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Integrated crop management and technology
transfer in the New South Wales rice industry:
the Australian Ricecheck model

W.S. Clampett

NSW Agriculture, PO Box 1087, Griffith, New South Wales 2680, Australia


In the early 1980s the rice industry in New South Wales (NSW), Australia, critically evaluated the efficiency and effectiveness of its production, processing and marketing structures and institutional arrangements. At the same time it reviewed its efficiency and productivity at the farm level and the return on its investments in research and development.

An examination of yields over the previous 20 years indicated little if any improvement in yields - they had in fact reached a plateau. The research and development investment was at best maintaining the status quo. There was dissatisfaction with this situation within the industry and within the rice research and development team of NSW Agriculture, the main government agency providing research and extension services to the industry.

Since that time average yields have increased by over 30 percent. In terms of the current NSW rice crop of 183 000 hectares (ha), this increase equates to at least an extra 500 000 tonnes of paddy production, valued at the farm gate at an extra $A90 million gross return to the rice growers.

This increase in yields, productivity and profitability can be attributed to new varieties and improved rice-growing practices and management at the farm level. The skilful integration of the many components of the rice production system by the rice farmer has played a key role in achieving these on-farm improvements.

This paper discusses the development and operation of the rice extension programmes, within the framework of the Australian Ricecheck model, that have facilitated the adoption of new rice varieties and the improvement of on-farm management practices resulting in yield, productivity and efficiency improvements.


In 1985 a review of productivity, potential yields, the adoption of technology, and problems and future priorities for research and extension showed that rice yields of the mainstream medium variety Calrose had changed very little over the previous 15-20 years (Clampett, 1985). Calrose is a tall-strawed medium-grain variety from California and was the most widely grown rice variety from the 1960s to the early 1980s. In the period from 1980 to 1984 it accounted for 60-77 percent of total production.

The yield distribution data for Calrose crops in the 1981/82 season showed a wide yield variation between individual rice farms. For example, 1 343 rice farms in the Murray Valley region had an average yield of 6.8 tonnes/ha (Figure 1). In broad terms the highest-yielding 10 percent of rice farms (more than 9 tonnes/ha) were achieving yields double those of the lowest-yielding 10 percent of rice farms (less than 5.25 tonnes/ha). The highest-yielding 25 percent of farms were achieving yields some 50-60 percent higher than those of the lowest 25 percent of farms.

The plateau in yields and the wide yield variation between rice crops in the same season raised a number of questions.

Why were there these large differences between the yields of crops with essentially the same potential access to resources, inputs and knowledge? Were the determining factors resource based (differences in topography, soils, poor fertility, local climate) or management based (farmer controlled and resolved)? It was concluded that while all these factors had an impact on the yield achieved, management accounted for the main differences. The key management factors were crop establishment, crop protection, nutrition, water control, timeliness of activities and operations, and the integration of all these factors into a crop production system.

Why had yields not increased in recent years? Many farmers had been able to maintain or increase farm profits, in the face of the continuing cost/price squeeze, by increasing the area of rice grown. Moreover, the most common approach to rice farming was one of yield maintenance and reacting to problems. This approach was consistent with the focus and direction of NSW Agriculture's extension programmes.


Distribution of Calrose
yields on 1 343 rice farms
in the Murray Valley,
NSW in 1981/82

The extension programmes were more reactive to farmers' demands than proactive; they focused on problem solving and were directed more towards yield maintenance than yield increases. They emphasized the simpler changes in technology issues - introducing new varieties, improving weed control and using new products, controlling insects, or more effective and/or increased fertilizer use - rather than more complex changes involving integration and timeliness of all factors.

While the programmes employed the full range of extension methodologies, individual farmer contact was strongly emphasized. This approach, although well received by farmers, was very time-consuming, created dependence in decision-making and was not particularly productive in facilitating change.

