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Extension in Australian Horticulture Industries

An Horticultural Research and Development Corporation Perspective

Les Baxter

Horticulture Australia Limited, Level 1, 50 Carrington Street Sydney NSW, 2000
Email:
les.baxter@ horticulture.com.au

Abstract

The Australian horticultural research, development and extension environment can be described as complex, diverse and dynamic, making a common approach to extension difficult. Over the 10 years of the HRDC, policy and practices for the extension of outcomes from R&D projects has evolved but currently comprise a project specific extension strategy and a range of other supporting extension activities. There are a number of inherent problems with the current extension model, but evaluations to date show that effective adoption of R&D outcomes has been occurring. There is much room for improvement and changes in horticultural extension policy, and practices are being driven by a range of factors including greater industry ownership of R, D&E, increased accountability, economic pressures, globalisation and systems approaches to industry development. In the future, industry development is more likely to be based on an information management approach rather than an R&D driven approach. Alternative providers of extension services (including industry) and the use of new technologies will increase, investment in extension R&D and training will be much greater, international collaboration will become more important and information brokers will play an important role in horticultural extension.

Introduction

The Horticultural Research and Development Corporation (HRDC) has been in existence for a little over 10 years. It was established by the Federal Government to improve the efficiency and competitiveness of Australian horticulture through research and development in partnership with industry and the R&D community. The charter of HRDC focuses strongly on the adoption and application of knowledge in the fields of science, technology, marketing and economics. Thus extension is an integral part of HRDC and industry planning and activities. This paper examines a number of elements of the horticultural R&D environment, discusses current Corporation extension policy, practices and their efficiency and effectiveness. It highlights some major drivers for change in horticultural extension and suggests some future changes to extension practices in this industry.

The Horticultural R&D Environment

Australia’s horticultural research, development and extension (R, D&E) environment can best be described as complex, diverse and dynamic.

The Australian Horticultural Industry consists of over 40 individual industries (or commodities) with a combined farm gate value of $ 5.5 billion (Figure 1).

Figure 1. Horticultural GVP/Farmgate Value ($m) 1997 for major industries.

Currently fifteen of these industries pay an R&D levy that is matched by the Federal Government through HRDC for Research Development and Extension (figure 2).

Figure 2. 1999/00 horticultural gross levy receipts.

These industries range in:

  • size (GDP, number of growers and area)
  • complexity
  • maturity (apples and pears cf. mango)
  • size of R&D budget ( vegetables cf. chestnuts)
  • organisational complexity and skills base (citrus cf. nashi)
  • focus (production or whole of chain, export or domestic, national or state-based).

Figure 3. 2000/01 program by key result area ($million)

An additional 23 or so industries fund R, D&E through voluntary contributions (VC) which are also matched by the Federal Government through HRDC. Some of these so-called VC industries are large and well organised (e.g. banana, pyrethrum) whilst others are small, often with one-off projects. Sectors of the horticultural industry other than production (e.g. processing companies) can and do also take advantage of the VC funding mechanism. In fact, VC funded projects are 55% of HRDC’s current R, D&E budget of $34 million.

The $34 million budget sounds large until it is divided amongst the 40 individual horticultural commodities. HRDC is currently funding 600 projects across five key result areas (figure 3) with an average project value of $100,000 and an average project life of 3 years.

In addition, most horticultural commodity production sectors

  • are traditional and very conservative
  • have a high degree of ownership by growers
  • have a regional or state focus
  • have a production focus
  • consider projects rather than programs
  • have a maximum 3 – 5 year outlook rather than 10 – 15 years plus, and
  • have part-time executive committees with a regular turnover.

Most projects have three or four stakeholders (eg Federal Government, HRDC, Industry, Service Provider), each with different expectations, objectives and political agendas. Currently there are 378 service providers, although state departments of agriculture are still the major service providers in horticultural R&D (figure 4).

