Grower opinion on industry and RD&E

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By Melissa Marino

The GRDC has completed a survey of grower opinion that measures its performance in several areas designed to increase benefits to Australia’s grains sector.

Undertaken by the Ipsos-Eureka Social Research Institute, the GRDC 2010 Grower Survey is the second of three biennial surveys tracking GRDC performance measures against targets set in its current five-year strategic plan.

GRDC managing director Peter Reading says the grower survey is an important assessment tool that gives the GRDC feedback on how growers view the current state of the grains industry, including how research, development and extension (RD&E) is meeting their current and future needs. 

The survey provides details on adoption of farming practices and new grain varieties and, importantly, what influences decisions on the adoption of new technologies. 

Core questions were put to 1200 growers across the country representing all the major agro-ecological zones. Many indicators have been tracked over several years, revealing trends emerging in the changing grains industry environment as well as the health of the Australian grains industry overall.

Generally, the 2010 survey found that GRDC performance continues to rate highly. The GRDC had a positive influence on farm performance in some areas, but needed to do better in other areas to achieve its own performance targets.

The proportion of growers who gave the GRDC a ‘high’ performance rating as an investor in grains research remained consistent with 2008 levels at 69 per cent. This rating is mostly from growers under 40 years of age (76 per cent), male (70 per cent), those who claim to know a considerable-to-fair amount about the GRDC (83 per cent), and those who have benefited from GRDC activities in the past five years (82 per cent).

The proportion of growers rating the GRDC’s performance as ‘not high’ increased from 14 per cent in 2008 to 20 per cent in 2010; the peak in Western Australia (24 per cent) and the lowest in South Australia (14 per cent).

Knowledge about the GRDC is highest among the 66 per cent of growers who consider themselves innovative, with 74 per cent of innovative growers claiming to know a ‘considerable amount’ about the organisation.

Other trends that tend to be consistent among growers who believe they are innovative or progressive include: sowing significantly more grain on their farms, a willingness to pay for agronomic advice, attending a GRDC crop research update seminar in the past year, a higher propensity to use decision-support tools in running their farm business, a keenness to adopt the latest technology wherever possible and visiting the GRDC website regularly.

Overall, the survey found growers felt more pessimistic in 2010 about the state of the Australian grains industry than they did in 2008. More than half (56 per cent) felt the industry was under some or considerable threat, up from 30 per cent in 2008.

But the majority of growers (70 per cent) remained confident that R&D is addressing threats to the long-term sustainability of their farm and 82 per cent believed that investment in R&D is critical for their farm business. Importantly, two-thirds of growers (67 per cent) feel they are directly benefiting from grains industry R&D and extension activities, although this is down from three-quarters (76 per cent) in 2008.

The survey found the majority of growers (67 per cent ) were spontaneously aware of the GRDC and 60 per cent were aware of GRDC Regional Panels (up from 55 per cent in 2008). The proportion of growers who had direct contact with panel members remained steady at 23 per cent.

More than three-quarters (77 per cent) have used Ground Cover as a source of information and Ground Cover remained a key information source on the GRDC.

The vast majority (87 per cent) of growers continue to rate the GRDC highly on providing credible information, while considerable gains are also being made in the proportion of growers stating that GRDC information, activities or supported projects had a major influence on farming practice changes or the adoption of new cereal varieties.

Local contacts and support networks such as agronomists and other growers are the most trusted sources of information and highly influential in farm management decisions.

The survey found grower confidence in the industry’s capacity to respond to new weed, disease and insect threats remained steady at 58 per cent, with 43 per cent of growers believing the GRDC assists with these threats either in combination with their own solutions or alone.

The top three ways growers reported confidence could be improved in responding to weed, disease and insect threats to crops were through more information on control options, (19 per cent), new varieties with better disease resistance (12 per cent) and greater investment/government support (10 per cent).

Growers also want evidence that GRDC investments are helping them to manage their issues and several factors outside their control such as fuel costs and climate.

The survey reveals growers expect the GRDC to play a diverse R&D investment role. In 2010 greatest emphasis was placed on integrated pest, weed and disease management strategies; developing new varieties; herbicide resistance management; and soil health and biology.

Growers also felt the GRDC should be responding to grain segregation issues and investing in new varieties with particular attributes; GM information/technology; assistance with mitigating rising input costs; and industry training such as grain marketing programs.

Precision agriculture, improved confidence in weeds and disease management, use of climate risk management tools and soil condition improvement through lime use are among farming practices that are either close to or exceed targets set by the GRDC for achievement by mid 2012.

The survey also found a large increase in the number of growers using GPS from 36 per cent in 2008 to 68 per cent in 2010. There was also an increase in the proportion of growers using lime (42 per cent to 48 per cent) but a decrease in the proportion monitoring available soil water (from 41 per cent to 29 per cent).

Action on herbicide resistance remains strong with 87 per cent of growers acting to delay the onset or manage herbicide resistance and 33 per cent of those not acting intend to commence in the next two years.

But other practices, including use of gypsum or controlled traffic to improve soil, confidence in pest management, and nutrient management/loss minimisation through nutrient budgeting and variable rate technology are still below GRDC targets.

In other notable results, the survey also found the idea of selling grain online appeals to many growers – mostly aged younger than 40 – and demonstrates the increasing confidence growers have using the internet as a tool to manage critical aspects of their business.

Climate change is also a salient topic with almost two-thirds of growers having taken action to adapt. At the same time, however, there was reduced expectation that the GRDC should play a prominent role responding to climate change, down 13 percentage points since the 2008 survey.

The survey found 44 per cent of growers pay for agronomic advice, peaking in WA at 59 per cent. The average amount paid for information and advice was $4346, peaking in the northern region at $4909.
Comparing farm characteristics, the survey found the average farm size of 2683 hectares in 2010 was down slightly from 2724ha in 2008. On average, farms in 2010 sowed 1301ha of grain and there has been a significant increase in the proportion of farms sowing 300ha or less.

GRDC Research Code IPS00002
More information: Leecia Angus, GRDC, 02 6166 4500, email; www.grdc.com.au/IPS00002

 

GRDC Project Code IPS00002

Region National