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How to win growers and influence change

Geoff Kaine1, Denise Bewsell1, Anne-Maree Boland2 and Chris Linehan3

1School of Marketing and Management, University of New England, Armidale, NSW 2351
Institute for Horticultural Development (IHD), Private Bag 15, Scoresby Business Centre, VIC 3176
Department of Natural Resources and Environment, Private Bag 1, Ferguson Road, TATURA VIC 3616


In many extension programs the main message is predetermined by the organisations funding the program, usually a government department or agency. Often, these programs result in little if any change in farmer behaviour because the message is not relevant to the needs of the target audience.

Market research was used to develop an extension program that better serviced the needs of growers in the stone and pome fruit industry. The process of integrating market research with extension practice proved a challenge as it required us to develop an extension program that was fundamentally different from what was originally envisaged, while striving to meet the original objectives set by the funding body.

In the stone and pome fruit industry we found in most cases a need to save water or to increase water use efficiency were not incentives to change orchard irrigation management. However, growers were motivated to change irrigation management by a need to save time, to improve managerial flexibility, or when redeveloping an orchard. Growers will respond to extension messages consistent with these motivations.


A key part of any extension program is the messages it seeks to deliver to the audience. Often this first step is already set for us. It’s part of our job description as an extension officer – for example, you may be employed to improve irrigation management in an area, or to increase the number of farmers developing a farm business plan.

The logic and implications of the message are already part of the program justification to our employer, be they private or public focussed.

The direction has been set, so we jump into delivery. A lot of time is invested in understanding our audience and delivering in different ways to accommodate different learning styles (for example Webby and Paine, 1997). Research and evaluation is constantly being undertaken to improve the way extension messages are delivered. The development of techniques such as action learning, facilitation and farmer first approaches (eg, Lawrence et al, 2000, Shannon and Holden, 1997, Burnside and Chamala, 1994, Pretty and Chambers, 1993 and Campbell and Junor, 1992) and their implementation demonstrate the commitment to improvement.

However, all of this work is based on the assumption the message is ‘right’.

Work in market research (Kaine and Bewsell 2000a and 2000b) has shown that ‘right’ messages may consistently miss the mark. Failure to take into account the audience’s circumstances may mean the message is irrelevant and uninteresting to the audience it is supposed to inspire. Market research can give an understanding of the audience and an appreciation for the messages that will be relevant to them.

In this paper we describe the application of market research in an extension context using stone and pome fruit as a case study.

A case study in stone and pome fruit – the extension program

Irrigation management of stone and pome in Victoria’s Goulburn Valley came under scrutiny as water tables and salinity problems appeared in the area. Extension efforts were directed towards encouraging the conversion from flood to micro irrigation, and the adoption of soil moisture monitoring to reduce over watering and hence accessions to the water table. In 1996/97 two projects were set up. One, an extension project aimed to improve irrigation management on orchards through:

a. Providing technical information in the form of newsletter articles, fact sheets, etc.;

b. Providing support and follow up service for those growers who had made changes; and

c. Providing opportunities to learn new skills and achieve recognition for doing so, for example a TAFE accredited course on irrigation management (Boland et al, 2001).

The second project combined extension and research with demonstration plots set up on selected orchards. Different irrigation systems were monitored and the results available to the discussion groups set up in conjunction with the demonstration plots. The aim of this project was to develop Best Management Practices (BMP’s) and benchmarks for irrigation management of stone and pome fruit.

At no stage, however, had the relevance of these projects and activities to growers been questioned. We had assumed the message was ‘right’. Over the next three years interest in the extension activities and demonstration plots began to decline, as evidenced by decreasing numbers of growers attending these activities. A new approach was needed in order to understand the reasons for this decline. After discussions with the project team we decided market research, specifically market segmentation, was the most appropriate approach.

A case study in stone and pome fruit – the market research

Market segmentation is a technique commonly used in consumer research to help companies understand the needs of their audience and target their messages appropriately (Assael, 1998). The technique and theory has been adapted for agriculture by a team at the School of Marketing and Management at the University of New England. Geoff Kaine and Jean Sandall, together with marketing experts have put market segmentation theory to work in a range of industries in agriculture and natural resource management (Kaine and Niall, 1999, Kaine and Lees, 1994 and Kaine et al 1994). What they have found is that market segmentation offers a new framework for understanding the change process in extension.

