Rural Innovation Research Group members receive award for industry engagement

The excellence of industry-engaged research by the School of Agriculture and Food’s social science research group has been recognised with the Award for Excellence in Industry-Engaged Research.

This University of Melbourne-wide award one of only three Excellence Awards in the category of research, and will be presented to the Rural Innovation Research Group (RIRG) later in 2019.

RIRG generates new knowledge on effective actions for managing change in rural industries through research, development and practice. This includes:

  • Improving transitions in farming systems, including by developing tools and guidance to assist on-farm decision making and rural workforce development
  • Cultivating knowledge utilisation by studying social implications of technological developments and building and engaging communities of practice
  • Improving agricultural extension and change management by studying how advice is delivered and designing and delivering new programs
  • Improving resource management through research that helps rural communities adapt to change and become more resilient, and through community-based and indigenous natural resource management.

The transdisciplinary RIRG team recognised in the award is Dr Margaret Ayre, Dr Barbara King, Dr Jana-Axinja Paschen, Dr Michael Santhanam-Martin and Nicole Reichelt, led by Professor Ruth Nettle.

The team received the award from Professor Mark Considine, Provost of the University of Melbourne, at a ceremony in November 2019.

RIRG team
Left to right: Dr Jana-Axinja Paschen, Dr Michael Santhanam-Martin, Ms Nicole Reichelt, Professor Mark Considine, Dr Margaret Ayre and Professor Ruth Nettle. Dr Barbara King did not attend the ceremony.

Professor Nettle says agricultural industries and rural communities seek to contribute positively to efforts in society toward a more sustainable future for our planet.

“Agriculture occupies a critical position at the nexus of some of society’s most pressing issues such as climate change, natural resource management, sustainable food systems and social equity,” she said.

“We conduct social science research collaboratively with people in the agricultural system to develop new tools and knowledge about the human and social transitions required of individuals and organisations to progress agricultural transformation.”

Since its formation in 2000, the group has developed a highly industry- and community-engaged research program. Its most recently completed projects have included:

  • Stimulating private sector extension in Australian agriculture to increase returns from R&D (2015-2018): Led to new tools, relationships and an increased understanding of challenges and needs between research, development and extension stakeholders with an expected value of $14.48 million and partnership with six Rural Research and Development Corporations, two state governments and the Federal Government. Read more on the project’s website
  • Dairy Business for Future Climates (2014-2017): A transdisciplinary climate change adaptation research project in collaboration with the dairy industry including Dairy Australia and regional dairy bodies and farmers in three case study regions of Gippsland, South Australia and Tasmania. This led to development options for dairy businesses in southern Australia to enhance their adaptive capacity under future climates. Read more on the Primary Industries Climate Challenges Centre and Dairy Australia project websites
  • Understanding workforce development needs in the Goulburn Murray Horticulture Industry (2016-2019): This joint research program between RIRG and the Agricultural Policy Group of Agriculture Victoria identifies the implications of industry change for the industry’s skilled workforce needs, and support industry stakeholders to take collaborative approaches to address needs.

RIRG directly engages with industry groups and communities across Australia and internationally through the design, co-ordination and delivery of events that span the engaged research spectrum.

Partners include: Dairy Australia, Meat and Livestock Australia and the Cotton Research and Development Corporation; international bodies including the Australian Centre for International Agricultural Research (ACIAR); philanthropic and indigenous organisations; and with government departments of all levels in Australia.

The team also draws from industry engagement in its research to deliver curriculum with a strong industry focus for undergraduate and postgraduate University of Melbourne students.