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"Clearing the fog from the window": A qualitative case study in viticultural extension

Nicki Marks1 and Jane Fisher2

1Nicki Marks Consulting, 18-20 Ash Grove, Malvern East, Victoria, 3145
Department of Natural Resources and Environment, Private Bag 15, Scoresby Mail Centre, Victoria, 3176


The return on research and development investment in the Victorian winegrape industry is largely dependent upon the level and rate of adoption of research results. This paper takes a marketing approach to qualitative evaluation of the Victorian viticultural extension program “Grapecheque”. The winegrape industry is noted for rapid adoption of new technology, and the qualitative evaluation process explained this in terms of “learning” learning style. The interview process identified the high value that Grapecheque participants put on the program, and future areas for development. The process was important to the facilitators, as they became aware of regional differences, and extension needs across groups. This led to the development of effective team building. The purchaser found the process important in selling future projects to the Department for investment.


“Grapecheque” is a Victorian State government funded extension program that began in July 1997. It was established for winegrape growers throughout the state of Victoria with the aim of bringing growers together to address common local issues. The emphasis is on best practice viticulture and developing sustainable businesses. It is a participative extension program, in which growers identify the knowledge they would like to acquire, and the facilitator organises an expert in the topic to address the group, using adult learning principles. The program was reviewed in 2000, at the end of the first funding round. The aim of this study is to describe the results of qualitative evaluation of the participants.

The future direction of Grapecheque needed to reflect participants’ needs. Qualitative research is an investigative process, designed to answer “why?” questions. A consultant was employed to ensure that the process was independent, unbiased and objective. The review examined how the growers and facilitators felt about the program, and identified the changes required for Grapecheque to meet participants needs. The process involved segmenting the market and identifying participant learning styles.

Conceptual approach

Adoption of new technology by Grapecheque participants was regarded as a two step process:

  • Step 1 — The decision to be involved in the Grapecheque program
  • Step 2 — The decision to adopt a new innovation.

Traditional marketing theory (Webster & Wind, 1972) was used to explain adoption. The model equates growers with buyers, and explains adoption in terms of the decision-making processes. This model can be used to facilitate adoption by presenting information in a way that meets grower learning styles. Grapecheque intended to use an understanding of the decision process in conjunction with market segmentation to develop strategies to get people to participate and to change their management practices.

Marketing is not selling. Marketing is identifying customers needs and satisfying them. Market research is the process of identifying these needs. Market research identifies and describes how the target audience feels and what they do in specific situations. For example in the Grapecheque program, the idea of sitting down in a group situation and asking the participants for their ideas on the program helped to tailor the program to participants’ changing needs. Therefore this methodology does not intend to prescribe how the research outcomes will be implemented.

Marketing strategy model

In order to develop an effective marketing mix — product, price, promotion and place (distribution) — the starting point is developing an understanding of buyer behaviour. If we think of a farm management tool as a product that extension staff are effectively trying to “sell” to growers, then marketing theory suggests using the marketing mix to “sell” the product (Figure 1). For example, if the product is crop forecasting, we need to identify which growers are most likely to use this technique. We also need to know how we get the message about crop forecasting across to the potential users (e.g. through discussion groups and meetings which are used as a means of both promoting and distributing the product) (Assael, 1987, Kotler, 1999).

Figure 1: Marketing strategy model (after Kotler, 1980).

Decision making model

The decision making model (Figure 2) includes five key steps, outlined as follows:

  • Identify the stimulus in the decision process. For example, what motivates or stimulates grower involvement in Grapecheque?
  • Identify the perceptions and beliefs that have impacted on the decision making process to both be involved in Grapecheque, and to adopt the information presented by Grapecheque.
  • Identify where information is gathered from to make a decision, and therefore who and what are potential key influences on the decision making process.
  • Determine the likely outcome of the process.

The final stage assumes action is taken, and evaluates the outcome of the decision and decides whether to continue the practice, do something else or revert to the original practice.

Figure 2: Decision making model (after Assael, 1987)

Learning styles

Research conducted in the grazing industries (CSIRO 1993a, 1995) showed that learning styles can be divided into a “trial and error” decision-making style or a “learning” decision style.

