Dairy Extension - The role of the Department of Agriculture

Prepared by: Steve Scown

This document is the result of a brief period of employment in the Department of Agriculture from 1987 to 1997, and observations from working in an allied field (dairy consulting) from 1997 to 2009.

My first experience with the Department of Agricultures' Dairy Section was at interview at Murray Bridge for the position of Senior Dairy Adviser. The Section was well structured with a hierarchy of research, extension and regulation.

The Extension arm of the Dairy Section was a group of 8 officers stationed around the State. The structure was such that there was a component of mentoring. At Mount Barker there was the experienced Frank Kaye as Senior Dairy Adviser mentoring Bruce Hancock. At Mount Gambier it was Senior Dairy Adviser Ian Carruthers mentoring Max Schleuniger and at Murray Bridge Tim Newbery and Peter Carroll. In addition there was John Threlfall at Victor Harbor and Trevor Clark at Clare.

My position was to replace Tim Newbery at Murray Bridge, who was moving into Head Office under Steve Rice, who was head of the Dairy Section.

With the reduction of funds and the changing role of the Department of Agriculture, the strong representation of officers in the field reduced. Senior Advisers were not replaced after T Newbery. M Schleuniger, R Williams and B Hancock became 50:50 dairy: beef officers as they changed their role to attempt to retain their district based position in a period of shrinking budgets. As people moved on there was no ability to replace them and by 1997 there were four dairy officers in the field. Three of these officers were dairy/beef officers and one, the Senior Dairy Officer.

The recruitment interview in 1987 indicated that the Dairy Section was looking for "Extension Officers" as opposed to "Technical Officers". Working at Murray Bridge there was a mix of extension, research, regulatory and technical officers,

The research officers ( Field Crops, Soils) were carrying out field trials and were better positioned in the regional centres, rather than at research centres. The regulatory officers ( Animal Health, Poultry) again were best positioned in the regional centres.The technical officers ( beef, sheep) were knowledgeable in their field. The extension officers ( dairy, horticulture, pigs) were not only knowledgeable in their area of expertise, they were also focusing on changing the knowledge, skill or attitudes of the farming community.

The difference was that the extension officer was a part of the whole Dairy Section. They would bring problems in the community to the attention of the research team, assist in the development of research projects, disseminate the findings and results in terms the farmer can comprehend and finally work with the farmer to incorporate the results into the farming operation.

Up until July 1993 there was a small component of dairy inspection required under the Dairy Industry Act 1928. This combination of trying to assist the farmer on one visit and then at the next visit having to be directive about the cat population in the milk room, damaged the credibility of the extension officer. This role of dairy inspector was taken over by the Dairy Authority of South Australia in July 1993. Only a small amount of regulation was carried out by extension officers in the late 1990's.

In addition to the network of extension officers there was another network of research officers (Northfield) and regulatory officers within the Dairy Section. The structure of the Dairy Section allowed for an overall improvement in the dairy industry in South Australia through the combination of research, extension and regulation. With this large network of research, extension and regulatory officers there was a central management of the dairy officers. This allowed for good communication within the Dairy Section, with central management of information and the network.

The extension role worked for many reasons. Extension officers were stationed in the regions where they were a part of the dairy community. They initiated programs and through the commitment to discussion groups, the South Australian dairy industry had access to the dairy programs that were being run in the eastern states.

In the late 1980's and early 1990's there was a decision to change the management of officers to a regional structure. Officers were managed in the region and the connections between other dairy staff were lost. The dairy officers in their field had their "dairyness" diluted.

In the mid 1990's the Department decided to move from program based extension to a "fee-for-service" agricultural advice. At this point the role of agricultural officers became one of monitoring and reporting to Government by industry officers. There was a greater focus on trying to reach the wider audience of farming communities.

Offering Federally funded packages that focus on education and planning for the future, this allowed the government to offer the same package to everyone; however it did detract from the ability to tailor the package to a specific audience. This also ended any "public service' to the dairy industry and other agricultural industries in South Australia. In the event of hardship, there was not the ability for the SA Government to offer assistance on the local system, unless there were packaged responses.

Following the departure of field officers meant that there was no reporting of dairy industry production, trends or activities of Government. The Livestock Industry Officers based in Adelaide had the role to be aware of the status of the industry. There was some reporting from the industry bodies and the manufacturers, but this means that the reporting is less accurate. It was and is very difficult to keep up to date from a distance. For accurate industry monitoring, the Department now has to rely on external sources.