Agriculture Research, Immanuel Kant’s Critique of Pure Reason and the Distinction Between Clarifying and Simplifying

Why communication matters

by Toban Dyck

I studied philosophy and politics in university. I did this a long time ago – early 2000s – well before I returned to my family’s farm. I read and wrote about Martin Heidegger’s Being and Time, Immanuel Kant’s Critique of Pure Reason, Ludwig Wittgenstein’s Philosophical Investigations, and I’ll stop there. 

I still have many of these books. Their presence on my bookshelf helps bolster the illusion that I am intelligent, but there’s also something inherently valuable about such works. The important role these books play in the canon of western thought is indisputable,  even if most people haven’t read and/or don’t understand – or care to understand – what they are going on about. 

Writing for your audience

Agricultural research is similar. As a farmer, I know research is important, and I know that any ag publication sitting on my coffee table with the word “science” on is doing the important work of galvanizing the illusion that I know what I am talking about. But, like many people, I find reports hard to read, never mind understand. I find many of the graphs and charts difficult to comprehend. We all value research, in the same way we value intelligence over ignorance – as in, tacitly. It’s not a position we need to think about or assess. 

I first heard the term “extension” used in a research context in 2016, shortly after I took on the Director of Communications role at Manitoba Pulse & Soybean Growers. It was something the agronomy staff seemed concerned with. They talked about “extension events” and “extending information.” 

Eventually, I clued in to what this word meant. 

Take a research project. It starts with a challenge, a question, or a hypothesis. It then moves along a trajectory, and, at some point, culminates in a finding or two. When the agronomist is standing in a field next to a research plot, talking to a group of farmers about the effects of row spacing on yield, they are “extending” those findings to that group. 

It’s also called “knowledge transfer,” and the more politicized phraseology (i.e., the term Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada uses) is “knowledge translation and transfer” (KTT).

Basically, it’s a sciencey way of talking about communicating research to its intended audience. 

Is your organization sitting on unused research?

There are a lot of farm groups in Canada. Too many to list here. Many of them fund research – research that could benefit your farm. This information – these reports – are stored in databases on their websites. The reports with a clear and timely message may get distributed through newsletters or magazines. By and large, however, they are shelved, and their value becomes limited. 

This is the exciting part: if we could create system that allows (or enables) farmers to easily access this research, the industry would become stronger. I believe this. 

In 2022, Burr Forest Group worked with Saskatchewan Pulse Growers to create such a system. We took 16 pulse cluster science projects and worked with researchers, graphic designers, and writers to make the findings as clear as possible to both farmer and agronomist audiences. This was a challenging and rewarding experience. 

We place a high value on clarifying messages, as opposed to simplifying them – an important distinction, in my opinion. Creating infographics from complex subject matter is more difficult and time consuming than you might think. Deriving clear takeaways that farmers can use on their farms from nuanced findings with multiple caveats requires patience and thought. 

We can help

If done right, the Burr Forest Group treatment of research projects (editorial, infographics, technical summary) should serve to make research more useful to the intended audiences, increase comprehension of the subject matter, and contribute to a deeper appreciation of the scientific process. 

The system we implemented for those 16 projects will likely look different for the next cluster. Things change. People change. Communication methods change. And that keeps things challenging and fun. 

If your organization is sitting on a pile of research, get in touch with Burr Forest Group and we’ll help you manage it and extend it. As AFC’s funding approvals for the next five-year Sustainable Canadian Agricultural Partnership come rolling in, give us a shout and rest easy knowing a KTT strategy for each project will be implemented.  


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