The new boss at Bragato has long been “a closet science geek”.
“Modern extension programmes recognise the importance of a two-way transfer of knowledge between scientists and primary producers,” he says in a recently completed report on the motivations and dissemination of science and research in the New Zealand wine industry.
The report, produced as part of a Masters of Business Administration (MBA) through Otago University, investigates the current pathways between research and practice in New Zealand’s wine industry, and develops an extension strategy for the Bragato Research Institute (BRI). “The overall strategy offers a framework and tactics that aim to firmly embed BRI as a grower led organisation, working alongside industry in the field and winery, supporting the generation and transfer of knowledge and enhancing the value of New Zealand’s wine industry,” says Len in his executive summary.
The strategy is split into two phases, with the first looking to enhance BRI’s extension programme, under its resources, while phase two ramps up the exchange, with a BRI-led applied science programme, to “generate information to benefit industry, inform future research projects and enhance BRI’s direct relationship with growers and winemakers”. He says the combination of a structured extension programme and applied science programme would result in “a synergistic effect, boosting BRI’s capability and reputation as a research and extension organisation”. The BRI board was compelled by the report and its conclusions, and opted to immediately steer towards phase two, with the employment of two extra staff to enable the strategy, says Len.
His report describes a change from the classic top-down and linear approach to primary production research, where extension agents (extensionists) act as a conduit from agricultural scientists to producers. Interviews with extensionists in other primary industries, in New Zealand and abroad, and with grape growers in this country, reveal the value of “informal (social and experiential) learning pathways for knowledge diffusion”, he says. “It is the role of extensionists to shape extension programmes to facilitate knowledge transfer, improve alignment between research and industry objectives and improve the uptake of research outputs.”
Len says extension is “critical” for ensuring a good return on science investment “and for supporting uptake of new knowledge and behaviour change”. That’s even more important as the environmental impacts of primary production come under the spotlight, with new technologies and research key to mitigating those impacts.
He asked grape growers what motivates them to seek out new knowledge, in order to understand how they prefer to receive new information and find out how they share knowledge with others. Len says New Zealand’s growers are typically “very collaborative and normally willing to share knowledge with other growers and researchers”. They often seek advice from other growers before adopting a new practice, product or technology. “Experiential, social and formal learning are all important pathways for New Zealand’s grape growers seeking to acquire new vineyard management knowledge,” he says. “However, growers are time poor and want information to be easy to access and shared in a way in which the key points are easily recognisable.”
Len’s study found that extensionists and growers value face to face interactions at industry events, with the social networking as important as the formal transfer of knowledge. However, he also found that there was little formal coordination between the individuals and agencies that contribute to “the wine industry’s knowledge transfer ecosystem”. There can often be poor alignment between the objectives of science providers and primary sector practitioners in New Zealand and “extension is the process that can bridge this gap”, he says. “The research undertaken for this report suggests there is a significant opportunity for BRI to take a leadership role for viticulture extension in New Zealand.”