Stimulating Private Sector Extension in Australian Agriculture to Increase Returns from Research and Development

This ground-breaking project is providing valuable research information and professional development modules to inform and build the capacity of the extension sector in Australia.  A key output is the development of eight professional development modules for early and mid-career advisors and extension professionals:

  1. Social media in agriculture innovation
  2. Targeting farmers? Segmentation and adjusting advisory approaches
  3. Facilitating farm practice change (1) –why do people change?
  4. Working your network: Brokering adviser networks in agricultural innovation.
  5. Facilitating farm practice change (2) – delivery approaches to enhance adoption and change
  6. Knowledge management: Linking research and advisory services
  7. Evaluating impact in agricultural innovation and adoption
  8. Analyzing the whole farm system

The three-year project is supported by the Australian Government’s Rural R&D for Profit program, and is led by Dairy Australia. The project has eight partner organisations including the University of Melbourne’s Rural Innovation Research Group, who conduct the project research. The project commenced in 2015 to develop and test models to build the capacity of the commercial and private sector in delivering extension services to Australian farmers. The project concludes in May this year.

Project Aims

The main aims of the project are to:

  • Increase private sector engagement with the latest research and industry best practice;
  • Make research more accessible to producers through a more integrated and cooperative extension system;
  • Identify barriers to private sector involvement in agricultural extension;
  • Stimulate growth in capability of the private sector in agricultural extension (particularly to fill current gaps), and;
  • Build stronger connections between end users and researchers.

Training Modules

The eight training modules are being developed within a peer review, action research approach and the project design and implementation uses an Agricultural Innovation Systems (AIS) framework. To learn more about Agricultural Innovation Systems (AIS) framework, click here.

To be kept up to date on the project and the training modules being developed, sign up to the “Stimulating private sector extension in Australian agriculture”  e-newletter, click here.

Project Approach

The project has worked with steering committees, an expert panel and farmer and adviser forums and has surveyed 1003 farmers and 655 advisers from all over Australia.

The diagram below illustrates the collaborative, adaptive and cross-sectorial approach used by the project.

In addition to the professional development modules there are four trial projects targeting key issues in the advisory and extension system and involving advisors and industry people collaborating across industry and States:

Further information on the trials and their outcomes can be found here, please click here.

Key Research Findings

The research led by the University of Melbourne Rural Innovation Research Group has given some fascinating insights into the current situation for rural extension.  Drawing from forums and national surveys of farmers (n=1003) and advisers (n=655), the research has found:

  • Farmers on average use four sources for information, advice and support. The most commonly used source is product re-sellers/farm input supplies.   The main source for information, advice and support is private fee for service advisers.

  • Farmers have challenges that extension could address. Across the board a large percentage of farmers are not confident they have the skills and knowledge to manage their business effectively and are unsure where to get the information or advice they need. A lesser, but significant number, believe they can further lower their cost of production.

  • The farmers surveyed also believe that their use of external information, advice and support is expected to increase over time:

  • However:

  • A significant percentage of advisers (45%) are rarely or never involved in agricultural research, development and extension systems; but, 72% want to increase their involvement.
  • Eighty-eight percent of private adviser business owners/leaders were moderately or extremely interested interest in forming partnerships to have a greater role with agricultural research, development and/or extension systems.
  • Advisors also have a low rate of engagement with professional associations, 58% have no engagement.

The average Australian farmer now manages a business with an asset value of close to five million dollars, and is now spending an increasing amount of time managing staff and is talking to technical advisors, rather than actually doing all the physical work on the farm. These two changes have significant implications when considering what skills, the ‘average’ farmer will need in the future, and how new farmers will get a start in the sector.

Farm business and their support services are dynamic environments; the project has identified opportunities and issues to be addressed in order to stimulate private sector extension in Australia to increase returns in research and development:

  • The need for R&D investors to work with all providers to enhance adoption/change
  • Ensure new advisers are aware of and have capacity in attributes valued by farmers
  • Improve farmers’ knowledge of, and accessibility to, the range of services
  • increase farmers’ awareness of the value of information/advice and the added value that can be gained from paying for advice
  • Encourage advisers into membership of professional associations and seed professional development in extension into these organisations
  • Provide greater transparency for farmers on funding of extension and extension projects/programs
  • Increase private-sector involvement in RD&E activities related to: Priority setting; research translation; the design, development and delivery of extension
  • Consider partnership models to bring advisory organisations more formally into the RD&E system
  • Develop principles of collaboration/co-ordination between industry, government and farmer organisations with the private sector, in particular, farm input providers/product re-sellers and independent (fee-for-service) advisers and private companies

The opportunities outlined above will need to be captured by industry and government, working with farmer and adviser organisations. However, this will also require new policies and incentives.

Project Partners

For further information

Visit the project web page, click here.

Sign up for the project e-newsletter, click here.

Project Leaders:

Ian Linley. Project Manager, Dairy Australia. E:, Ph: 0422 814 579

Ruth Nettle. Leader, Rural Innovation Research Group, Faculty of Veterinary and Agricultural Sciences, Melbourne University. E:, Ph: 0419 569 684