Figure 4. 2000/01 program by R&D provider ($million)

Current HRDC Extension Policy and Practices

The current HRDC policy requires all projects to have an industry extension strategy. This has proven to be evolutionary over the life of the Corporation. Currently applicants are asked to provide details of the target audience, strategy for adoption, how the extension outcomes will be evaluated and to detail the critical success factors. Whilst the HRDC actively seeks this information (and it is often a reason for resubmission of applications), the responsibility for planning, implementation and evaluation is left to the service provider. Some industries become actively involved in the extension of the outcomes of these R&D projects through their industry development officers, R&D committees or industry project champions. However, this is often not the case, and highlights some inherent problems with this model such as:

  • The projects are often led by scientists with little or no input in the planning phase from extension specialists
  • Extension planning often takes on a secondary status to the science
  • Money is allocated to the R&D parts of the project with often inadequate or no funds allocated to R&D
  • Technical specialists are not always the best people to plan or implement the extension phase
  • With some projects, the technical staff have little interest in the extension of outcomes and thus the extension strategies are inadequate or inappropriate
  • Extension of R&D outcomes often takes much longer than the life of the project and there are no plans for, or funding to continue this
  • There is, in some cases inadequate preliminary work carried out to see if solutions are available from other countries, other commodities or other industries
  • Evaluation is carried out in-house rather than by independent sources.

Whilst it is true that there are many problems with the current model, there is also some good extension work that has been applied by some of the service providers. Three examples of excellent initiatives are listed below.

  • Agriculture Victoria projects which utilise the "Research to Practice" adult learning model developed internally by that agency
  • the "Expert Systems" approach used by Queensland DPI which integrated information from a number of projects to develop systems approaches (eg Avoman, "Agrilink" series)
  • the Agriculture Victoria "Integrated Fruit Production" model in apples and pears which integrates R&D carried out over many years into a systems approach to fruit production.

In addition to project extension strategies, the Corporation funds the following extension-related activities.

Industry Development Officers (IDOs) and Industry Development Managers (IDMs)

The HRDC funds over 40 IDOs and IDMs in horticultural industries with the primary role of these positions being cross-industry extension and communication. HRDC has tended to manage these IDOs and IDMs as R&D projects with variable results. In many cases, they interact well with industry and service providers and perform a vital component of the extension strategy for that industry. In some cases, however, IDOs and IDMs have taken on executive officer status and add little value to the extension and technology adoption strategy.

Newsletters and Publications

HRDC funds a large number of newsletters and publications which for some industries, are the most cost effective way of reaching the national industry. Evaluations to date have shown that these are effective and highly valued by industry.

Expert Systems

Grower Groups (including best-practice groups) (e.g. Citgroups, Apple and Pear Best-practice Groups)

Communication Planning

HRDC policy now encourages all major industries to have a structured communication plan. These are generally prepared by consultants who consult widely with industry. In future, it will be expected that projects seeking support for IDOs, newsletters and other forms of extension will be developed on the basis of a formal industry communications plan.

Extension Projects (Integrated Fruit Production in apples and pears)

Study Tours and Travel

Training and Development

Workshops and Conferences

A general feature of current horticultural extension practices is that they are stand-alone, project-focussed and do not develop a systems approach to industry development and extension. Given, the problems and inadequacies of the current policies and practices it is now pertinent to question how effective and efficient has adoption of the outcomes from horticultural R&D been to date.

The Effectiveness and Efficiency of Current Practices – Two Case Studies

The HRDC is continuing to carry out adoption and benefit/cost analysis studies on areas of R&D work such as integrated pest management, IDOs, production and study tours and travel. Two recent studies will be used here as case studies; one on the effectiveness of integrated pest management (IPM) in fresh and processing tomatoes and one on IPM in apples and pears. Both of these studies were carried out in response to concern by industry and the HRDC Board regarding expenditure on R&D in this area. IPM is comprised of a number of discreet and interrelated projects and work in this are has been continuing since the commencement of the Corporation. These two studies had a number of aims including:

  • to measure the extent to which IPM has been adopted by producers;
  • to identify barriers to the adoption of IPM and opportunities to increase adoption of IPM;
  • to evaluate the overall net benefit to adoption of IPM that can be assigned to R, D&E expenditure, including the public or social benefits that flow from the adoption of IPM.

