A key milestone requirement of the National Vegetable Extension Network project (aka the VegNET project) is to conduct an annual survey with vegetable growers.
Growers have generously given up their time over the last three months to participate, providing valuable insight into on-farm practices, educational background, opinions on risks to farm sustainability, and barriers to adopting on-farm practice change. Here is a sneak peak of the preliminary survey results…
Twenty-nine (29) growers have completed the survey to date; almost all of these were completed face-to-face with the grower, on-farm. One (1) survey was conducted over the phone, two (2) have been completed online. The combined area of respondents farm area is 6,360 hectares.
The majority of growers identified as being male (82%) and between 41-50 years of age (41%). Twenty percent identified as being between the ages of 31-40 years of age, 20% identified as being 51 years or older, and 17% identified as being 30 years of age or under.
More than 50% of growers indicated that their highest level of education was a Trade or Technical/Vocational training (such as a Certificate or Diploma); almost 45% indicated completion of Year 12, with 15% of these indicating that they had additionally attained higher tertiary qualifications (a Bachelor degree or Masters).
FARMING EXPERIENCE, KNOWLEDGE & SKILLS: More than two thirds of growers surveyed demonstrated more than 20 years of farming experience. It will come as no surprise that the majority of growers indicated that they gain their knowledge and skills through learning by doing. Other sources of knowledge and skills identified were:
- other farmers (usually family members), and
- agricultural extension activities (non-commercial extension such as workshops and field days).
Surprisingly, only a fifth of respondents indicated using commercial on-farm adviser services.
ON-FARM PRACTICES: Growers were asked to select as many of the following on-farm practices that they implement on farm:
- seasonal crop rotation
- regular soil and leaf testing for nutrition budgeting
- cover cropping
- inter-row cover management
- manual calibration of spray equipment
- use of composts and other soil amendments, and
- participate in field days.
The responses are extremely positive with the majority of growers implementing multiple practices.
In terms of irrigation practices, 50% of growers surveyed use trickle tape/drip irrigation with a further 25% using micro-sprinklers; only one respondent selected surface or furrow irrigation as their main irrigation type.
When asked to score the efficiency of their irrigation system and practices on a scale of 1-5 (1 = Inefficient, 5 = Very Efficient), the total average score was 4. Four growers scored their irrigation as a 2 or less, citing high electricity use and prices, labour intensity, and age of the irrigation infrastructure as the main reasons for the low score.
More than half of the respondents scored their irrigation system and practices as a 5, citing factors such as reduced water losses due to evaporation or wind, reduced volumes of water use, and ease of operation as reasons for a high score. Here are some responses:
“System uses a quarter of the amount of water. It delivers the water direct to the root zone. After the initial set-up, its easy to operate. Also, not losing water in windy weather, and can irrigate everything in one day.”
“Water is placed exactly where it is needed. The inter-row is not watered which is good because you don’t want the water to go to the inter-row. No losses from wind or evaporation.”
Nearly 40% of growers surveyed indicated that they intended to undertake major infrastructure changes to their irrigation system in the next 12 months. The types of changes that growers intend to make include:
- automated and remote management of irrigation system (by smart phone)
- monitoring devices such as Enviroscan
- transition to solar power
- filters on pumps to reduce blockages
- install trickle/drip, and
- variable speed bore pumps.
BARRIERS TO ADOPTION: A strong majority of growers advised that financial constraints were a significant barrier preventing or slowing implementation of changes to current practices/infrastructure.
Other barriers cited were:
- farm layout and topography
- not knowing what improvements could be made
- information overload
- technology not available yet
- difficulty finding the right equipment to do the job properly.
RESEARCH & DEVELOPMENT TOPICS: Growers were asked to identify R&D topics that they were most interested in receiving further information on. The most popular topics were Pest and Disease, Soil Health, Biosecurity and Marketing/Supply Chain.
RISKS TO SUSTAINABILITY: Factors identified by growers as being a risk that could impact on farming as a whole, in the future, include:
- electricity, water and fuel prices – constantly on the increase and cost prohibitive
- administrative burden – too much paperwork
- labour issues – availability, managing staff, training requirements, visa limitations
- a changed rural landscape and other impacts of mono-cultures – Avocados, Macadamias – pest/disease issues, for example
- climate change, drought, catastrophic weather events
- access to water, and possible water restrictions for environmental flows
- mining – specifically Adani and Blue Energy Gas
- water quality, salinity
- low commodity prices, and increasingly slim profit margins.
Finally, 100% of respondents indicated that they would like to go in the draw to win a $300 gift voucher to spend at Eric Lye Menswear, as a token of thanks from BFVG for participating in the survey. It’s not too late to do the survey and go into the draw!
Survey responses are being collected until mid-October – here’s the link.
Source and Acknowledgements: Written by Michelle Haase, VegNET Industry Development Officer, Bundaberg Fruit & Vegetable Growers (BFVG). VegNET is funded by Hort Innovation with Vegetable grower levies and funding from the Australian Government.