The agile art of research extension

03.06.22

Increasing the adoption is a pivotal part of research and development for our levied industries. Extension activities ensure our growers can adopt new technologies and innovations to help deliver real returns, foster growth and drive innovative practices.  

At AgriFutures our extension activities aim to equip growers and producers with the latest information and tools to enable effective responses to current on-farm issues, as well as being prepared for future issues. This means that we work with our extension providers to tailor activities and adapt to changing conditions so that we can meet the needs of our industries.  

Dedicated extension projects are underway in the Rice, Chicken Meat, Ginger and Tea Tree Oil programs and current activities include establishing a coordinated industry extension team, on-farm visits and guidelines for pest management, online dissemination of research outcomes, and adapting events to meet the needs of growers severely impacted by recent floods in the Northern Rivers.  

A coordinated approach to extension  

At the beginning of this year, AgriFutures Rice Program launched the Rice Program RD&E Plan 2021-2026, which focuses on achieving a water productivity target of 1.5 tonnes of rice per megalitre of water by 2026 to future proof the industry. 

A coordinated industry extension approach was announced as part of this plan which brings together Rice Extension and SunRice Grower Services into a single industry extension team to increase the adoption of outputs from rice research. The new team is overseen by Rice Research Australia Pty Ltd (RRAPL) and will focus on supporting growers to adopt technologies and best practice management to increase rice growers’ profitability now and into the future. 

The revamped Rice Extension website, powered by SunRice, AgriFutures Australia and Ricegrowers’ Association of Australia (RGA), is strengthening the coordinated extension approach. The website is a collaborative space where rice growers can find resources that support the application and adoption of new research on their farm.  

Extension ‘gamechanger’ to combat new pests 

In February 2021, the Australian ginger industry saw its first infestation of fall armyworm in Bundaberg which quickly spread across most parts of Australia, including all ginger growing regions, presenting a looming threat for the industry requiring immediate action. 

In response, the AgriFutures Ginger Program expanded investment into the Ginger Extension Coordination project (PRJ-017740), led by the Australian Ginger Industry Association, to swiftly harness the expertise of fall armyworm specialist and agronomist, Bhargav Rayeni. 

Bhargav visited ginger farms across South East Queensland to show growers how to identify fall armyworm and then how to control it, particularly in its early stages of development. Bhargav also led the development of a guide for growers that outlines the available products to combat fall armyworm, matched with the timing of the crop, the appropriate application rate, and the withholding period.  

Quick action taken by the Australian Ginger Industry Association and AgriFutures Australia has meant that not only are crops being closely monitored for the pest – farmers are also prepared for the new incursions and equipped with the knowledge and tools to keep an outbreak under control.  

New investment plans are currently underway to ensure valuable extension services like this continue to be provided for the ginger industry.  

Continuing extension under the challenges of COVID 

The Chicken Meat Extension and Training Project is a four-year project that commenced in December 2019 focusing on delivering the outcomes of AgriFutures research and development, improving engagement with industry and adoption of research, and developing a national training framework based on the needs of the industry. The first year of the project was challenged by the global COVID-19 pandemic which saw traditional face-to-face methods of extension and training paused, and a greater emphasis placed on online opportunities to maintain engagement with the industry.  

From March 2020 to December 2020, a series of six webinars and three invitation-only online forums were held to support ongoing industry engagement and disseminate findings from research projects to end-users. The events showcased 40 projects in total and gave attendees an opportunity to hear from and ask questions directly of researchers on industry projects. 

Attendance was high, with 415 participants in total attending across the events including a broad presence of industry professionals such as researchers, supplier companies, consultants, and service providers. 

Feedback on the webinars was positive, with post-webinar poll results showing 83% of attendees were likely or very likely to use the information from the webinar in their business. This indicated an increased industry awareness of, and exposure to, the research projects covered, and engagement with new audiences, in particular growers and international attendees.  

As a result of the success of these events, webinars will continue to disseminate project information and outcomes.  

The next chicken meat extension webinar is planned for Wednesday, 22 June 2022.

Supporting growers through natural disasters  

The tea tree industry in the Northern Rivers area has been severely impacted by the recent floods, with large losses of tea tree oil plantations, machinery, equipment, and housing.  

Farmacist, in consultation with AgriFutures Tea Tree Program pivoted quickly, realising that the planned program of events and field days were no longer appropriate. The agile approach enabled the delivery of a revised program focused on the Australian tea tree industry’s immediate needs and issues.  

Tea tree extension officers, Belinda Billing and Alice Moore have played a crucial role in the delivery of these events. 

Alice has delivered a range of workshops including how to operate a drone to map the health of crops, the importance of soil testing to enable crops to return to full production as quickly as possible, as well as chemical spray application workshops providing growers with the opportunity to develop customised spray drift management plans.  

Similarly, Belinda is delivering the next extension activity Introducing Technology to the Far North Queensland Tea Tree Industry on Thursday, 9 June 2022.  

To find out more about Alice and Belinda, check out their spotlight articles below.