John Harvey, managing director Grains Research and Development Corporation
A fascinating transformation has taken place in Australian agriculture, particularly the grains industry, in research extension over the past few years. Growers are increasingly seeking expert, specialist agronomy advice and are willing to pay for this service. At the same time, due to budgetary pressure, state-department-supported extension services have been reduced.
A small army of highly skilled, professional farm advisers have emerged in place of government-supported extension services. There are 85 state government extension personnel across the country. By comparison, non-government advisers now total almost 2200.
Some advisers are individual consultants and some work for larger organisations as part of the broader engagement with growers by agribusiness. All are performing an essential service in being the conduit for research outcomes, including new products, crop varieties and systems, and they have become an increasingly visible part of the economic fabric of regional communities.
The GRDC values the role of agribusiness advisers in understanding the complexities of research and development and translating this information for growers.
In 2012, the GRDC partnered with the Australian Farm Institute to better understand the challenges facing this small, but critical, sector. This monitoring is still underway, but preliminary findings from a report – Optimising future Australian grain extension and R&D systems – reveal a vibrant network. A particularly positive sign for the GRDC and its priority setting is that advisers who have so far responded to the survey rank the GRDC as their most important information resource.
Among the figures that reflect the rate of change in the area of extension is, for example, the big increase in the average spend on external advisers. This has jumped from less than $1500 per farm to about $3300 in just the past five years.
The GRDC updates held especially for advisers provide a forum for the latest research information in areas important to them. The GRDC communicates directly with advisers, includes them in consultation processes, and holds adviser updates and workshops.
The GRDC holds Updates especially for advisers. These forums provide an opportunity to hear the latest research information in areas most important to them. Advisers shape each agenda with issues relevant to their clients.
Advisers’ own assessments of future service-provision opportunities put the increasing technical complexity of cropping, the increasing number of crop varieties and grower time pressure as areas for increasing off-farm advice. Cropping is getting more complex as we strive for incremental advances in productivity and profitability. The required technical expertise these days rarely resides with one person. This is exemplified by the rise in specialists providing services in areas such as soil sampling and tissue analysis.
While demand for their services is strong, advisers also face their own challenges: burnout from long hours and travel; availability of suitably qualified staff; ability to source good quality information; increasing operating costs; and low profitability of grain growers.
Despite these obstacles, the future for advisers in the grains sector is bright. We look forward to working in partnership with advisers to deliver the best possible RD&E information and outcomes to Australian growers.
The benefits of RD&E are not fully realised until a grower is doing something different on-farm. With a strong, informed, adviser network armed with world-class RD&E, we can ensure growers can make the best decisions on-farm to maximise their profitability and productivity.
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