Market segmentation has three key steps, all centred around understanding the farming context for a particular technology or management technique.

  • Step one: qualitative interviews to determine the key issues for farmers
  • Step two: a quantitative survey that puts numbers behind the information gathered in step one
  • Step three: designing an extension program using the information from the first two steps

Step one began for irrigation management in stone and pome fruit with growers in the Goulburn Valley interviewed to determine how they managed irrigation on their orchard. The questions covered their current irrigation method1, their views on conversion to micro irrigation, what had helped them, what hindered them and the use of soil moisture monitoring. The questions were kept open-ended. A key to the success of this technique is to let growers do the talking, acknowledging they are experts on their property.

Patterns quickly began emerging from the interviews and key issues kept resurfacing. The interviews identified that the shift to micro irrigation was being motivated by:

  • A need to reduce the amount of time spent irrigating;
  • A need to increase flexibility in managing irrigation, spraying and picking activities in the orchard; or
  • The shift to trellises and closer planting techniques.

We found that growers were more likely to adopt soil moisture monitoring if:

  • They had problems with high water tables, salinity or tree vigour;
  • They were on a large orchard and there was a need to check irrigation performance; or
  • They had planted dwarf rootstocks.

Successful adoption of soil moisture monitoring depended on growers having converted to a micro irrigation system, and having water available when required (ie on demand).

The interviews helped identify the farm context for improving irrigation management in stone and pome fruit. A different set of messages that would attract growers to an extension program was taking shape.

The next step was to develop, test and mail out a survey to 780 growers. Although the original project was based in the Goulburn Valley, the survey was extended to include other stone and pome fruit growing areas in the Murray Darling Basin, ie. the Tumut and Batlow areas in New South Wales, as well as Shepparton, Cobram and Swan Hill in Victoria.

Thirty-four per cent of the surveys sent out were returned and were able to be used in the analysis. Analysis of these revealed a cross section of responses from the industry in terms of size of property, adoption of micro irrigation and soil moisture monitoring as well as other general population characteristics. The results were also compared to statistics from the local water authority and were found to be representative of the grower population. A monothetic divisive clustering algorithm was used to classify growers into market segments for irrigation systems and soil moisture monitoring (Wishart, 1987).

Market segments for irrigation systems in the stone and pome fruit industry

Figure one shows the five market segments identified for irrigation systems. The diagram can be used as an identification key with each branch having a specific question. The answers to the questions determine which segment a grower is in. For example – if a grower was under time pressure but was not redeveloping their orchard to closer planting, they fell into the time saver converter segment. Each of the segments had particular characteristics, outlined below.

  • Control and time redevelopers (23% of the market) were replanting some or their entire orchard to closer plantings and were installing a micro irrigation system at the same time. Closer plantings generally ensure a grower is able to obtain a commercial harvest from new trees much quicker than traditional spacings and increases their production as they are planting more trees per hectare. The growers in this segment were also under time pressure and saw micro irrigation as a means of addressing this issue. Their redevelopment plans meant that micro irrigation was essential, as closer planted orchards are difficult to flood irrigate, and fixed knocker sprinklers are not generally at the right spacing to ensure an even watering.
  • Time saver converters (24% of the market) were under considerable time pressure and were converting their irrigation system, generally from flood irrigation, on an established orchard. It is worth noting that time pressure may be very specific. For example one grower explained that at 8 am when the flood irrigation needed checking he was also needed in the shed to set up the days packing, he had to organise freight trucks, and he had to organise the pickers for the day. Converting to micro irrigation meant flicking a couple of switches at the shed. This considerably eased his time problem.
  • Water saving irrigators (17% of the market) had problems with water scarcity, water tables or salinity. Converting to a micro irrigation system addressed these problems and was the main reason they made the change. Many of these growers came from Batlow and Tumut where water scarcity was a big issue. We also realised that most of the who had been part of irrigation extension activities in the Goulburn Valley were in this segment. However this segment was a small part of the market.
  • Control redevelopers (15% of the market) were redeveloping their orchard to closer plantings, often with trellis. They were converting to micro irrigation as part of this redevelopment program.
  • Flood irrigators (22% of the market) – were under no time pressure, were not short of water, did not have watertable and salinity problems and were not redeveloping their orchard. They felt their irrigation system was working well and saw no reason to change.

