Growers drive the research agenda by ROBIN TAYLOR

Ian McClelland: "Building relationships with industry and researchers has been hugely important."

RELATIONSHIPS: ADDING PRACTICAL FARMER KNOW-HOW TO SCIENCE

NEW RESEARCH IS SHOWING that the various players in the Australian grains industry need to work together - to link up in the value chain - if they are to meet market needs.

Victoria's Birchip Cropping Group (BCG) has been at the forefront of the grains industry trend that is seeing more growers reap greater rewards by actively participating in value chain activities, both on and off the farm.

Since its inception in 1993, the farmer group has grown from 10 to 500 farming families. It has an annual budget of almost $1 million and has spent more than $3 million on agronomic research in the Wimmera and Mallee regions of Victoria. The BCG has helped increase the benefits of value chain for its members by uniting farmers, researchers and industry with the aim of producing better, more reliable crops, says the group's chairman, Ian McClelland.

To support growers in becoming more involved in value chain, the GRDC has created the Value Chain Program as part of the new five-year strategic plan, 'Driving Innovation'. With investments ranging from grain storage to quality management, market intelligence and new grain products, the program aims to improve grower profitability and the competitive performance of Australia's grain value chains.

This is the second of two special supplements that focus on GRDC-commissioned studies by academic and marketing bodies and it reports on a range of value chain initiatives by groups such as the BCG.

From the start, the BCG has pushed the boundaries of what could be achieved by marrying farmer know-how with scientific advice.

Such has been its success in driving the research agenda and obtaining funds, the Victorian Department of Primary Industries now has an agronomist based in Birchip working largely on joint BCG projects.

The research focuses on applied agronomy, covering all major crops in the region, including cereals, pulses and oilseeds. The group identifies critical success factors within the cropping program and integrates these into complete farming systems.

"Building relationships with industry and researchers has been hugely important," Mr McClelland says. "Over the past few years we've run fungicide and chemical herbicide (spray technology) diagnostic schools. We have found that by getting the best people, including researchers from overseas, these schools have been successful in teaching people about things we knew very little about."