Structure & Development of Extension Services

The structure and development of extensions services in South Australia

Agricultural extension work in South Australia is almost exclusively a function of the Department of Agriculture.  Others, of course, contribute.  The staff of the Waite Institute and CSIRO occasionally appear before the farming community, but in all cases this is by special invitation to address meetings on some special subject.  There is for them no organised or continuing programme.

The stock firms also provide service with some of the general characters of extension.  Agricultural Chemical firms work similarly, and Fertilizer Sales Ltd. maintain a limited staff of "extension officers".

One, of course, cannot exclude the organisations controlling certain media for mass communication, particularly the weekly agricultural press and the radio stations, especially A.B.C. Each of these maintain a staff of agricultural reporters who set not only on their own initiatives, but also in very close liaison with the Department of Agriculture through the Division of Extension Services and Information.

History of development of extension work in SA

The organisation of Extension Work in SA has grown largely out of self help and was started in the 1880s by two organisations. First the foundation of Roseworthy College, and almost at the same time came the foundation of the Agricultural Bureau.

Roseworthy College struck quick success with superphosphate and by 1900 its use throughout SA was being actively promoted by Professor Lowrie.

The Central Agricultural Bureau, with Molineaux as Secretary, and consisting of a small body of leading agriculturalists, set itself the task of finding suitable agricultural plants for the rapidly developing agriculture. Almost anything that grew elsewhere was worth a try, and the early records of this body provide most interesting reading.  Out of this Central Agricultural Bureau grew the present Agricultural Bureau organisation and its controlling body - the Advisory Board of Agriculture.

In the first decade of the present century a horticulturist (Quinn), a viticulturist (Perkins) and a poultryman (Laurie) were appointed to the staff of the Department of Lands. Roseworthy College carried the cereal interest.  A Department of Agriculture with functions separate from the Department of Lands was set up in 1907.  The late A.E.V. Richardson was a very early member of the staff for a short period.

Emphasis early in the piece was given to the development of experimental farms in all parts of the State, vis. Kybybolite, Minnipa, Turretfield, Berri, Blackwood, Keith, Booborowie, Melrose, Hammond and perhaps some others.

These farms contributed much to the early development of SA agriculture, but they met political difficulties in the depression of the early thirties when only Kybybolite, Berri and Blackwood survived in their original form. Turretfield was given over to the production of seed wheat, and for a time Minnipa was sharefarmed.

Fortunately, for SA both Minnipa and Turretfield were later reinstated to their Research function, and new centres have been opened at Parndana on Kangaroo Island, Wanbi, Nuriootpa and Loxton. South Australia has traditionally carried a very strong interest in horticulture and viticulture from earliest times.

Roseworthy College has operated continuously, and its main contribution to agriculture, apart from the supply of Diploma Holders, has undoubtedly been through cereal breeding.

One of the things that accounts for the character of the SA Department of Agriculture is the existence of the Waite Institute - established about 1925. Government in supporting the Waite has taken the view quite strongly at times that any research for agriculture should be done there rather than in the Department of Agriculture. This set the Department back for many years, but more recently the need for field stations and applied research has been recognised, and a quite substantial research staff is now attached to most branches in the Department of Agriculture.

Technically, the Department of Agriculture was quite week in numbers until after the second World War. The increase in the last 12 years has been spectacular.

The first move towards the development of a decentralised extension service came from 1924–1926, when 8 District Agricultural Advisers and four District Dairy Advisers were appointed. These men advised in the broad filed of agriculture without specialisation except that which was dictated by the district in which they worked. They were for all practical purposed cast in the mould of the Country agent as were now know him, except that specialist backing was then quite limited too.

By 1940 there were still only 45 technical officers in the Department, but by this time District Advisers were attached also to the Horticulture Branch. Livestock specialist have also been added to the Department, and in the late 1940s the Stock and Brands Department, which had previously operated in the field of Animal Health, was amalgamated with the Department of Agriculture.

Motivated bu serious wind and water erosion troubles throughout the State, a Soil Conservation Branch developed also in the 40s.

