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TOPCROP State Focus in Victoria. An extension program tackling industry issues

S.G.Holden1 and M.Evans2

1Department of Natural Resources and Environment, Private Bag 105, Hamilton, Victoria.
Department of Natural Resources and Environment, PO Box 3100, Bendigo, Victoria.


During 1999, the concept of running a state extension program focussing on a major industry issue (a "State Focus") was investigated. The pilot issue was "achieving malting quality in barley" and the aim was to involve TOPCROP farmer groups in participatory research through on farm demonstrations. Standard protocols were used for treatments, site layout and monitoring. Groups chose to be involved and most added extra treatments to address local issues at their site. Farm equipment was used to sow and manage the sites and groups were involved in monitoring. Data was collected and interpreted centrally, with newsletters and a final report ensuring the information and messages were available to everyone. This pilot showed the value of the "State Focus" concept as an extension medium and it is now an integral part of the Victorian TOPCROP program.

Key Words

Extension, participatory research, on farm demonstration, TOPCROP, broadacre cropping.


A major component of the Victorian Department of Natural Resources and Environment’s grains extension effort is focused through TOPCROP. TOPCROP is a farmer group based program which aims for informed decision making through the use of crop monitoring. Participants want the program to be structured and address industry issues, but still allow the flexibility for each group to address local issues (1, 2). Farmers want TOPCROP to provide local, farm based opportunities for evaluating technology, developing benchmarks and sharing knowledge and experience (1, 2). Researchers want TOPCROP to provide opportunities for them to deliver messages and interact productively with farmers (1, 2).

The TOPCROP State Management Group considered that there was an opportunity to meet these needs by addressing a state industry issue with a consistent series of on farm demonstrations across the state. This paper discusses the development of such a program and its strengths and weaknesses.


Ideas for the state industry issue to be addressed were solicited from agribusiness, private consultants and Department of Natural Resources and Environment (NRE) research and advisory staff during September 1998. The decision to use malting barley as the topic for the 1999 State Focus was made by the TOPCROP State Management Group (comprising members from the farming community, agribusiness, private consultants and NRE).

Field work needed to be relevant to farmers so large plots were chosen, with a "control" (normal paddock practice) every third plot to provide a measure of the site variability for use in statistical analysis. Comparison of varieties across sites was done using Residual Maximum Likelihood (REML). Fixed effect was variety and random effect was site. Analyses were done with Genstat –Release 4.1, Lawes Agricultural Trust (Rothamsted Experimental Station). The three basic treatments (Gairdner, Schooner and Sloop) were specified by the barley program staff of the NRE Victorian Institute for Dryland Agriculture. Monitoring protocols were developed by NRE research and advisory staff in conjunction with the State Management Group.

TOPCROP group members visited sites, assisted in monitoring and used monitoring results to discuss management implications and options. Specialist speakers were available on request to provide up-to-date information and assist with interpretation of results. Three state newsletters were produced to ensure that the results from each site were freely available. A final report made the messages and benchmarks as well as individual site information freely available to everyone. This report was widely distributed to agribusiness, departmental agronomists and researchers, as well as the members of the TOPCROP groups involved in the program.


Seventeen TOPCROP groups chose to be involved and eighteen State Focus sites were established across the state. All sites were sown and managed by the groups using conventional broadacre equipment, so plots were at least 5 m wide by 100 m long. The malting barley varieties Schooner, Sloop and Gairdner were sown at all sites using certified seed provided from a central source and treated with Triademinol at 1 g/kg of grain (3). Groups expanded treatments at their sites to include other varieties, nutrition treatments or sowing rates to address local issues (as illustrated in Fig 1 and 2).

Figure. 1. Yield and quality for malting barley State Focus sites - Wimmera, 1999.

Sowing date, paddock history, growing season rainfall and fertiliser use was recorded for each site. Soil disease levels (DNA tests and bioassays), standard soil tests, deep soil nitrate tests, root and leaf disease scores and plant counts were done at each site by the group coordinator in conjunction with the TOPCROP group. Conventional broadacre headers were used at harvest and yields were measured using grain-weighing trailers. Grain samples were analysed for protein and screenings at VicGrain, Marong. Data was analysed by a statistician.

