Observations from overseas grains extension services

Grains extension systems that transfer knowledge to and between farmers about ways to improve farm productivity and sustainability have undergone considerable change in recent decades. Government agencies have either withdrawn or reoriented their extension services and private-sector extension services have increasingly become more important.

The Australian Farm Institute (AFI) has researched the changes that have occurred in the extension services associated with grains industries in other countries such as the United States (US), Brazil and Denmark. This research included visiting and meeting people in each of these countries to obtain first-hand insights on grains extension services that are relevant to the future of the Australian grains industry. This research was part of a project that received funding support from the Australian Grains Research and Development Corporation.

The US grains industry is serviced by an extension sector based on government backed organisations such as the Land Grant University network, the Agricultural Research Services (ARS) division of the US Department of Agriculture (USDA) and the Cooperative Extension Service (CES). The extension system also includes a strong private-sector research and advisory model which works alongside the public-sector model without any concerns of being ‘crowded out’.

The US grains industry has a high degree of integration between public-sector extension service providers and private-sector organisations. This is shown by the way in which university researchers regularly get involved in research activities with private-sector organisations and grain growers. Many of these researchers that support the US grain industry also have extension activities included as part of their job responsibilities.

The Brazilian grains industry public-sector extension system is based around a national government research agency (EMBRAPA), a national network of state-government funded universities that have a strong education and training role, and state-funded research and extension agencies which are mainly focused on supporting subsistence and smaller-scale farm businesses.

Farmer cooperatives are another major provider of extension services associated with the Brazilian grains industry. These cooperatives typically provide grains extension services for members as well as supplying crop inputs and grain marketing facilities.

The crop advisors involved in grains extension services in Brazil are generally responsible for providing farmers with both crop production advice and approval of annual crop production plans. These plans, that are approved by accredited crop advisors, are then used for compliance purposes in order to access some government support programs.

The grains industry extension system in Denmark is mainly coordinated by the Danish Agricultural Advisory Service (DAAS) which is owned by the Danish Food and Agricultural Council. This council is part of the farmers’ association of Denmark which also includes some food processors and exporters. Danish universities play an important training and research role for the agricultural sector, although there are no dedicated agricultural facilities within Danish universities. University research activities tend to be at the basic end of the spectrum, with more applied research carried out by a research provider called the Knowledge Centre for Agriculture (KCA).

A feature of the grains industry extension system in Denmark is the close interaction that occurs between researchers working in the KCA, advisors working in the DAAS, and farmers. There is also close interaction between these groups and private-sector agrichemical and bioscience companies, who contract the KCA

to carry out variety trials under agreed national research protocols, with the results of these trials subsequently published by the KCA on a routine basis.

The overseas observations of grains industry extension systems in this research project has led to two main conclusions in relation to the future of the grains industry extension system in Australia.

The first is that extension systems internationally will increasingly rely on private-sector extension providers in the future. Therefore participants in the Australian grains industry need to fully recognise these developments and work towards increasing the effectiveness of the ‘public research/private advisor’ model that is evolving in Australia.

The second is that of all grains industry extension systems examined in this research, the Australian system appears to have the least level of interaction between public-sector research providers on the one hand, and farmers and private-sector researchers and advisors on the other. If this issue is not addressed soon, it is likely to become a major weakness in the future of the Australian grains industry.   

The research report for optimising future extension systems in the Australian grains industry is readily available to AFI members and can be ordered by non-members through the AFI website.

Images:  Daniel X, IRRI 
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