Table 1. Learning styles — trial and error

The “trial and error” decision style (Table 1) is classified as an awareness of a new product or practice and trial before developing an attitude to it. Research (CSIRO, 1993a, 1993b, 1995) indicated this is a slow way of learning as it is hard to make the link between the practice and the change. For example, a grazier that lambed on the 1st of September every year couldn’t understand why there was such a variation in the success of lambing practices from one year to the next.

This contrasts to a “learning” decision style where an attitude to the product is developed prior to trial, through reading about it, hearing about it or seeing it in action (Table 2).

Table 2. Learning styles — learning

Most croppers use the “learning” style as do a minority of graziers who have a good understanding of the system they operate (CSIRO, 1993a, 1995). This understanding of which type of learning style is being used is important when trying to influence adoption practices. The Grapecheque research would suggest the growers in the grape industry use a combination of both learning styles. This suggests that extension programs need to take into account the way growers learn as a means of ensuring successful adoption, on a practice by practice basis.

Adoption theory

Four key factors that effect adoption of farm management practices have been identified in the marketing literature (Rogers, 1983) and adapted to the grazing industries (CSIRO, 1993b and 1995; IWS, 1993). These are:

  • The relative advantage of the change in practice. For example is there a clear and measurable advantage in adopting a certain practice?
  • How complex is the practice? Or how compatible is it with existing management practices? The more complex the practice and the more changes that need to be made to existing practices, the less likely it is that growers will adopt it.
  • How easy is it to trial before adopting? That is, can trialling it on a small area of land minimize the risk of change?
  • Are the results observable and measurable? Results that can be seen lead to greater levels of satisfaction and a greater likelihood that growers will persist with the change in their practices.

Research methodology

The research methodology was based on the conceptual framework developed above. It consisted of two components: qualitative research with both DNRE extension staff involved in the program and with growers who participated in Grapecheque. A focus group format was chosen (Dillon et. al., 1990). This method is both subjective and non-random and relies on the skill of the researcher (acknowledging the inherent biases of the researcher) to analyse and interpret the findings. The method is designed to identify the number and range of issues that exist amongst the target population. An overview of these components and their desired outcomes is given in Table 3.

In depth interviews were also conducted with large corporate growers, lapsed Grapecheque growers and growers who have never been involved in Grapecheque, to explore the same issues from their perspective.

Qualitative research with growers

Four focus group discussions with growers were conducted in each of the regions in Victoria where wine grapes are grown, that is Port Phillip, Central Victoria and Northwest Victoria (Figure 3). The participants were selected and invited by the local Grapecheque facilitator. Participants were selected to represent a broad range of attitudes and enterprise mixes, including owners of large and small vineyards, contractors, people with tertiary qualifications in viticulture and those less than three years experience. Meetings were held in local venues such as golf clubs and restaurants, with the emphasis being on comfort and convenience for the growers.

Table 3. Research methodology



Target groups

Desired outcomes



Focus group

DNRE extension staff involved in facilitation of the Grapecheque program.

Determine staff perceptions of the Grapecheque program, what has worked, why and where to for the future.

Enlist staff support in extension strategies that result from the research



Focus groups

Growers with experience with the Grapecheque program

To identify drivers of attitudes and behaviour.

  • why growers decided to participate
  • why they decided to adopt
  • what their learning style was
  • what the facilitators needed to improve in the program.

Figure 3. The location of the grape growing regions of Victoria.

Table 4. Group by region, location and enterprise mix.




Enterprise Mix


Port Phillip

Yarra Valley, Bellarine & Mornington Peninsulas

Wine grape


Central Victoria


Wine grape




Wine grape




Table grape


Qualitative research with the Grapecheque team

The focus group discussion with the facilitators raised the following issues.

Satisfying the stakeholders and the growers

Extension staff were aware they had more than one client to satisfy. To ensure ongoing funding for Grapecheque they needed to set realistic objectives that fulfilled the needs of both growers and the purchaser (in this case DNRE). DNRE operates under the purchaser-provider model, which means the program needs to meet the purchaser’s requirement for accountability. Growers wanted new information, while the purchaser wanted to see practice change. The research was designed to address these issues.

“The growers in my area have very different needs to the growers in other areas”.