So that by 1950 the Department of Agriculture consisted of a Director of Agriculture and 7 branches - Agriculture, Horticulture, Dairy, Soils, Animal Health, Animal Husbandry and Poultry. Poultry has since been added to Animal Husbandry.

From 1948–1955 there was tremendous expansion in technical staff.  Numbers grew from about 50 in 1948 to almost 200 by 1955.

This expansion brought its problems. The proportion on inexperienced staff to seniors was too great. The administrative machinery was also inadequate to cope with the new situation. There was also the unsettling influence of a new race of agricultural extension workers with University training as distance from diploma holders.

The problem of classifying technical staff into Extension officers and otherwise, has been foreseen by the Organising Committee.

Within South Australia, extension, research and regulatory duties are so inextricably interwoven that, irrespective of classification and title, it is impossible to sort them out as applying to officers in general. Some are essentially extension officers, others spend most time on research, whilst a third group is largely involved in regulatory duties. Most, however, have some part in all three functions.

There can be argument about the wisdom or otherwise of such an arrangement. It must be remembered, however, that our Department is still relatively small and for reasons of efficiency, duties is possible, whatever there nature, must be performed by the man on the spot. If such an arrangement be "evil" we are forced to accept it is necessary, but there are contenders in our service who recognise it is even being desirable. Certain branches claim that their regulatory functions, conducted in the modern way (public relations to the fore) provide points of contact that would otherwise be difficult or impossible.


In 1952 the Department was reorganised into Division recognising four major groups of activity:

  1. Animal Industry
  2. Plant Industry
  3. Extension Information
  4. Secretarial.

This was a major undertaking that took some time to settle down. Before it was finally settled there were many direct an consequential moves of staff who had to become accustomed to new jobs and new procedures.

An outline of the structure is as follows:


  • Division of Animal Industry
    • Animal Husbandry
    • Animal Health
    • Dairy Agriculture
  • Division of Plant Industry
    • Soils
    • Horticulture
  • Division of Extension Services and Information
    • Group Media
  • Secretary
    • Accountant Chief Clerk

The interesting part of this experiment, both from the point of view of the Department and outside, was the creation of the Division of Extension Services and Information which was an entirely new development for South Australia.

The new division was to manage the general strategy for Departmental Extension Work. It was to train staff for their extension function and to administer directly the Library, the Journal of Agriculture, press work and radio work.

In-service training schools in Extension Methods have been conducted regularly since 1952. Each year (expecting one) a group of about 30 extension officers have spent up to a fortnight in residence at Roseworthy College.

The courses have covered the principles of Social Psychology and Sociology as they apply to Agricultural Extension work, and practical training has been given in Radio, Press, Public Speaking and the various methods used by Extension workers.

The effect of these courses has been quite spectacular when viewed in the light of improved standards of performance of Departmental officers.

Over the years, too, the Journal of Agriculture has substantially changed its format. It has been clearly established as a Journal for farmers, and all changes have been introduced with the idea of improving readability and the attractiveness of the layout.

All Bureau members get the Journal free, but there is also a substantial list of subscribers which is increasing rapidly. Present circulation is something over 13,000.

Radio talks which are given regularly over State and regional stations of the A.B.C. and one Commercial Radio Station, have also a very good following. Television is also used when the opportunity presents itself - mainly as new flashes.

One of the major activities of Extension Division has been toward the development of co-ordinated extension programmes, using the various methods in their appropriate place. This has also been its most difficult task. There is a very strong feeling amongst extension workers that they must do things their own way, and there is of course, some justification for this. Nobody works well with a medium they neither like nor can use well.

This accounts for a tremendous preponderance of time given to farm visiting - perhaps the most effective method, but certainly not the most efficient for all things when extension workers are thinly spread and there is not sufficient time to go round.

Farm management

Another development of recent years - also within the Division of Extension Services and Information has been the Farm Management Advisory Service. At present this consists of two economists and two clerks working in conjunction with all district advisers.

The economics and their clerical staff analyse farm records to pinpoint problems in Farm Management,

The District Adviser uses this information to work with a few selected farmers, so that he might learn something of the managerial problems of farms in his District. The farmer of course gains substantially in the process, but because of the time and personnel required, it would be impossible to provide such a service to all farmers.

