New England, Hunter and Metropolitan Region, Regional Director of Advisory Services. Maitland
This paper discusses the future direction and priorities of NSW Agriculture and Fisheries and the likely impact of change on rural society.
In NSW, Government policy dictates that departments and authorities will adopt:
• a more commercial approach, consistent with the philosophies of “NSW Incorporated”;
• smaller and more efficient government;
• greater attention to environmental issues and sustainable agricultural systems; and
• deregulation and “cutting the red tape”.
The Strategic Plan of NSW Agriculture and Fisheries spells out the priorities and objectives going into the 1990s. Some specific developments presented in this paper include:
1. Nature of the service
2. A commercial approach
3. Marketing and export opportunities
4. sustainable agriculture and environmental issues
5. Electronic communications and decision systems
6. Farm management integrated programmes
7. Adult education as an increasing role
Nature Of The Service
The current State government appears committed to maintaining a high profile, “free” advisory service to farmers and other clients. This is in contrast to decisions made in New Zealand, Tasmania and Victoria for example, where their traditional extension services have been decimated -to the detriment of their farmer clients.
I believe the provision of free advice and delivery of pro-active advisory programmes to those associated with commercial agriculture, can be justified in terms of the contribution made to the income earning capacity of the State from exports and import substitution.
In 1987, an efficiency audit into advisory services concluded that the service was cost-effective and relatively inexpensive to run compared to most other government functions.
Industry specialisation and a strong technical base will remain the corner stone of our credibility. The back-up from industry responsive research is important in developing and promoting new technology.
Having said that we will retain a free advisory service, I should point out that it is policy to charge, on a user-pays basis, for specific services. I will outline some examples further in this paper.
Priorities dictate that advisory services will place increasing emphasis towards major programmes addressing important problems or opportunities, at the expense of responding to ad-hoc service on demand. It is impossible to be specific on this - it is a matter of finding an appropriate balance.
More often than not, major problems and programmes (research and advisory) will be planned, investigated and delivered by a multi-functional “project team” approach. Project teams will involve the important players in the game, such as advisory officers, researchers, vets, client representatives and commercial interests. The intention is to achieve an integrated “systems” approach to problem solving.
Social market research has now been accepted as an important prerequisite to conducting major programmes. The intention is to identify client needs, attitudes, practices and barriers to adoption.
This work can be done internally, or by paying consultants with the assistance of industry funds.
Emphasis will be given to training intermediary groups (agribusiness, stock agents, chemical and fertiliser companies, produce merchants, consultants) so that they can play a more effective extension role in providing specific advice to farmers.
More innovative methods of packaging and delivery information will be increasingly applied such as videos, audio tapes, home learning modules, computerised information systems and new developments in mass media.
A Commercial Approach
Consolidated revenue funding for government departments is generally retracting. To maintain and improve services, there is a need to adopt a commercial approach to:
(i) income generation; and
(ii) outside funding (industry funds; commercial sponsorships and joint ventures).
Programmes need to be market driven - which means responding to industry, client and market demands.
Commercialisation of Innovations
NSW Agriculture and Fisheries has formalised procedures to commercialise certain research and development innovations (intellectual property) which are over and above the normal services provided to clients. A Patents Committee has been established and a special Research and Development Services Section created.
Commercialisation has two aims:
(i) to more effectively transfer new technology to the end user; and (ii) to generate income for further research.
Once a decision is made to commercialise an invention an “expression of interest” advertisement is published in the tenders section of the Sydney Morning Herald.
Some current examples include mushroom disease control agent; ornamental plants; mycoherbicide for Bathurst burr; new varieties of lucerne, rapeseed, strawberry and tomato; vaccine for pig pneumonia; vaccine for akabane disease in cattle; pig erysipelas vaccine; a weed spray controller; and statistical software packages; hyfer sheep breed; video promotions; Durum wheat seed.
It is anticipated that 4-5% of the department’s activities will be commercialised.
Fee for Service
Specialised services (e.g. diagnostic or recording schemes) will generally be offered on a user-pays basis. There is increasing pressure to adopt full cost recovery, however this needs to be weighed up with the “industry or community good” component.
Some fee-for-service examples:
• veterinary diagnostic services
• short and home study courses
• Fleece Measurement Service
• Meat Sheep Testing Service
• Boar Test Station
• Piggy Bank (recording scheme)
• Farm Management Recording Scheme (Eggs)
• saleable publications and Agfacts
• feedstuff analysis
• plant tissue analysis
• computerised decision and farm management systems.
There are numerous opportunities to offer specialist consultancies (which would probably require high inputs of expertise and time) on a fee-for-service basis, to specific industry or commercial clients. Some possibilities would be:
• animal breeding and genetic improvement
• animal handling/welfare
• environmental/land use issues
• market intelligence and export opportunities
• training industry groups; other authorities
• foreign aid
Funding in 115W Agriculture and Fisheries research for 1988/89 totalled $38.5m of which:
- $30m funded from consolidated revenue; and
- $8.5m funded by outside industry sources.