The wine grape growing regions of Victoria have diverse climates. The rapidly expanding nature of the industry meant extension staff were faced with a large demand for information that was climate specific. The composition of the group in each area decided the role that the facilitator needed to play. This made it hard to work as a team of facilitators, as the extension needs in each area were very localized. Through the qualitative research process, the facilitators became aware of the unique needs of each area and began to work together to provide information to the industry as a whole but regionally tailored. It helped the team establish common goals and focus on the outcomes, taking the focus off the people and putting it on the process. The challenge was the extra load placed on extension staff to find information that was specific to hot and cold climate grape growing conditions when this information wasn’t always readily available.

Facilitators’ issues

Facilitators were faced with the question: “Did they need technical competence in the grape industry or just to know where to go to get the information?”

Some Grapecheque staff felt extension had lost its way as a career, based on the perception that if you are any good, you get snapped up by the private sector. Do staff satisfy the needs of their farmer clients, their purchasers, their peers, their direct superiors or all of these groups? What happens when they have conflicting needs?

Qualitative research with grape growers

“Grapecheque is unique and timely for this industry.”

The grape growers in the focus group discussions raised the following issues:

The advantages of being involved in Grapecheque were:

1.1 Access to experts and the information they provide.

Growers were able to name the people who they heard talk and their area of expertise and start discussing the topics again based on what they had learnt.

“I want the best expert advice for my vineyard I can find.”

“Grapecheque is the best way for me to find out what R&D is being done in grapes.”

1.2 Access to grape industry research.

Grapecheque facilitators were perceived to have ready access to a whole wealth of knowledge through the research bodies that growers really can’t access. Through Grapecheque growers get access to all that information, helping them to stay in the loop and keep up to date with the latest management practices.

“The facilitators know who to talk to in the Research & Development Corporations. We growers wouldn’t have a clue.”

1.3 Small groups provide a safe environment to ask questions without looking like a fool.

There was a strong sense of comfort (particularly in Robinvale) with discussing issues in a safe and somewhat controlled environment. The feeling was that it was easier to ask questions without embarrassing oneself in a small group than a large one, obviously encouraging learning.

“I like working in small groups because everyone feels relaxed and gets a say.”

“Grapecheque has been like the fog cleared from the window for our group.”

1.4 Seeing how something works before trying it in their vineyard.

Growers picked up ideas from visiting other vineyards, as well as seeing a new practice operating in a vineyard. What a grower walks away with after a Grapecheque meeting may not even relate to the topic on the day but it can still improve the way they are operating (and they feel like they’ve got something for nothing which growers perceive as value from the program).

“My vineyard is unique, it varies from season to season and from one part to the next.”

“What works on one vineyard may not work on another vineyard.”

1.5 The learning styles used are very appropriate to growers’ needs, as opposed to TAFE (for example) which is run at night in a classroom.

Some growers felt Grapecheque was designed to facilitate adult learning. Therefore it is much more appropriate than trying to read about growing grapes in books, or doing a TAFE course

“It’s much harder to read this stuff in a book and then have the confidence to try it.”

Part of the desire to be involved in a program like Grapecheque, is that growers seek out information to help them make a decision. In looking at the learning sources growers’ use, it becomes apparent that the idea of learning styles discussed earlier is also very important. Growers have preferred information sources that reflect their ability to take that information and use it.

Expectations of the facilitator

Ideally the grower groups expected the facilitators to do the following:

  • Organise four regular meetings per year, around the vineyard’s timetable (but prior to the event).
  • Report back on other regional group activities so that everyone gets the benefits of what comes out of the different groups.
  • Continue with the small group concept because growers are more comfortable asking questions and expressing their opinion’s in a small group.
  • Follow the group’s direction in terms of issues to cover mixed with the issues that the facilitator sees as important.
  • Organise some meetings that include all the groups within a region, as well as group specific meetings.
  • Liaise with the wineries to develop joint extension activities.
  • Identify production based research opportunities and feed them back to the research and development corporations (See below).
  • Visit the research centres and find out what the latest research is and feed that back to growers.

The following table represents the learning process amongst viticulturists as a continuum and lists all the sources growers use to find information about programs like Grapecheque (as well as about their grape enterprise).