What was the scope for increasing yields? If all rice growers adopted the management practices and technology used by the top 10 percent of high-yielding rice farms, then yields would increase by over 30 percent. It was concluded that the adoption by the broad mass of rice growers (the middle 70-80 percent) of the existing management practices and technologies utilized by those highest-yielding farms could readily increase yields by 10-15 percent. This was seen as a reasonable and practical goal.

New high-yielding semi-dwarf varieties also offered increased yield potential. In 1984 the first semi-dwarf medium-grain variety was released in Australia. Local research and Californian experience indicated that these varieties could increase yield potential by at least 13-14 percent. It was concluded that the widespread adoption of these varieties could provide extra yield potential of 10-15 percent.

The combination of improved management practices and semi-dwarf varieties offered the rice industry the potential to improve yields by 20-30 percent.

How could farmers be assisted to adopt improved management practices and new higher-yielding semi-dwarf varieties? The potential for yield improvement was there - the real challenge was how to encourage the transfer and adoption of the available technology and improve on-farm management practices.

In summary, the 1985 review concluded that there was potential to increase yields. Proactive, focused and integrated extension programmes were considered necessary to promote adoption of the available technology. Funding support by industry for research and development, including extension, was also increased.


By the late 1990s Calrose had been replaced and the main medium-grain variety was Amaroo, a high-yielding semi-dwarf variety locally bred from a cross between Calrose and a related Californian semi-dwarf variety, M7 (Clampett, Williams and Lacy, 2000). The average yield of Amaroo for the five-year period ending in 1999 was 8.9 tonnes/ha, an increase of 37 percent over the yield of the variety Calrose of 6.54 tonnes/ha in the early 1980s. This has well exceeded the yield increase predicted in 1985.

In summary, the yield gap over the 15-year period has reduced from 45 to 33 percent. On the basis of the yield data compared, and without any allowance for seasonal variation, the yield gap has reduced by over 20 percent. The data also show that while the farmer yields have increased by 37 percent, the research yields have only increased by 19 percent. This increase in research yields is probably associated with the improvement in variety yield potential. The increase of 19 percent is consistent with the increase in variety yield potential expected from the introduction of the first semi-dwarf varieties in the early 1980s.

In broad terms, half the yield improvement can be attributed to new varieties and half to improved rice-growing practices and management. This improve-ment in yields and the reduction in the yield gap are significant achievements.


A wide range of technology and management factors have contributed to the increase in yields over the 15-year period. These can be summarized as the adoption of best management practices and the best available technology on the rice farm within an integrated total crop management system. It is difficult to separate individual factors and apportion the yield increases. However, two main factors are important: the higher yield potential of the widely adopted semi-dwarf varieties and improved adoption of management technologies associated with crop establishment, sowing on time, nitrogen nutrition management, weed control, water management and improved irrigation layout.


The high-yielding semi-dwarf varieties, first released in 1984 and now occupying over 90 percent of the sown area, have undoubtedly been a major factor in the overall yield increase and the reduction in the yield gap. The higher yield potential of these varieties contributed to the increases in the actual yields of both farmer and research plots. The increase on research plots is in the order of 19 percent, which is consistent with the reported yield increases from the first semi-dwarfs in the early 1980s. This compares to farmer yield improvement of 37 percent.

The change to semi-dwarf varieties undoubtedly contributed to the reduction in yield gap. Not only did they provide greater yield potential, but they also provided better responses to nitrogen, were less susceptible to lodging and, in field terms, less susceptible to losses from reproductive cold stress than the tall-strawed varieties - all factors providing a greater opportunity for high yields, and a higher and more consistent, less risky, response to improved management.

The comprehensive evaluation of new improved rice varieties and the extension of their characteristics to farmers lead to their ready adoption. The release of the first locally developed semi-dwarf varieties Amaroo and Bogan, in 1987, resulted in an adoption level of 38.0 percent in the first year and 68.5 percent in the second year of production.

Improved rice-growing practices and management technology

Improved management technology covers the mix of technology and best management practices, and their timely application on the rice farm. It would be almost impossible to isolate specific practices and their impact on farm yields. In practice, a range of complex relationships and interdependencies between specific technologies, practices and management together determine actual yield outcomes. It is possible, however, to identify key management areas and associated technology. Moreover, their impact on yields reinforces the relevance and importance of integrated crop management.

