Knowledge-sharing

Photo of GRDC Western Panel member and Liebe Group sponsorship officer, merrie Carlshausen

Communication is seen as increasingly important in helping growers stay abreast of change. Trent Carslake reports on moves in WA to bring grower groups closer together

[Photo (left) by Trent Carslake: GRDC Western Panel member and Liebe Group sponsorship officer, Merrie Carlshausen]

Western Australia"s grainbelt is an ecologically diverse 320,000-square kilometre region with soil types ranging from sand plains to clay, and a rainfall pattern that leaves some soils waterlogged and others so dry they are constantly at risk of blowing away.

Management of this diverse region, which produces 40 per cent of Australia"s grain, is in the hands of numerous rural groups, research organisations and individual growers, all of which are aware that effective communication is vital for everyone"s progress.

This led to the formation of the Grower Group Alliance, a non-profit, farmer-driven organisation set up to enhance the activities of regionally-based grower groups.

Grower Group Alliance co-ordinator Tracey Gianatti says the Alliance enables growers to access the latest information and research: "We try to achieve this by establishing formal communication pathways between growers, researchers and industry," she explains.

Grower group members were recently addressed by a range of the Alliance"s research provider and funding partners at its annual forum, held at the Fremantle Sailing Club.

Mick Poole, program leader for Mediterranean Crops and Pastures at CSIRO, said grower groups help CSIRO to test research priorities, improve access to research sites and provide a readymade audience for results.

However, he said there are now a lot of grower groups and an issue they face is that the costs associated with running a group can be high.

Also speaking at the forum was the Liebe Group sponsorship officer and GRDC Western Panel member Merrie Carlshausen, who suggested there are opportunities for larger groups to maximise their resources by branching into neighbouring areas with similar ecological circumstances.

She said that small satellite groups could pay a membership fee to access the Liebe Group"s administration, which offsets the satellite group"s running costs and provides extra revenue for Liebe Group to complete relevant work on ground.

"For example, the Liebe Group has satellite groups in Ballidu and Kalannie that use our resources," she said. "In return we can increase our membership and branch out to other areas, which leads to more diversity in our trials. It"s a win-win situation for all involved.

"The Liebe Group was established to make sure that research and development remains local, relevant and a high priority to the area"s growers. The group takes a whole systems approach when making decisions about technology and information."

A contrasting position was later presented by vice-president of the Mingenew Irwin Group, Chris Foster, who explained how his group faced a potential problem recruiting new members within the area.

"We have a 95 per cent membership rate in Mingenew and 70 per cent in Irwin and need to branch out to sustain growth, but surrounding areas lack ecological similarities," he said. "If we go too far east we are in a completely different catchment, due to different soil and rainfall type, which means we"d be better branching out north and south."

GRDC Research Code MIG00008
For more information: Tracey Gianatti, 08 6488 3410, gianatti@agric.uwa.edu.au