Figure 1. Market segments for irrigation systems in the stone and pome fruit industry

It was not surprising that participation in irrigation extension activities had begun to wane. The market segment (water saving irrigators) most likely to hear the particular messages we had been delivering as part of an extension program had been captured. This segment covered only 17% of the market.

One of the major paradigm shifts in this process was realising that growers have good and logical reasons for not changing. Often access to information and awareness of the innovation are not barriers to adoption. It is simply the case that, given the growers circumstances, the innovation is not appropriate. The last segment outlined above, the flood irrigators, was a good example of this and challenged our preconceived prejudices when faced with growers who do not make what we feel are obvious changes.

Market segments for soil moisture monitoring in the stone and pome fruit industry

Figure two outlines the three market segments for soil moisture monitoring. The key questions for these segments were whether or not a grower could irrigate on demand; that is, water was available whenever they needed it, and whether they had installed a micro irrigation system.

  • Micro irrigation schedulers (50% of the market) – growers in this segment are able to irrigate on demand (for example they may have been on a pressurised pipeline). Because of this a high proportion of this segment had installed soil moisture monitoring. Generally they were responding to other messages such as tree vigour problems, but were able to take advantage of their circumstances that encouraged soil moisture monitoring.
  • Micro irrigation monitors (28% of the market) – in this segment growers are not able to water on demand, however they have converted to micro irrigation so have some flexibility to respond to soil moisture monitoring equipment. Growers in this segment were less likely to have installed soil moisture monitoring.
  • Flood monitors (22% of the market) – this segment was the least likely to have adopted soil moisture monitoring. They have not got water on demand and had not converted to micro irrigation so are limited in their response to monitoring equipment. Generally we found the few growers from this segment that had installing monitoring had a problem with salinity or water tables and were investigating the possibility of converting to micro as soon as possible in order to address these problems.

Figure 2. Market segments for soil moisture monitoring in the stone and pome fruit industry

We quickly realised looking at these segments, that many growers in the Goulburn Valley do not have water on demand. They are required to order water in advance which is a major barrier to adoption of soil moisture monitoring. Water on demand generates a great deal of flexibility. It means growers can respond to soil moisture monitoring equipment readings immediately if necessary. There are fewer benefits in using soil moisture monitoring when growers need to order water in advance.

Developing a new extension program

The market research revealed that the messages we had as part of previous extension projects were not appropriate for the audience. Water saving and water use efficiency were not key drivers for change. We found the key drivers for change were issues external to irrigation management and would happen regardless of the direction of an extension program. There were no obvious information gaps either. The research also indicated an extension program for irrigation management in stone and pome fruit was limited in what it could achieve in terms of motivating change.

We agreed on two key strategies.

  • To facilitate the change to micro irrigation information on irrigation management needed to be packaged in the context of redevelopment. Orchard redevelopment was driving the majority of change to micro irrigation systems. There was also room for information to be packaged as part of conversion to micro, that is, converting established orchards to a new irrigation systems. This would target information specifically to growers who were in the process of changing.
  • The second key strategy was to target soil moisture monitoring information. The research revealed that growers who had tree vigour problems, had planted dwarf rootstock and who had salinity or watertable problems were more likely to adopt monitoring. By tailoring technical information to these groups we could provide support to growers that required it.

The research also revealed that infrastructure issues and external policies (such as water pricing) were real drivers of change. These are quite separate issues to tackle, but have implications for future extension programs and government policies. Extension programs designed on the basis of the two strategies outlined above would need to be realistic in terms of what could be achieved when the environment for growers was not conducive to change.


While the traditional tools used for extension serve the extension officer well there are many cases where these tools are used on an audience that is not receptive to the message the tools deliver. By using market research we were able to identify our audience and the key messages relevant to them. This allowed us to design an extension program for growers in the stone and pome fruit industry that is relevant to their needs.


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1 Bay or furrow irrigation, under tree knocker sprinklers, micro or mini jet irrigation or drip/trickle irrigation.

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