IPM in Fresh and Processing Tomatoes (Juffs, 2000)

The results of this study showed that:

  • In the processing sector, 89% of growers used one or more of the 33 identified elements of IPM in the 97-98 season. This figure varied between 49% and 100% for fresh tomatoes;
  • In 98-99, on average, processing growers were using 59% of the 33 recognised IPM elements and fresh growers were using 61%;
  • The study also indicated that most growers did not have a good understanding of the totality of IPM;
  • The overall net benefit to both sectors of the industry from investment in tomato IPM over the last 10 years was positive with a net present value at 6% of approximately $75million;
  • IPM in tomatoes has not reached its full economic impact and greater positive payoffs can be expected in the future;
  • The availability of well-trained and competent consultants is a key factor in the further uptake of IPM in fresh and processing tomatoes.

IPM in Apples and Pears (Chudleigh and Evans, 1999)

The main results from this study were as follows:

  • Approximately 80% of growers currently practice IPM in some form;
  • Only 20 to 30% have adopted most of the components of IPM;
  • Not all of the above impacts can be attributed to HRDC/Industry funded R&D but it has played a major role;
  • At a 5% discount rate, the net present value to the industry from investment in IPM R&D over nine years is $5 million. The benefit/cost ratio was calculated at 1.5:1 (although many of the public benefits were intangible and not costed in this study) with an internal rate of return of 12%;
  • The investment has had an important strategic positioning role for the apple and pear industry, in particular with respect to future marketing strategies and market access.

These studies along with other research tell us that extension efforts to date have impacted positively on the adoption of outcomes from R&D in horticulture. However, there is room for improvement and changes as indicated by the recommendations made in both the case studies. In addition to the results from these studies, there are a number of important factors driving the agenda for change in the Corporation’s extension policies and practices.

Drivers for Change in Horticultural Extension

Recommendations from Evaluation Studies

The results of adoption studies to date clearly show that increases in extension effort, the provision of greater number of appropriately skilled personnel and more sophisticated approaches to extension are required if we are to reap the full benefit of investment in R&D.

Greater Industry Ownership of R, D&E Projects

To date, most R&D has been driven by R&D providers and scientists with projects that are relevant to broad industry objectives and strategies. There is clearly a move in horticulture towards industry wishing to have a greater level of control over R&D planning, implementation and extension. This is further seen in the increasing trend towards industry commissioned and industry initiated R&D projects where project briefs which specifically define outcomes, outputs and service delivery levels are documented and enforced. Service level agreements between industries, HRDC and service providers are another indication of this trend as is the formation of Horticulture Australia Limited (which incorporates the services provided by HRDC and AHC).

Increased Accountability

Industry and government have both sent clear messages to HRDC and service providers that they expect increased accountability for their investment in R, D&E. If the dollar for dollar funding arrangement that is currently enjoyed by industry is to be maintained, government will increasingly require quantitative data to support claims of public benefits, increase in economic performance and ability to meet government objectives. Growers are also questioning the value for money of their R&D investment.

Increased Economic Pressures

As economic pressure on many of our horticultural industries increases with international competitiveness, the need for accountability, return on investment and efficient allocation of resources is sure to increase. In addition, growers will expect faster extension of results and a greater effort invested in adoption of new technologies.

Partnership and Collaboration

The relationship between industry, service providers and government is continuing to change from the funder-service provider model to the partnership/collaboration model. In this model, all investors share in the equity associated with the project and any royalty that results from the project.

Globalisation

HRDC is encouraging the development of linkages with international R&D service providers and organisations. This has the potential to increase the expertise base available to industries, the availability of international information, the potential to look at R&D and extension in a different way and the development of a range of relationships between service providers and industries.

Move Towards Information Management

Horticulture is generally only beginning to grasp the concept of information management. In this model, information is the important issue for industry and includes information gathered from R&D as well as other industries, other disciplines and other commodities. This model requires different skills, practices and approaches to the traditional R&D/Extension model but has the potential to reduce duplication of effort and increase the efficiency of utilisation of information and technology.

Systems Approach to Industry Development

There is an increasing move towards a systems approach to industry development. This move will be further enhanced by the amalgamation of AHC and HRDC to form one R&D and marketing services company (Horticulture Australia Limited) for Horticulture. An example of this is integrated fruit production in temperate fruit where existing information is used to develop a holistic production system that incorporates all the aspects of production, IPM, sustainability etc. These systems approaches also allow the identification of gaps and can feed back into the R&D system. A second example is the targeting of specific export markets which may require an approach comprising market research, development of specific production protocols, pesticide residue management, post-harvest disinfestation, quality assurance, supply chain management and promotion.