The irrigation layout of rice fields has improved markedly over the last 25 years. Laser-controlled earthmoving or landforming has improved the uniformity of slope within fields, which are also more efficient in terms of their size and shape, resulting in improved water-depth control and field drainage and the efficient use of machinery. In turn, these improvements have facilitated the timeliness of sowing, crop establishment, weed control and responses to applied nitrogen.

Crop establishment - an important factor in crop yields - has improved in recent years owing to a reduction in the proportion of crop area with suboptimal plant numbers. An increase in percentage aerial sowing (water seeding), improvements in irrigation layout and water-depth control and better land preparation practices have contributed to this progress.

Sowing time has been identified as an important determinant of yield. There has been better adoption of sowing time recommendations for each specific variety. This has also been assisted by the improve-ments in irrigation layout and water-depth control.

Despite changes to the weed spectrum and the development of herbicide resistance, weed control has improved through the use of new herbicides and weed management programmes and improved irrigation layouts and water-depth control.

Overall, there has been an increase in the relative level and efficiency of nitrogen use and general nutrition management for rice. This has been brought about by a general strategy of splitting nitrogen application into applications at pre-flood and at panicle initiation, assisted by a locally developed near infrared rice tissue test and decision-support software.

The importance of specific water depths, parti-cularly during critical stages of crop growth, has been well demonstrated. Better water-depth control minimizes the impact of reproductive cold stress and aids crop establishment and weed management.


The successful adoption of improved rice crop management practices has been supported by proactive and integrated extension programmes delivered by government services, strongly supported by industry funding and a strong commercial service sector. The extension programmes featured close links between research, extension, farmers and their organizations, and the agribusiness service sector. New technology is an integral component of the extension information packages and the delivery system.

NSW Agriculture is the state government department responsible for services to agriculture in the state of NSW. It is the major provider of research and extension services to the NSW rice industry. The rice industry, together with the federal government, provides funds for research and development projects, including extension. District agronomists are the principal extension agents working with rice growers.

All inputs for rice-growing - including machinery, fertilizer, herbicides, insecticides and associated services - are provided by private companies. These companies, particularly those providing agricultural chemicals, also provide various levels of technical/field advice to support their sales and marketing programmes. Over the last 15 years the intensity and level of these services have increased significantly. Every rice farmer must deal with the agribusiness service sector to obtain these inputs. The sector is therefore an important conduit for information to farmers and facilitating the adoption of technology at the individual farm level.

Extension programmes for NSW rice growers have developed considerably over the last 15 years since the initial review (Clampett, 1985) of rice yields and the identification of a major yield gap between high, average and low farm yields in the early 1980s. Clampett (1994) identified a number of trends that occurred in the planning, development and delivery of extension. These are summarized in Figure 2. The overall challenge was to effect change and achieve desired outcomes.

Within the framework of these trends, three linked component strands of the extension programmes developed:

These components and their parts can be presented diagrammatically as the Ricecheck model (Figure 3).

Extension methodology

Extension methodology is the basis of sound, successful extension programmes. The "how" of what is done is important in achieving the results and outcomes required.

Extension programmes had used a raft of methodology that tended to be used in an ad hoc way. With the trend towards a more structured, focused and targeted extension, by far the major change was the development of a network of rice discussion groups.

Regular meetings of farmer discussion groups provide a forum for the presentation of relevant technology, farmer-centred discussion and collaborative learning, as well as feedback on the applicability of the technology and an evaluation in the real world of commercial experience.

Some 45 groups are currently being run by the seven district agronomists (extension officers) serving the NSW rice industry. These are neighbourhood groups, comprising 10-20 members, although attendance can vary according to seasonal farming commitments.

Trends in rice extension programme development since the early 1980s

Key elements of the Australian Ricecheck technology transfer model

Source: modified from Clampett, 1994.