At this time when it is obvious that the major problems of farmers are managerial, it is vitally necessary that extension advise be given in a management framework. For most states, and certainly for South Australia, where district advisers have become more and more specialised, this is an almost insuperable task. The specialist adviser has great difficulty in being general enough to fit the ball.

Experience has shown, however, that all advisers who have worked on a few farms in this way are much better equipped to work with all other farmers in his district. To develop this sort of understanding is the prime objective of the Farm Management Advisory Service as it is operating in SA.

Farm management guide

Related to the Farm Management Advisory Services is the present interest in Farm Management Clubs.

One only is at present operating, but interest is developing at five other Centres.

The Department sees no threat from such a development. We believe they may be a useful and complementary activity to existing services. Much, however, depends upon the way they develop. If they develop with idea of being complementary to existing Departmental Services, there is every prospect of success. There can be no grounds for the suggestion that farmers, by forming themselves into Clubs, are providing something better than the Department can give. We believe that it is not a question of being better or worse, but something different. With this in mind the SA Department is quite interested in the move. Time alone will produce the answer to many questions that are being asked.


SA favours, and where possible develops a decentralised form of extension with a number of specialist extension officers working from one centre - sometimes also a Research Centre, but more usually a business centre in the area.

A central office is maintained at most centres, but administratively each officer is controlled through his branch head in Adelaide. Co-ordination of activities is encouraged and developed through frequent contact between the men themselves and periodic group meeting when necessary.

The Senior Officer of the group is officially recognised as group leader for this purpose, but receives no special recognition for the duties involved.

Regional groups of this kind operated from Nuriootpa, Jamestown, Pt Lincoln, Cleve, Minnipa, Murray Bridge, Keith, Naracoorte, Mt Gambier and Loxton. Quite a few officers work singly at other centres where necessary. For our purposes, again recognising size of the Department and area covered, such arrangement works satisfactorily enough.

All officers maintain regular contact with specialist research officers attached to Head Office or in some cases to Research Centres.

Apart from co-ordinating visits by officers from Extension Division, supervision of each officer working at a Regional Centre is the responsibility of the Head of the Branch or more particularly the Senior Adviser in the Branch concerned.

Research-extension liaison

This of course is always a problem that seems to increase with size. SA has the Waite Institute, numerous Division of CSIRO and the Institute of Medical and Veterinary Science. It also has effective branches of AISA, AVA and an Animal Production Society. Through these, plus relative freedom for Interstate exchange visits and the personal contract that is possible in a relatively small community, liaison works quite effectively.

Whilst recognising the need for CSIRO to have a public front and report to the public, there are some who are still concerned about what are considered as unwarranted intrusions into the Extension field by that Organisation. The improvement in this respect in recent years has been tremendous, and it appears that we are now on the threshold of an understanding that cannot be advantageous to both parties.


The Department of Agriculture conducts a very effective Library service, not only for its officers, but through an exchange system with other similar libraries, it provides a service to all.

The super abundance of text books now appearing on the market, makes the maintenance of a complete library impossible. Our emphasis is upon original sources, and selected text books only are purchased.

Through the Commonwealth Extension Grant it has also been made possible to develop a series of standard references appropriate to the needs of extension officers working from Country or Regional Centres.

Liaison with industry groups

Particularly in certain sections, notably Horticulture and Animal branches, the Department maintains a very close working relationship with the various Industry Groups.

Technical information and discussion is provided where ever appropriate, care being taken to avoid political embarrassment. This is not always possible, but the few breakdowns that do occur appear to be more that counterbalanced bu the mutually advantageous situations that arise.

Special attention should perhaps be focused on working arrangements with the Metropolitan Milk Board, which is responsible for supply and marketing of whole milk within the city of Adelaide.

Because of rapidly expanding demand the area from which "City Milk" is drawn is extending all the time. Regulations operated by the Board and supervised by its officers has had the effect of "squeezing" the Departmental Dairy officers from some areas.

This means that the Departmental interest in Dairying is being concentrated on Butter and Cheese and its manufacture in areas that are naturally becoming smaller and smaller.