How these drivers will impact on the future of horticultural extension is difficult to predict, however some potential changes are as follows.

Some Thoughts on the Future of Horticultural Extension

Extension and Information Management as the Basis for Industry Development

Increased industry ownership, accountability for R&D expenditure to all stakeholders, and external factors such as increasing global competition appear certain to drive an imperative for rapid and more efficient technology adoption. This technology will be available from a number of sources of which Australian industry-specific R&D will be only one. In this environment, the focus will change from R&D projects to industry-wide, industry-driven extension and technology transfer programs. These programs will integrate current discrete extension activities such as IDOs, newsletters, demonstration areas and expert systems etc. into well-planned and resourced holistic systems. The outcomes from R&D projects will feed into these and will provide the basis for ongoing extension of information and technology into production and other systems. Such programs will also include evaluation and review activities.

Extension Infrastructure

The extension infrastructure within state departments of agriculture seems certain to continue to diminish over the next few years. The gap left by traditional providers of this service is being filled even now by private consultants and industries (e.g. through IDOs). Even so, these new service providers are not subsidised from government revenue and more efficient and cost-effective methods of service delivery will be necessary if they are to provide the level of service desired by industry. New technologies such as the internet, interactive computer software, expert systems etc are sure to play an increasing role in this regard.

Increasing Investment in the Areas of Extension Theory, Application and Training

We are only now beginning to see a change in attitude in horticulture towards extension as a discipline. HRDC has some minor investment in extension research and development and believes that more work in needed in this area. Currently, the Corporation funds a number of postgraduate R&D projects as a means of training and skills development. HRDC is not currently funding any in the area of extension, but I am sure that this will happen over time.

International Collaboration

A number of horticultural industries (e.g. almonds, stone fruit and pome fruit) have already discovered the effectiveness and efficiency of using overseas experts as consultants, invited guests or in collaborative arrangements including joint R&D. The opportunities for this are increasing annually. The HRDC already has memoranda of understanding with institutes in New Zealand, USA and China. Opportunities exist for the development of relationships with Spain, South Africa, Israel and several European countries.

Information Technology

Companies have already begun to specialise in "information warehousing" and "data mining". As the amount of information available to industries becomes increasingly available and more complex it can be anticipated that information brokers will move into the area of horticultural technology transfer and information management.

Conclusion

In the 10 years of the HRDC, extension has evolved from a secondary activity that is researcher driven, generally poorly planned, and poorly resourced, to be a focussed phase of R&D projects to an industry that is responsive. Extension is, in general, still too fragmented, with no provision for continuing work past the life of the R&D project. It is inadequately resourced and without adequate provision for evaluation.

The evaluation work that has been undertaken tells us that extension efforts to date have been effective in terms of industry adoption of R&D outcomes. Clearly we can do much better and are being called to do so by our stakeholders. Greater industry ownership of R, D&E, increased accountability to stakeholders, economic pressures, globalisation, changes in information management and systems approaches to service delivery are amongst the drivers for changes to current extension practices.

To change the nature of extension in horticulture we need to look at a systems approach to extension. We need a focus on industry development that is extension driven rather than R&D driven, industry wide holistic extension programs and changes in the type of extension service delivery. More attention should be paid towards changes in information technology and international collaboration in order for the industry to be globally competitive. Extension will become recognised as a specialist field and the use of "newer" technologies such as the Internet will increase the efficiency and effectiveness of extension services. Accountability for investment and evaluation of extension outcomes and adoption levels will ensure that stakeholders are achieving good returns on R, D&E investment.

References

  1. Anon. (1999/00) 'AHC Statistics Handbook.' (Australian Horticultural Corporation: Sydney)
  2. Juffs H (2000) 'Evaluating the impact of R&D on integrated pest management in the processing and fresh tomato industries' (Horticultural Research and Development Corporation: Sydney)
  3. Chudleigh P, Evans D (1999) 'Adoption and Benefit – Cost Analysis of Pest, Disease and Weed Management and Production Systems Research and Development in the Australian Apple and Pear Industry' (Horticultural Research and Development Corporation: Sydney)

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