Previous PageTable Of ContentsNext Page

Accredited training in agriculture: a refreshed approach to extension or just more exams?

Tim Neale1, Shaun Nolan1, Mike Lucy2

1 Department of Primary Industries, Farming Systems Institute, Dalby
Department of Primary Industries, Farming Systems Institute, Pittsworth


State government agricultural agencies have been grappling for over a decade with the problem of how to improve the efficiency of public sector extension services in an environment where there is:

  • Reduced staff numbers and funding support for extension services; and
  • Increasingly greater demand for agronomic and technical support for primary producers.

Improved extension techniques are often promoted as the solution to this problem, but often fail to deliver real outcomes across the whole of the industry. Accreditation courses for private sector agronomists integrates many of the extension techniques into one overall package, and the early indications are that it is delivering major outcomes across specific industries being targeted.

The accredited training approach we have taken is all about:

  • Imbedding more learning into performance fast enough to have real impact on the overall industry. The process concentrates on ‘getting more learning into the performance process’ rather than many traditional action learning approaches that concentrate on ‘getting more performance into the learning process’;
  • Concentrating on upgrading the skills and training of private sector agronomists, with a flow-on, multiplier effect to growers; and
  • Taking a long-term approach to ‘action learning’ with a support network for further skills training and agronomic support for trained agronomists

Key words

Accredited training, industry outcomes, agronomists.

Training — what is it?

‘Training’ has been around for ages, but the way we are doing it has not. The dictionary definition of training, “To make proficient by instruction and practice” describes very well the approach we have taken. So what’s different? Isn’t this just another form of action learning?

The key concepts of training can be derived from the definition; proficiency, instruction and practice.

  • Proficiency describes someone’s ability and skills. This needs to be measured against some specified criteria, not assumed;
  • Instruction is a key component of training, as this helps develop understanding, knowledge and hopefully instils aspirations to change practice;
  • Practice implies demonstration and refinement of skills and abilities, which is also a key component; and
  • Practice change may not be the overall goal of training however, but to enhance participants’ knowledge, understanding and skills. We hope for change practice, but to what? Industry best practice was our practice change goal in the examples reported on in this paper.

Recent history of training in Australia

During the 1980’s, Australia began to lose its competitive edge. One area that was identified was skills and training, especially in the vocational sector. This led to the National Training Agenda and the NFROT principles (National Framework for the Recognition Of Training) to ensure national consistency of training delivery. These include:

1. Identification of a training need

2. Course requirements appropriate to the requirements of the particular credential

3. Competency-based training

4. Multiple entry and exit

5. Flexible learning

6. Articulation

7. Customisation of courses

8. Promote access and participation

9. Appropriate assessment

10. Ongoing monitoring and evaluation

Industry bodies then take this to the next level, and have derived competency standards for varying levels. A range of national competencies for agriculture and horticulture has been developed as a result. The delivery of these mechanisms is completed through Registered Training Organisations, RTO’s (such as TAFE, Ag Colleges, etc).

The training needs of the participant are identified prior to the activity, thus determining the level and extent of training. This may come from intuition, self or external identification, or other mean such as strategic planning. This also allows for the delivery of content to the clients’ needs, from the customised courses, multiple entry and exit and articulation.

Competency based assessment is a measure of performance against a standard rather than a rank of candidates from highest to lowest. It is primarily based on what the candidate can do, which requires an application of skills and knowledge. One subtle difference between this type of delivery and Action Learning principles is that training requires demonstration of the application against pre-set standards. This sounds daunting and rigid, however it provides a more watertight means of measuring participants development. This is also provides firm evidence for evaluation of skill, knowledge and practice change. Assessment does not necessarily mean an exam or demonstration in front of a line of examiners. Our approach has been to be non-threatening using methods more suitable to the trainee, and their work environment.

Many previous extension activities have focussed on one off events – with little follow-up or examination of impact. If delivery of these events failed to meet participants needs, time was wasted and participants failed to gain much. Organisations such as Government Departments, with the majority of work now in projects with the assistance of out-side funding, cannot afford the time and effort spent in preparing these types of activities in today’s economic or social climate.

Another issue with regards to vocational training in Australia is that trainers and assessors need appropriate qualifications in the form of a Cert. IV in workplace training and assessment. This value adds to the training activities by giving trainers skills in appropriate delivery, questioning, and assessment techniques. Agricultural extension has never had this requirement before in terms of process and delivery skills.

Training, if completed, gives participants a level of qualification, which again is nationally recognised. Although some of the participants may not see this as important (as many of the producers don’t) it provides a means to an end. With the ever-increasing number of activities provided on a daily basis to rural clients, a more efficient and purposeful delivery mechanism such as this provides a useful means of information and skill gathering.