The technical value of this State Focus was quite clear. Agribusiness attribute a steep increase in deep soil nitrate testing to the clear messages about paddock selection and nitrogen application which came out of the State Focus. As Tim Bolwell (Wallup group) stated "This has convinced me of the value of deep soil nitrogen testing". One Nullawil group member stated "The State Focus has put out good rules of thumb for us to use to select paddocks for malting barley". Some participants confirmed their choice of variety was sound "We were hoping Franklin would compare well with the new varieties Picola and Gairdner. This site gave us confirmation of the performance of Franklin" (Geoff Lourie, Raywood group). Others made the decision to change varieties "I found the trial invaluable in assessing varieties most suited to this area. My own barley performed the worst, so I will be changing varieties next year" (Peter Ryan, Nullawil group). Yet others found it gave them confidence to try different technology on farm for themselves - "The state focus showed us that setting up on-farm trials is an excellent way to evaluate new technology on our own farms" (Annuello group members).

The value of the State Focus concept for research was also clear. "The State Focus provided a great opportunity to get research messages across and to discuss malt issues and new malting barley varieties and their management with farmer groups" (Alan Bedggood, pers. Comm.). "The Victorian State Focus provided us with a good opportunity to publicise, further develop and field validate the DNA Root Disease Testing Service" (Dr Alan McKay, pers. Comm.).

Figure 2. Yield and quality for malting barley - Speed, 1999.


The interest created by the 1999 State Focus resulted in an increase in group involvement in the program with over 30 State Focus sites being sown in 2000 looking at the issue of sowing rates for wheat. Large plots, a range of sites, clear messages and being "by farmers for farmers" seem to be the keys to success. The structured but flexible approach that allows state and local issues to be addressed makes the program attractive to a range of audiences. Group ownership of and direct involvement in managing and monitoring the sites is critical to the success of the concept and this was achieved by choosing to address an appropriate industry issue. The issue was the selling point and a range of research messages could easily be delivered within that framework.

Group member participation and interest in the TOPCROP program as a whole has also increased . This well-defined product has allowed us to promote the TOPCROP program better, with results to discuss and messages to deliver.

The effort involved in the coordination and logistics of State Focus is considerable at both local and state levels, and needs to be considered carefully before embarking on a State Focus program. For the concept to work well, planning needs to start early and communication between research and extension staff needs to be good. This means one person must take responsibility for coordination of the program with support and commitment from local advisers and farmer groups essential. Without the local support the State Focus becomes just another exercise in obtaining research results with little meaning for the local farming community.


The State Focus concept is a useful extension tool for creating awareness of technology, delivery of research messages, development of production benchmarks and adoption of technology. Further, it enhances the interaction between researchers, advisers and farmers. This approach allows an extension program to be planned well in advance to meet stakeholder needs.


The authors gratefully acknowledge the support of the following people and organisations. The Victorian TOPCROP State Management Committee; Alan Bedggood, Graham Exell, Grant Hollaway and David Moody, all from the Victorian Institute of Dryland Agriculture. Alan McKay and Kathy Ophel-Keller from the SARDI Root Disease Testing Service; Australian Barley Board; CSBP; VicGrain; Harm van Rees, Crop Facts; the statewide TOPCROP staff; the seventeen TOPCROP groups involved with the program and in particular the eighteen cooperators without whose assistance this project would never have been possible.


1. Ainsworth, P. and C. Sounness. 1996. TOPCROP Victoria. Strategic Assessment. (Department of Natural Resources and Environment, Bendigo. Victoria)

2. Sounness, C and P. Ainsworth. 1999. TOPCROP Victoria. Strategic Assessment. (Department of Natural Resources and Environment, Bendigo. Victoria)

3. Evans, M. 2000. In: TOPCROP State Focus Malting Barley. (Department of Natural Resources and Environment, Bendigo. Victoria)

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