Currently around 25 percent of research is funded by industry and this is expected to increase to 50 percent by the mid-1990s.
Research and advisory projects will need to be market driven to successfully gain a larger proportion of industry funds.
Within 3 to 5 years it is anticipated that the department will provide a research officer along with a basic infrastructure (location and office) and nothing else. Operating expenses, support staff, stores and equipment will need to be industry funded.
Pending Commonwealth legislation will result in the formation of Research and Development Corporations to replace the current industry research committees. These corporations, as from July 1, 1990, have the power to operate on a commercial basis and will literally “call the tune” on the future direction of funded research and advisory programmes.
So, farmers and their industry bodies will fund the work, not the taxpayer.
Industry research committees are now actively seeking projects which incorporate an advisory/extension component. This is a notable change from years gone by. There are now exciting opportunities for advisory programmes to gain industry support. These may be in the form of social market research, investigations, delivery, or an integrated package.
There are currently 45 industry bodies which potentially offer funding to the department (Appendix I).
Additional to the traditional funding bodies, there are opportunities to carry out contract research for other bodies or commercial companies.
Marketing And Export Opportunities
Another strategic plan initiative was to establish a market development unit called AGSELL. The unit consists of six senior staff and three support staff.
Aims of Agsell are to:
(i) enhance export opportunities for agricultural products;
(ii) encourage value-added processing prior to export.
Agsell will be concerned with identifying and matching markets, products and entrepreneurs - by assisting the private sector.
This initiative represents a shift in emphasis from being production oriented, to being more market oriented. In the production and marketing arena, we all need to be attuned to the customer/consumer requirements.
Australia is recognised as a leader in world agricultural production, but rank amateurs when it comes to the marketing of food items.
Agsell will directly benefit farmers by providing an important avenue for obtaining marketing information, advice and contacts. These services will enable farmers to make better informed production decisions based on international market requirements.
The unit will not duplicate services provided by other agencies, but rather take advantage of unexploited opportunities.
Market research indicates that Japan and South-East Asia offers the greatest market potential to Australia. The most exciting export opportunities appear to be with horticulture and value-added processed food.
Agsell’s priority projects include:
• gaining access to the giant Japanese supermarket chains owned by the Nichiryu Group and Hannan Corporation, consisting of 1000 retail outlets in Japan and 13 other countries. A special relationship with this group has been developed by the Minister for Agriculture and Rural Affairs and Agsell;
• promoting horticulture exports to North America;
• expansion of cattle feedlots; beef exports from Mudgee;
• goat meat and live goat exports to the Middle East;
• chilled lamb to the US and Japan;
• Murrumbidgee onions - fresh and processed;
• export of cut flowers;
• dairy products to Japan;
• fish and fish products;
• value-added processing.
Import substitution of food products is also an important priority. Many major food processors import their raw produce rather than purchase locally. They apparently have problems obtaining produce to the required specifications, in the right quantities at the right time.
NSW Agriculture and Fisheries has a network of field officers who could assist farmers produce commodities to meet specific market requirements.
There are also opportunities to develop educational activities in marketing and export enhancement.
Sustainable Agriculture And Environmental Issues
Over the past decade there has been an enormous shift in community attitudes towards conserving our environment.
Sustainable agriculture is the “in” topic and, along with all other environmental issues, is being given a high profile in government policies. This has also been reflected in funding priorities offered to State agencies from the Commonwealth Government.
Research and advisory programmes will increasingly be directed towards sustainable systems, land use and environmental protection. Examples of current and future programmes are:
• conservation farming - reduced tillage, rotations
• soil and water salinity
• soil acidity
• soil structural degradation and irrigation soil management
• soil nutrition decline
• irrigation management and water-watch
• total catchment management
• farmer land-care groups
• protection of agricultural land - land use classes
• organic farming - on a scientific basis
• trees on farms
• sustainable fisheries environments
• effluent disposal and pollution - feedlots and intensive livestock
• noxious weed control
• integrated pest management
• safety in the use of pesticides and veterinary chemicals
• pesticide residue monitoring in food
• effective pest and disease control
Most of the issues and programmes mentioned will need to be addressed through a team effort involving other government departments, community groups, clients and users of the land, local government.
Governments must be prepared to implement long-term programmes with a genuine intent to conserve and improve the environment, rather than implement initiatives for political expediency.
The ongoing challenge will be how to reconcile short-term cash flow requirements with long-term sustainable production.
Electronic Communications And Decision Systems
Technological developments in computer systems and communications will have a major impact on the delivery of information to farmers over the next decade.
