the field, but cannot be sure what the new crop cycle will bring. Once the crop cycle begins, they modify their decisions based on weather, input availability and prices, and expected crop value. As a result, farmer methods for handling uncertainty include best-bet practices, contingency planning, adaptive response, and loss-cutting.

Although farmers, extensionists, and researchers can easily be distinguished

Table 3.1. Howfarmers, extensionists, and scientists differ in their generation and communication of knowledge about weed management
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