Table 5. The learning continuum (Source: CSIRO 1993a, 1995)

Decision making process

Trial and error



Information source

Own experience
Other growers
Seeing is believing

Chemical companies


Technical journals

Implications for adoption

Low ability to
take information
and translate it into
practice change

High ability
to take information and
translate it into
practice change

Practices promoted through the Grapecheque program discussed in the focus groups are listed in Table 6. They are categorized according to the adoption characteristics outlined in section 2 in an attempt to determine where marketing effort resources could be used to facilitate adoption.

Table 6. Categorization of crop forecasting and use of spray diaries by learning style.


Crop forecasting

Spray diary

Relative advantage

Has obvious benefits to growers

Benefits apparent after trial

Compatibility with existing practices

Not compatible – demands new skills



Difficult to


Simple – easy to conceptualize


Hard to see

Easy to visualise


Can trial but takes effort as requires new


Easy to trial

Learning Style


Trial and Error

Adoption figures (DNRE, 2001) of complex technology like crop forecasting suggest that Grapecheque growers use a learning decision making process, which explains why they are rapid adoptors of new technology.


From a theoretical view, grape growers used both learning and trial and error styles. The experience members had had outside the industry had an impact on their learning style as well as their ability to process information. The decision to participate in Grapecheque followed the decision making model outlined in section 2. In some cases this was made once and growers were then fairly committed to the program. In other cases, an ongoing evaluation was made of Grapecheque on a meeting by meeting basis to determine their level of involvement. The adoption theory can be used as a model when assessing the barriers to adoption and therefore the likely uptake of new technologies (e.g. irrigation, nutrition, crop monitoring). Marketing theory can then be applied to “get the message out” within the limitations of the resources available to the facilitators.

Post report evaluation with the purchaser

The purchaser viewed qualitative evaluation as giving an explanation about why the program had or had not been a success, demonstrating accountability and useful for formulating the next project. He saw evaluation as a team building exercise that focused facilitator attention on outcomes, not activities. Team members became involved in the process, and knew what was going on - so much so that they told him what was happening!

Establishing whether the program is a dud or a success is important in selling future projects to the Department for investment”.

Outcomes of the qualitative evaluation for the Grapecheque program

From a practical view, most of the recommendations of the qualitative study have been incorporated into Grapecheque mark 2. The focus groups were invaluable to the facilitators, in that the feedback reassured them that they were doing a good job, and were appreciated by industry. The process was a team building exercise.

Funding for the program is ongoing, and Grapecheque has been the model for the Department’s Horticultural Extension Program — HortEx, which includes Vegcheque, Fruitcheque and Grapecheque. Imitation is the sincerest form of flattery.

Critical reflection

The research was limited by the budget for the review, limiting in depth interviews with lapsed Grapecheque members or non-members to four. It would be necessary to speak to more non-members or past users of the program for a more representative picture of reasons for non-participation to be drawn.


  1. Assael H. (1987) Consumer Behaviour and Marketing Action, Kent, New York.
  2. CSIRO (1993a) Institute of Plant Production and Processing, A Qualitative Research Project into the Adoption of Pasture Research and The Market Potential for Grazfeed.
  3. CSIRO (1993b) A Background Paper On Client Needs and User Involvement for the Workshop on "Dryland Farming Systems for Catchment Care".
  4. CSIRO (1995) Business relationships between the DAH and key collaborators such as commercial partners, Government Departments and R&D Corporations.
  5. Department of Natural Resources and Environment (2001) Grapecheque Program Final Report, Victoria
  6. Dillon, W. R., Madden, T.J. & Firtle, N. H. (1990) Marketing Research in a Marketing Environment. Irwin.
  7. International Wool Secretariat (1993) The Market Potential for New Blowfly Control Practices.
  8. Kotler, P. (1980) Marketing. Prentice-Hall.
  9. Kotler, P. (1999) Marketing. Prentice-Hall.
  10. Rogers, E. (1983) Diffusion of Innovations, The Free Press, New York.
  11. Webster, F. E. and Wind, Y. (1972) Organizational Buying Behavior, Prentice-Hall, Englewood Cliffs, NJ.

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