Computer Decision Systems
The development of computerised decision systems is now having a significant influence on the delivery of both research and advisory programmes. Databases, recording schemes, expert systems and farm management programmes are excellent tools to allow officers to provide speedy, integrated and comprehensive advice to farmers. Essentially, the computerised programmes present options which aid in decision-making.
The majority of advisory officers now have access to microcomputers and can plug into the State-wide central database, Agnet. Technological developments will mean that all advisory officers will probably have high powered lap-top portable computers which they can take on-farm - as a normal tool of trade, within three years.
Some examples of successful decision systems currently in use are:
• Beef -n-Omics - an integrated beef management programme
• Mi1k Cost - a farm management dairy model
• Dairy feed plan - feed year planning
• Piggy Bank - pig recording scheme
• National Farm Management Recording Scheme (Eggs)
• Feedmania - least-cost diets for pigs and poultry
• Feedbal - grazing livestock, feed availability and production
• Line-it - a bio-economic model for lime rates
• Lucvar - selection of lucerne varieties
• Lupest - control of insect pests in lucerne
• Wireman - wiregrass control options
• livestock gross margin budgets
• wether trial programmes
• livestock carcase competition programmes
• nutrition models
• wool marketing options
• pasture fertiliser requirements and establishment
Specialist “systems” research and advisory officers have now been appointed to facilitate the further development of applied decision systems.
At this stage “outsiders” (our clients) cannot directly access departmental programmes through computer linkages.
Electronic Information Systems
The use of videotext and teletext-type information systems are currently of little value in advisory work. The Department’s involvement in this technology will be developed only as the community (and our primary clients) expectations and demands dictate. The common use of appropriate equipment and services in both the home and business will be an indication of the value of using this medium for information transfer.
Changes in television networking in NSW could result in greater exposure of agricultural information programmes for the rural community. Whereas Regional Media Officers in the department are capable of supplying suitable material for television exposure, the cost of keeping up-to-date with broadcast quality cameras and editing suits could prove prohibitive.
Sky Channel was successfully used to launch the footrot control programme State-wide. It was beamed into clubs and hotels in country centres where groups of sheep producers viewed the show and later participated in discussions in response to the information provided.
New technology in the form of microwave television is about to be transmitted by ITN (Independent Television Newcastle) throughout the Hunter Valley. Subscribing clients must be registered as a business and would install a “downverter: at a cost of $400 to receive the microwave signal. Information provided will be specialised and may take the form of the “University of the Air” theme which is so successful in England. This development has great potential for information transfer to the rural community.
At the initiative of the Orana and Far Western Region of the department a pilot video magazine concept called “Landview” has been developed.
The video packages could contain:
• topical news, views and information on technical developments, timely advice on crop and livestock management, commodity prices, etc;
• a rural diary of coming events;
• an information catalogue about available Agfacts and videos, etc.
Clients could subscribe through an annual fee and would be forwarded a video package every three months.
This concept is still being considered for commercialisation.
A survey of farmers (73 responses) showed that around 90% owned or intended to~ purchase a video recorder in the near future.
Farm Management Integrated Programmes
Increasing financial pressures on agriculture means that producers need to run their farms as a business, adopting sound business principles, and keeping accurate records.
It has never been easy to “train” producers in farm financial management. Back-up support from banks and accountants, to encourage better budgeting and decision-making, has been less than adequate. However, things are changing. There is a shift in demand from technical advice towards farm management and financial advice - and this trend is expected to continue into the next decade.
Farm management principles are only relevant if they are used in an applied context. NSW Agriculture and Fisheries is increasingly developing integrated decision packages of which financial management is a component - which can be applied to individual enterprises or the farm as a whole.
“Farm Cheque” is a record keeping and comparative analysis decision programme which was conceived in the Central West, South-East and Illawarra Region in 1986.
The objective is to provide participating farmers with accurate information in order to integrate technical advice with the economic performance of the farm, to achieve increased profitability and efficiency.
The programme operates on a district basis with user-pay groups of 20-40 farmers and local advisory officers. Privately employed farm secretaries train farmers in record keeping, check cash books, enter data into a microcomputer, and produce regular interpreted reports. An annual comparative analysis of group performance is also done.
Farm Cheque is proving to be a highly successful initiative in which many farmers are keen to participate. The pilot projects during 1987-89 have involved 175 farmers in groups established at Young, Condobolin, Greenthorpe, Boorowa, Bathurst and Yass. The programme is set to go State-wide. In the Murray and Riverina Region, for example, groups are being set up, in response to demand, at Albury, Temora, Junee, Deniliquin and Finley.
The programme is a decentralised system which can be taken on-farm. The employed farm secretaries are the key to providing farmers with assistance with record keeping and data processing.
A number of industry specific integrated farm management programmes have been implemented over the past three years or so. In most cases they adopt a systems approach “decision tree”, some of which are computerised.