The extension system and use of mass methods

SA strongly recognises that Extension is in itself a social system requiring for its success a thorough understanding of subject matter, methods and the social and economic character of the people concerned. It is though that the major deficiency of this time is the lack of understanding of the human aspect of the task. This is brought about by the lack of knowledge of the basic elements of social psychology and sociology, and particularly specific knowledge on these matters for Australian rural communities. The problem will persist until such time as specialised study in this field is considered essential for extension workers. Much can be done with in-service training, but more specialised research in this field seems equally essential.

We believe that well founded Extension Service will use all the media for mass and group communication, and vary the tool according to the state of understanding of the person or persons being educated.

It goes almost without saying that the modern means of mass communications - press, radio and television - offer great things for extension services. What can be achieved by the use of mass media should never be attempted by the more expansive method of farm visiting. Extension programming in the SA Department of Agriculture aims to give effect to this. Because of the deep rooted faith of extension workers in the farm visit as the multi purpose and most successful method, we are only partially successful.

As stated previously the SA Department of Agriculture produces a Monthly Journal of Agriculture. We also produce press bulletins, covering about five subjects each of two days a week. These are well received and accepted by city and country press, and seldom are our releases modified by editors. The secret of success seems to be to learn what editors require and produce it.

Radio and television have already been referred to.

The first steps toward developing films especially adapted to our purpose have also been taken and two films vis. Gummosis and Cape Tulip have now been completed. Others are on the way.

Except by special arrangement with the Agricultural press, no attempt is made to produce the longer article required bu the weekly agricultural papers. We provide all the help required by staff reporters, and in this way ensure (if such is necessary) the continuity of employment for agricultural reporters employed by the various papers. This provides a valuable supplementary force to that employed by Government Organisations and is for the betterment of all concerned.

Group media

Apart from the associations which the Department has with industry groups already referred to the SA Department is singularly fortunate in having attached to it the Mens Agricultural Bureau, the Womens Agricultural Bureau and the Rural Youth Movement (both seniors and juniors).

Each of these organisations is controlled bu a "Council" in one instance elected (WAB) and in the other appointed  (AB and RYM). The department is represented on each of Governing body is drawn from the movement. In the case of RY a state committee, sitting immediately beneath the Council and reporting to it, is fully representative of the movement and consists entirely of its members.

In each case the Department of Agriculture provides organisational and technical staff, and in this way is able to ensure the development of each body along the most productive lines for adult education in Agriculture. Social and service functions for each organisation are also recognised, particularly in WAB and RYM.

Each organisation is expected to develop on the self help basis, with the Department providing specialised technical help where necessary.

Through these organisations the Department has direct contact with some 13,700 persons in 404 separately organised groups, which constitutes a very fair coverage of the 25,000 odd farms in SA. Specific figures are as follows:

  • Agricultural bureau: 7,600 members in 230 branches.
  • Women's Agricultural Bureau: 2,400 members in 74 branches.
  • Rural Youth Movement: 3,500 members in 100 clubs.

With the scatter of branches that exist throughout the state, it is possible to discuss problems of importance to agriculture with a non-political no sectarian group at very short notice - a group whose primary purpose for existence is agricultural education. The advantage to be gained from such a set up will be well recognised.

A quick assessment of the use of group media by the Department for the year ending June 30, 1962, was as follows:

  • Agricultural Bureau Meetings: 801 with average attendance around 20.
  • General field day: 174 with average attendance around 100.
  • Hogget competition: 23 with average attendance around 100.
  • Carcase competition: 4 with average attendance around 100.

District Regional Meetings

  • Mens Agricultural Bureau: 22 with average attendance about 91.
  • Womens Agricultural Bureau: 11 with average attendance about 110
  • Rural Youth: 23 with average attendance about 140.


  • Beef cattle: 1 with average attendance about 20.
  • Sheep management: 1 with average attendance about 25.
  • Soils: 2 with average attendance about 30.
  • Weeds: 3 with average attendance about 25.
  • Farm management: 3 with average attendance about 35.
  • Crutching: 5 with average attendance about 12.
  • Sheering shed management: 7 with average attendance about 12.
  • Agriculture for women: 2 with average attendance about 30.
Page Last Reviewed: 20 Nov 2017
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