It was more than 10 years ago when the leaders of grower groups in Western Australia sought more effective ways to share knowledge and information. They envisaged the power of networks, providing opportunities for greater impact well beyond partnerships with one or two grower groups, and sought to develop a formal network between groups.
The outcome was the Grower Group Alliance (GGA) and 2012 marks the 10th year since its inception. GGA is a GRDC-funded project developed and driven by farmers seeking to improve communication and function by connecting grower groups, research organisations and agribusiness as a state-wide network.
More than 40 grower groups make up the GGA network. They primarily comprise broadacre farmers in WA’s grain production zone from Binnu in the north to Bodallin in the east to Esperance in the south-east.
The overarching objective is to increase the production, sustainability and profitability of their farm businesses through the adoption of new technology.
The unique nature of the GGA project has provided the industry with a vast network and body of knowledge. For 10 years, the GGA has provided WA and national researchers with direct access to farmers and prospective research partners, and provided grower groups with a point of contact, linkages and a variety of opportunities to expand their capacity, effectiveness and horizons.
Grower Clancy Michael, chair of the GGA’s Strategic Advisory Group since 2007 and a key driver behind the development of the project, says that 10 years ago grower groups mainly wanted a forum to get together and learn from one another.
“Groups wanted to move forward, but weren’t sure how, and thought they could learn from each other by meeting at an annual forum,” he says.
“Key members got together and applied for GRDC funding, and were granted a two-year pilot with a project coordinator, and the GGA was born.”
The GGA was re-funded in 2004 for three years, along with a second project, the Local Farmer Group Network, which targeted small groups with no staff.
In 2007, the two projects merged into an all-inclusive network, with more than 40 grower groups taking an active part in the network. The GGA continues to be 100 per cent GRDC-funded.
Continuity of staff reflects the changing and challenging nature of the project according to project leader Susan Hall who has worked with the GGA for nearly five years. She is the GGA’s second project manager since its inception. Ms Hall has seen the industry change dramatically in the past few years, emphasising the importance of relationships among groups and industry stakeholders and a need for improved understanding of the requirements of both parties.
“Funding bodies are increasingly encouraging collaboration with grower groups in larger projects and in extension as a result of their impact, reinforcing the need for improved understanding of the requirements of grower groups, researchers and the wider agricultural industry,” Ms Hall says.
“Grower groups are rising to meet this challenge, and it’s exciting to see groups grow from just a few farmers trialling an idea or two on their farm into highly professional grower group organisations with great on-ground impact and multiple, effective partnerships across the industry.”
In light of this, the GGA has developed a five-step plan to provide researchers and industry members with a framework for engaging with grower groups. The plan is compiled from 10 years of GGA experience and from consultation with grower groups and key industry members at the 2011 Grower Group Alliance Annual Forum. The plan will assist with improved relevance and rigour of projects, increased adoption of technologies, and improved efficiency and effectiveness of research, development and extension rollouts.
The key steps include:
- to know what you are looking for and what a grower group can offer you;
- to develop clear expectations and make it a win-win situation;
- to build a strong relationship with the grower group and with the partners;
- look at partnering versus outsourcing – be clear on the differences and what you need; and
- to be aware that good communication is essential.
The value of the project was determined when the GGA was under the microscope of an independent evaluation in 2009. The evaluation confirmed strong support for future investment in the GGA’s networking capacity across WA.
The 18 grower groups interviewed recognised the GGA as an organisation for significant information and knowledge sharing, emphasising the support the GGA gives grower groups, particularly during formative stages or tough times. These interviews found that while a high level of collaboration with research organisations is suitable for some groups, many are seeking support to test their own ideas, or be more independent.
As the Facey Group has grown and developed over the years, executive officer Felicity Astbury believes their relationship with the GGA has also evolved, and the group now contributes to the mentoring of newer groups through the networks developed at GGA events and workshops.
“All grower groups in WA, no matter what size or focus, generally have a common denominator which is the Grower Group Alliance – the GGA helps us to learn from each other and encourages collaborative work,” she says.
“Susan Hall and Megan Meates [GGA project Officer] seem to have their fingers on the pulse of each of the groups and tailor events to suit where their organisation is at, making sure the GGA’s activities are relevant to all,” Ms Astbury says.
“I also find the GGA useful when employing new staff. Their website is a good starting point for learning about other groups across the state and how the Facey Group can contribute to other groups and the agricultural research industry in WA.”
GRDC Project Code