Our recent experiences in training

Over the past 12 months the Queensland Department of Primary Industries has forged a contract with an RTO (the Dalby Agricultural College) to delivery accredited training to rural clients, with funding sourced from the Department of Employment and Training. In many previous instances, much of the funding has been directed at the TAFE sector, in areas such as metalworking and hairdressing as an example. Only recently has there been a much stronger push to other industries such as Agriculture and Horticulture. This has opened new opportunities in the way we deliver agricultural information and develop skills in rural communities. It also provided resources in terms of funding to complete many activities that may never have occurred.

Client needs analysis and planning identified a number of areas that we eventually decided to deliver the training in, which included:

  • Occupational Health and Safety for cropping farms;
  • Best practice mungbean management for agronomists;
  • Best practice chickpea management for agronomists;
  • Grain storage for profit; and
  • Controlled Traffic Farming.

All of these ‘courses’ use the existing national competency standards as a framework for development and delivery. In this paper we have concentrated primarily on the Best practice courses as these have drawn the most significant interest.

Best practice courses

‘Agronomists’ is a rather generic term for personnel involved in agricultural industries who deliver information and advice relating to crop production to farmers. In many instances agronomists are trained at a tertiary level. In some cases however, poor understanding exists of specific crop management issues. Although pulses (such as mungbean and chickpea) have been grown in the northern cereal regions of Australia for around 25 years, there has been a relatively recent expansion of their place in rotations. An expansion in the number of agronomists is also a relatively recent trend, taking over the roles traditionally practiced by government extension agronomists or district advisers, to a point now where there are well over 250 private agronomists servicing broadacre farmers in Queensland. These issues combined led to the realisation these agronomists are now the major providers of day to day management information to the industry.

As new research and advancement occurs in these industries, so does the need to disseminate this information. This is most likely to be more important today then ever before due to the change to a consumer focus and the ‘triple bottom line’ of economic, social and environmental sustainability. Demand for the workshops has been high. The initial mungbean series was restricted to 60 participants (or 2 courses) in 2000. There were over 120 registrations. The chickpea workshops drew similar numbers, where we delivered to 100 agronomists in May 2001, (3 workshops). If each agronomist services approximately 20 farmers, then a course such as chickpeas impacts over 2000 growers. The next round of mungbean workshops planned for later in 2001 already has over 150 nominations. This demonstrates how important the industry and agronomy sectors have viewed this approach.

The format of the workshops is to deliver a 2-day workshop, covering the main areas of crop management. The main areas were identified by a consultative group as key issues in crop management that need specific attention. A very comprehensive resource manual covering areas from paddock selection to marketing assists this.

Following the 2-day workshop, participants are asked to monitor 2 crops for the duration of the growing season to:

  • Strengthen knowledge gained in the workshop;
  • Develop skills in identifying crop health factors;
  • Provide information to growers about arising issues and planning to combat these;
  • Ensure all critical areas of management are considered;
  • Evaluate treatment programs;
  • Evaluate overall crop management; and ultimately
  • Provide a non-threatening form of assessment.

Evaluations and comments have been very favourable about the training.

“I pushed my grower all the way through the season on the key factors of mungbean management, until he was tired of me. But, it payed off, and he received top grade for the beans, which he had never made before”

Other benefits of the training have included:

  • Identification of other areas of training need;
  • An almost immediate industry adoption of new techniques only recently researched. For example, more efficient insect sampling methods have been accepted by industry, along with associated spray thresholds. This has increased Integrated Pest Management adoption, enhancing sustainability;
  • A compilation of a the most comprehensive agronomic resource package ever derived for the industry;
  • Capturing of key research and extension information about the crop that may have been ‘lost’ with staff retirements;
  • Delivery of key information in areas outside traditional growing areas. The demand has drawn key research and extension staff to deliver in new industry growth areas, for example Central Queensland. This would not have occurred as soon if this process were not in place;
  • Greater sharing of information between agronomic firms, benefiting the industry;
  • A long-term approach to industry development by providing support networks; and
  • Greater economic returns for growers as a result of more reliable production and a higher quality end product.


In conclusion, we believe that our results demonstrate that this approach will be a model for delivery of extension activities in the future. By fine-tuning the accredited training approach and providing long-term support, extension can again provide quality, timely information as a reasonable price, matched to action learning principles and good extension techniques.


  1. Certificate IV Workplace Training resource manual, 2000.

Previous PageTop Of PageNext Page