The bottom line is increased productivity and financial returns.
• Milk Cost - for dairying
• Beef -n-Omics - for beef cattle enterprises
• Piggy Bank
• National Farm Management Scheme (Eggs)
• Soy Check
• Rice Check
Development of these types of programmes will be an increasing trend in the 1990s. Computers and the use of spreadsheet software has made the process of producing cash flow budgets, analysis and models reasonably si nip Ic.
Farm Management Home Study Courses
State-wide home study courses in Farm Management and Farm Office Management have been offered to farmers since 1970. A total of 7000 people have participated in the programme, now averaging around 500 per year. Surveys reveal that 75 percent of participants are directly involved with commercial agriculture.
The courses, coordinated iron C.B. Alexander Agricultural College, ‘Tocal’ Paterson, involve written material, tutorials and residential schools.
A separate financial management programme called “Your F.A.R.M.” has been available over the past two years and some 12,000 units have been sold to farmers. This package has now been published in conjunction with the Commonwealth Bank.
In the New England, Hunter and Metropolitan Region, a series of seminars titled “Running Your Farm as a Business” attracted 190 people at Moree, Tamworth and ‘Tocal’, Paterson.
Adult Education As An Increasing Role
The Director-General of NSW Agriculture and Fisheries recently announced a new ADULT EDUCATION policy, which will give greater emphasis to applying the principles of adult education to advisory programmes and increase opportunities for clients to participate in home study and short courses.
Home Study Courses
Additional to the Farm Management and Farm Office Management home study courses, single titles have been produced for:
• Beef Production
• Soils and Their Management
• Computers in Agriculture
• Law and the Primary Producers
• Winter Cereal Production
• Animal Health
• Spray Irrigation for Pastures
• Sources of Farm Finance
• Taxation in Farm Management
• Beekeeping for Business and Pleasure
• Commercial Hydroponics
• Your F.A.R.M.
A total of 1300 people purchased these units during 1988. The number of titles available will be increased in response to client demands.
Specific “Agskills” series are available for goats, sheep, beef, dairying, fencing and knots.
In response to client demands, short courses are being run on a whole range of topics and formats throughout the State. In particular, short course coordinators are located at Yanco and Tocal. The Yanco Short Course Centre has been particularly successful in running programmes to cater for regional needs.
Around 60 short courses were coordinated from Tocal and Yanco, attracting 1400 people.
In this paper I have summarised a selection of major developments and trends which are being applied by NSW Agriculture and Fisheries. All of the programmes and issues should have a positive impact on rural society, by helping farmers and other clients adjust to changes which will be required during the 1990s.
Changing community attitudes is a difficult and long-term task. NSW Agriculture and Fisheries is committed to playing a facilitating role in the change process, with the aim of improving agricultural productivity and marketing in the State and contributing to the quality of life of rural people.
List Of Non-Consolidated Revenue Funding Sources Currently Administered Or Oversighted By The Research Coordinator
1. Australian Meat and Livestock Research and Development Corporation
2. Barley Research Committee for NSW
3. Barley Research Council
4. Chicken Meat Research Council
5. Cotton Research Council
6. Dairy Research Council
7. Dried Fruits Research Council
8. Egg Industry Research Council
9. Fishing Industry Research and Development Council (Director, FRI, Cronulla)
10. Grain Legumes Research Council
11. Sugar Research Council
12. Horticultural Research and Development Council
13. Grape and Wine Research Council
14. Honey Research Council
15. Oilseeds Research Council
16. Pig Research Council
17. Tobacco Trust Account
18. Wheat Research Committee for 115W
19. Wheat Research Council
20. Wool Research and Development Fund
21. Australian Special Rural Research Council
22. Rice Research Committee (RDR, Yanco)
23. Rural Credits Development Fund
24. Swine Compensation Fund (NSW)
25. National Energy Research Development and Demonstration Council
26. Horticultural Stock and Nurseries Act Account
27. Australian Macadamia Society (RDR, Wollongbar)
28. Processing Tomato Research Committee (ROR, Yanco)
29. Australian Special Rural Research Fund Matching Grants
30. Australian Centre for International Agriculture Research (Director, Overseas Projects)
31. Donations from Marketing Boards, Special Interest Groups and Private Companies
32. Horticultural Quarantine Research Grants
33. Austrade, Innovative Agricultural Marketing Program
34. National Biotechnology Program
35. National Soil Conservation Program (Principal Officer (Conservation Farming)) and Principal Officer (Management)
36. Bilateral Science and Technology Agreement
37. Australian Flora Foundation
38. Triticale R & D funding (sub account of ASRRF)
39. Cashmere Research Foundation
40. National Research Fellowships Scheme
41. Administration of Postgraduate Scholarships
42. National Irrigation Research Fund