The extension officer acts as an expert/resource person and a facilitator to the group. This dual role requires skill and experience to deliver extension messages (the technology and practices) and to collect, utilize and share the knowledge and experience of the farmers in the group.

The groups provide a forum not only through which to present information, but also to evaluate this information in the context of the "real" commercial world of the rice farmer. They constitute a collaborative learning system whereby farmers can learn from each other as much as from the extension officer. The extension officer also learns from the farmers and can complete the link by sharing the new knowledge with research colleagues.

The rice discussion groups usually meet four to five times each season, timed to fit in with the patterns of the rice-growing system and the farmers' needs. A typical sequence of group meetings would be the following:

Local agribusiness advisers are encouraged to participate in the group meetings and guest speakers are invited to provide specialist information. Whilst rice-growing is the main focus of the groups, other farming issues are also discussed.

Once groups are established and a rapport has developed amongst group members, they provide an excellent vehicle for successful extension programmes. In particular, discussion groups have contributed significantly to the successful technology transfer and yield improvement achieved in NSW. However, the complementary methodology of meetings, field days, publications, media, training workshops and agribusiness also plays an important part in the achievements.

The Ricecheck system

The Ricecheck system is the holistic integrated crop management component of the extension model, which provides objective recommendations and a method of use to improve the yields, grain quality and profitability of rice-growing. It provides the best management practices for rice-growing based on knowledge from the latest technology and on-farm experience. The first Ricecheck recommendations were presented to rice farmers in 1986.

The recommendations (Lacy et al., 2000) are, as far as possible, objective and quantifiable, providing numbers that can be measured and compared. Subjective descriptions such as high or low, deep or shallow, short or tall are avoided, qualified by numbers. For example, water depths at specific crop growth stages are presented as a range of specified depths in numbers; sowing times for each variety are presented as a range of actual dates.

The Ricecheck recommendations are continually developing in response to current practices and technology. They are revised each year by a group comprising rice extension officers and researchers.

Although many factors affect management, crop growth, yield and other outcomes, the Ricecheck system focuses on the most important of these. These are termed "key checks" and include checks on inputs, management and outcomes associated with rice-growing.

Initially the key checks concentrated on improving yield but have since progressed to encompass grain quality and environmental and resource sustainability.

The key checks for yield cover six integrated crop management areas, each having one or more key checks or objective targets. These are:

Environmental checks currently cover pesticide residues in ricefield drainage water, and soil suitability to avoid the waste of water resources and prevent land degradation. Grain quality checks contribute to achieving food safety and processing standards, as well as maximizing the percentage of whole grain in the final milled white rice product.

The concept of a key check implies more than just a static recommendation on which to base inputs into rice-growing such as seed rates and fertilizer use. It is a more dynamic approach: the recommendations are not only used as the basis for management but also provide a means of evaluating actual results against the initial target. In this way it identifies weaknesses or problems that must be overcome in order to achieve future improvements. For example, seed rates are an input recommendation to achieve an output of a desired plant stand of rice; the real success or failure of crop establishment is the number of plants achieved relative to the target or key check.

The steps in the Ricecheck system are:

Specific targeted technology programmes

Within the rice crop management system, poor adoption of certain areas of technology or practice can have a detrimental effect on yield, grain quality or the environment. Conversely, improved practice or more widespread adoption of a particular technology would result in significant improvement. These observations apply equally to certain areas of old technology as they do to new technology. Addressing these problems requires the full spectrum of extension methodology available.

Relationship between yield and the achievement of key checks of 1 834 Amaroo rice crops over six seasons, 1994-1999

Source: Lacy, Clampett and Nagy, 1999b.

Once the weaknesses have been identified, it is important to identify the key barriers to adoption. It is here that the rice discussion groups can be used to evaluate the relevance of the technology and associated practices and any factors that may limit farmer adoption, as well as developing ways to facilitate the adoption of the technology.

