Drawing on research and development expertise can help vegetable growers take advantage of opportunities and deal with challenges, especially when that expertise is local. At the Annual Vegetable Industry Seminar, five speakers – including AUSVEG National Manger – Engagement and Extension Zarmeen Hassan – discussed what this looks like in practice.

VegNET 3.0, the vegetable industry’s extension program, is a $14.1 million investment putting industry levies and government funding to work, explained Zarmeen Hassan, who leads the project delivered by AUSVEG and funded by Hort Innovation.

The program translates research and development into information that growers can use to improve their productivity, profitability, preparedness and competitiveness.

“That can only be done through collaboration across the entire chain, from researchers to growers to consultants and other stakeholders,” said Zarmeen.

Delivered through Hort Innovation, the program is divided in 10 regions, each of which has a regional development officer (RDO) who acts as a knowledge broker.

Regional extension advisory groups (REAGs) also engage with growers, checking whether programs are meeting their needs and feeding back information to inform plans, which are “revisited annually to ensure they stay up to date,” Zarmeen said. “We have the right people on the ground at the right places to provide insights into regional investment priorities.”

A national extension advisory group (NEAG), comprising growers, economists and extension experts, helps steer the program towards delivering practise change.

Across the teams, there is “enough expertise to build up the knowledge we can extend to growers for every priority we come across.”


Facilitating change for Sydney farmers

An example of VegNET 3.0 in action comes from Western Sydney. Many farmers here have been using the same practices for over 20 years, including using black plastic, says Kim Ngov from Going Fresh in Wedderburn, who has assisted with several VegNET activities.

Kim worked on a soil improvement project with New South Wales VegNET RDO Sylvia Jelinek.

“We did some soil samples and she introduced us to a new compost. The compost worked, but the farmers didn’t want to rip up the plastic every year. It was just more labour,” said Kim.

“Sylvia also introduced cover cropping, but that also interfered with the plastic. A main goal now is to get rid of that black plastic. It’s an ongoing discussion.”

As the local knowledge broker, Kim answers many questions from his community. “If I don’t have a solution, my main contact is Sylvia. With her around, we can work out a way to fix those problems,” said Kim.

Sylvia agreed a proactive, long-term approach is needed to create change. Drawing on consultations with the REAG as well as everyday conversations with growers helps to determine where to focus next.


Partnerships for success

Rob Arvier, founder of Tasmania’s West Pine Ag, was frustrated with trying to find information about frameworks for environmental compliance when he was put in contact with Tasmania’s VegNET RDO Ossie Lang.

“Ossie was able to outline the programs available to us,” Rob said.

“The key ones were EnviroVeg and AUSVEG’s biosecurity frameworks. That was a really good starting point and they helped us through that process.”

Ossie said he had been building partnerships around biosecurity best practise through AUSVEG and Tasmanian government agencies, which came together in his projects with Rob and other growers.

Rob said Ossie took a keen interest in their Future Farms Project (which is exploring production of bioenergy from waste crop residue) and got them invited to an innovation day.

“That was really good exposure for us. Ossie put us in contact with people who become valuable stakeholders in the project. It’s been really useful to have those local connections,” said Rob.


Find out more

The AVIS videos are available on the AUSVEG Youtube channel.

The Annual Vegetable Industry Seminar is a strategic levy investment under the Hort Innovation Vegetable Fund.

This project has been funded by Hort Innovation using the vegetable research and development levy and contributions from the Australian Government.

Project Number: VG21003