Future extension models for the grains industry

The success of Australian agriculture over most of the past 100 years has been due to the innovation of Australian farmers, resulting in the development of agricultural systems that are unique and highly productive, despite the intense variability of the Australian climate and the competitive global markets in which Australian farmers operate.

However, recent rates of productivity growth in the agricultural sector have slowed, suggesting the ‘innovation system’ driving innovation and productivity growth may no longer be as effective as it once was.

Public-sector research, development and extension (RD&E) agencies including state agriculture departments, CSIRO and Research and Development Corporations (RDC’s) have been key contributors to the ‘innovation system’. Over recent decades, federal and state governments appear to have reduced the level of resources and funding available for agricultural innovation and increasingly rely on RDCs to fund research and development efforts. Similar trends are also evident for the publically funded agricultural extension sector, with a noticeable reduction in the number of extension staff servicing agricultural businesses and the amount of funding available for extension activities in most states.

In the grains industry, changes in the innovation system have been occurring simultaneously with significant productivity and commercial developments including deregulation of the grains markets, expansion of private sector plant breeding and associated IP ownership, the dramatic expansion of information availability through the internet, adoption of precision farming and many more.

Many of these changes have prompted the emergence of an active private advisory sector to provide RD&E to the grains industry. In many locations, the emergence of the private sector has changed the way public RD&E organisations interact with grain farmers. In some locations no public extension is available while in others public RD&E agencies are information wholesalers to the private sector who then transfer the information to producers.

Over the next 18 months the Australian Farm Institute will be conducting a comprehensive review of the Australian grains extension system and evaluating extension models from the US, Brazil and Denmark to inform the industry about opportunities and possible design options for grains extension systems to drive productivity growth.

The review of domestic extension will involve interviews with key private and public extension providers to gain an understanding of interactions between the two sectors, the perceptions of strategies used by the public sector, the nature of activities carried out by the private sector, how gaps could be addressed and overall perceptions of effectiveness. A survey of the private extension sector will also be conducted to obtain reliable information on the size and growth trends of the industry and its make-up, skills and experience profile.

International extension models will be studied from practitioners’ and farmers’ perspectives, including the rationale of the models, availability of resources, and views on their effectiveness. The views of key decision-makers on future developments in their agricultural extension systems will also be collected.

Methods of evaluating the effectiveness of decisions regarding resource allocation for extension will also be reviewed. The research, due for completion in late 2013, aims to identify broad strategic directions for future grain industry extension design.

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