Developing and implementing specific extension work plans and evaluating the technology constitute an overlapping and continuous process. The complexity of the new technology and the related changes in practices required are also important. In recent years specific technology extension programmes have targeted nitrogen management, herbicide resistance management, water at early pollen microspore and time of sowing.

Extension in general, but particularly the focused programmes to achieve technology adoption and a change in practices, must focus on the three "Rs" of extension:


The rice extension programmes in Australia have undoubtedly contributed to the increases in rice yields and the narrowing of the yield gap. Undoubtedly, too, the system, the programmes and the results can be improved and modified. Whatever future improve-ments and changes occur, however, the experience in Australia suggests that a number of factors are important to the success of technology transfer to improve yields and reduce the yield gaps.

The objectives

The initial objectives of the extension programmes emphasized the improvement of yields and profits. In time, grain quality and environmental issues were included. Yield and, to a lesser extent, quality still remain the major focus of the programmes, as farmers must have a viable business before they have the capacity to deal with the longer-term environmental and resource sustainability issues.

The programmes do not prescribe a specific yield target as a determinant of success or failure for individual farmers. The key target is to achieve improved yield compared to the individual farmer's starting point - whether that is below average, average or above average. The Ricecheck recommendations suggest that a potential yield is achievable if all the key checks are achieved, but emphasis is given to achieving the key checks with yield improvement as an outcome. We may have institutional objectives of a given percentage yield increase over a specified time period, but these objectives are separate to the individual farmer's perspective of success or failure.

The strategies

Extension programmes developed using the Ricecheck technology transfer model use five underlying strategies:

  1. To be proactive. Change must be driven by a purpose, direction and commitment - we have to make it happen by being proactive.
  2. To involve the rice farmers. Farmers are not only the recipients or beneficiaries of improved yields; they are part of the process of change necessary for success. Effective communication and information flow must be a two-way process. Farmers are the ultimate controllers of change, and contribute specialist knowledge and experience. Discussion groups are one of the most effective ways of involving farmers in the programmes.
  3. To present rice-growing as an integrated system. Rice-growing is a system that integrates component management technology. It is therefore important to present the technology as an integrated package. This does not mean that individual technologies or components are ignored, but that there is a balance between the "whole and the parts".
  4. To be objective when making recommendations. It is essential that management practices are measurable, to facilitate both their implementation and subsequent evaluation.
  5. To develop an extension team approach. A team approach of working together towards common objectives and using a common methodology improves the total effort and its chances of success. Research officers are part of the team. They should be involved in the planning, development and implementation of the extension programmes.

Developing the programmes

After considering the objectives and strategies, the task of developing and implementing the actual programmes begins. Three factors stand out:


Clampett, W.S. 1985. Ricegrowing - where are we? - a review of recent performance and problems of ricegrowing. Paper presented at a seminar on "Ricegrowing ... where to?". NSW Agriculture and the Irrigation Research and Extension Committee/Murray Research and Extension Committee Rice Research Committee, 4 July 1985.

Clampett, W.S. 1994. Extension programmes and technology transfer in the New South Wales. In E. Humphreys, E.A. Murray, W.S. Clampett & L.G. Lewin, eds. Temperate rice - achievements and potential. Proceedings of the Temperate Rice Conference, February 1994. Yanco Agricultural Institute, NSW, Australia. p. 243-346.

Clampett, W.S., Williams R.L. & Lacy, J.M. 2000. Major achievements in closing yield gaps of rice between research and farmers in Australia. Expert Consultation on Yield Gap and Productivity Decline in Rice Production, 5-7 September 2000. Rome, FAO.

Lacy, J., Clampett, W.S. & Nagy, J. 1999a. Development and use of a crop management database to evaluate rice crop performance in New South Wales, Australia. Proceedings of the 2nd Temperate Rice Conference.13-17 June 1999, Sacramento, California, the United States.

Lacy, J., Clampett, W.S. & Nagy, J. 1999b. Bridging the rice yield gap in Australia. Proceedings of FAO Regional Workshop on Rice Yield Gap, Bangkok, Thailand, 1999.

Lacy, J., Clampett, W.S., Lewin, L., Reinke, R., Batten, G., Williams, R., Beale, P., McCaffery, D., Lattimore, M., Schipp, A., Salvestro, R. & Nagy, J. 2000. 2000 Ricecheck recommendations. NSW Agriculture and Rural Industries Research and Development Corporation Rice Research and Development Committee, Canberra.

Gestion intégrée des cultures et transfert des technologies dans le secteur rizicole en Nouvelle-Galles du Sud - Le modèle australien du Ricecheck

Depuis une quinzaine d'années, les rendements moyens du secteur rizicole dans le sud-est de l'Australie ont augmenté de plus de 30 pour cent. Ces améliorations résultent de l'adoption des techniques actuelles et des nouvelles technologies. La plupart de ces technologies ont été conçues dans le cadre d'un programme élargi de recherche coopérative, de développement et de vulgarisation. La création et l'adoption de variétés semi-naines à haut rendement est à l'origine d'environ 50 pour cent de cette amélioration des rendements. Le restant est attribuable à l'adoption du système Ricecheck - un système de gestion intégrée des cultures qui associe l'implantation de cultures améliorées, la fertilisation azotée, la lutte contre les mauvaises herbes et les ravageurs et la gestion de l'eau. Les systèmes Ricecheck fournissent également aux agriculteurs et aux vulgarisateurs des critères pour évaluer les résultats de l'application des technologies à chaque étape du développement des cultures. Un taux d'adoption élevé a pu être obtenu grâce à un programme de vulgarisation dynamique associant les services publics, soutenu par le financement de l'industrie, et un service commercial efficace. Les meilleures pratiques de gestion sont révisées à partir des résultats des dernières recherches. Une caractéristique de ce programme est le recours fréquent à des groupes de discussion entre agriculteurs voisins, qui servent de tribune pour présenter les technologies pertinentes, organiser un débat centré sur les agriculteurs, bénéficier d'informations en retour sur l'applicabilité des technologies, et évaluer les expériences commerciales mondiales concrètes. Le milieu socioéconomique, la structure organisationnelle du secteur et les agriculteurs eux-mêmes influent aussi sur la productivité du secteur.

Integración de la ordenación de cultivos y la transferencia de tecnología en la industria del arroz de Nueva Gales del Sur - El modelo australiano Ricecheck

En un período de 15 años, el rendimiento medio del sector del arroz en la parte sudoriental de Australia ha aumentado más del 30 por ciento. Este aumento se ha debido a la adopción de tecnologías nuevas y ya existentes. Buena parte de estas tecnologías se han adquirido gracias a un programa amplio y cooperativo de investigación, desarrollo y extensión. El desarrollo y la adopción de variedades semienanas de alto rendimiento explica aproximadamente el 50 por ciento de la mayor productividad. El porcentaje restante se debió a la adopción del sistema Ricecheck, una ordenación integrada de cultivos que incorpora la adopción de especies mejoradas, el abono con nitrógeno, la lucha contra las malas hierbas y las plagas, y la ordenación del agua. El sistema Ricecheck también establece criterios que los agricultores y extensionistas pueden utilizar para evaluar los resultados de la utilización de la tecnología en todas las fases del desarrollo de los cultivos. El elevado índice de aceptación se ha conseguido gracias a un programa proactivo de extensión agraria que incluye servicios gubernamentales y cuenta con financiación del sector, así como a la solidez del sector de servicios comerciales. Las prácticas óptimas de gestión se revisan en función de los últimos resultados de las investigaciones. Entre sus principales características se encuentran la celebración periódica de reuniones de debate entre agricultores vecinos, que sirven de foro para la presentación de tecnologías, el intercambio de opiniones centrado en el agricultor y la manifestación de observaciones sobre la aplicabilidad de la tecnología, así como para la evaluación de las experiencias comerciales reales a escala mundial. El entorno socioeconómico, la infraestructura organizativa del sector y los propios agricultores también influyen en las ganancias de productividad del sector.

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