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«Plant Pathology and Entomology Capability Study Bruce Howie Managing Director C-Qual Agritelligence Pty Ltd Table of Contents Table of Contents ...»

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The study was intended to gather largely quantitative data with the opportunity in some cases to expand responses to more open, qualitative input. Data was gathered by means of a survey of plant pathologists and entomologists as well as administrators having responsibility for the management of programs, resources and the appointment of staff within these disciplines.

The Survey – 2012

The 2012 survey followed a similar design to that which was conducted in 2006. Only minor variations were considered in order to ensure consistency for comparison of results. Additional information was collected on years of experience in order to assess numbers and distribution of field ‘experts’ (defined as having 10 or more years experience in their field), and some additional job functions. Some organisations surveyed in 2006 no longer existed so these were deleted, although the broad categories of organisations remained unchanged.

The re-drafted survey was reviewed by a steering committee consisting of representatives of the


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The survey was set up as an online survey using software from Fluidsurveys Inc. (see www.fluidsurveys.com). In order to maximize responses to the survey the invitation to access the link and complete it was distributed via the APPS & AEC and to a key contacts in the target organisations with a request to forward to the appropriate staff. Target organisations included universities, state and national government entities, commercial industry, grower and industry associations. The complete survey is attached to this report as Appendix A.

At the close of the survey in excess of 400 responses were received, of which 333 were judged to be complete and became the basis for the analysis in this report.

The survey was constructed in two parts, each divided into a plant pathology section and an entomology section. Part A collected data from those working within the two disciplines including information about their organisation type, areas of speciality, age profile and activity focus as well as qualitative opinions regarding a range of issues affecting their work environment. Part B collected data from an organisational perspective including information about current capacity, future needs, sources of expertise and training perspectives.

Early feedback after the live launch of the survey indicated a need for additional ‘Primary focus’ categories for entomologists so these were added, recognising that some initial survey respondents would have missed the opportunity to register in these areas. They were considered important enough that their absence might have led to respondents failing to complete the survey.

Survey respondents were also given the opportunity to provide their personal contact details for the purpose of follow-up interviews for added qualitative data. Interviews have not been conducted at the time of preparation of this report but may be pursued by APPS and AES at a later date as appropriate.

Data is reported as collected in the survey software, primarily on a numerical basis (numbers and percentages of responses received) although some cross-tabulation has been performed to determine relationships between questions where appropriate.


3. Capability

The 2006 report noted:

Plant pathology and entomology are important fields of science that impact directly on the well-being of society due to their fundamental importance in food and fibre production and in sustaining quality of environment. These scientific disciplines are crucial to the agricultural economies of Australia and New Zealand due to the impact of plant diseases and insect pests on production quality and yields of food crops and commodities derived from agricultural production. Not less important is the contribution of these disciplines to maintenance and sustainability of natural ecosystems that are critical to quality of life and preservation of national heritage.

Clearly these points remain valid in 2012 and it was considered by the two societies to be important to review similar issues to determine whether there had been any shift in the availability and capability of resources in these areas. Therefore, as in the earlier survey information was gathered on both the academic levels and accomplishments of practitioners as well as where the resources are employed and made available to industry and environmental services.

Most respondents (77%) were employed in full-time positions, 12% in part-time positions, 6% retired and 5% actively seeking work. Tenured positions were held by 45% of respondents, whilst 35% were in contracted positions (16% 3 years and 19% 3 years). Five percent indicated selfemployment with a small number of voluntary/honorarium positions.

In addition to gaining an understanding of the current capability, information was gathered on how well Australia and New Zealand are positioned to maintain their capability in the context of future industry and environmental needs. This included views on anticipated future priorities and various issues relating to employment, job satisfaction and training.

Academic Standard and Accomplishment

Table 1 shows the comparison between the two surveys of the different levels of qualifications reported. The 2012 survey revealed high qualification levels within the two fields as was evident in the 2006 survey. It is particularly interesting to note, however, the comparison between the two surveys of the percentage representation at the different levels. In 2006 53% of respondents had PhD level qualifications but in 2012 this had risen markedly to 65%. This increase at the doctorate level came almost exclusively from undergraduate representation, where undergraduates with honours and those at regular undergraduate level dropped from 13% to 9% and 14% to 7% respectively.

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Similar to the 2006 survey, the current survey drew a very low response from the under 25 years age bracket. It is certain that there are graduates of more generalist courses currently engaged in plant pathology and entomology but due to the lack of specific qualifications in these fields they may not have felt that the survey was relevant to them. For example, there are clearly a number of graduates of agronomy and broad agricultural undergraduate degrees working in commercial advisory roles, sales and extension who are providing advice and guidance on pest and disease management that do not appear to have been captured in this survey.

In the 2006 report the challenge of maintaining high quality capability into the future was noted and it is evident from the 2012 survey results that there is a decline in representation at the undergraduate levels. Despite the limited responses from commercial and under 25s in this survey there is widespread anecdotal evidence that there are significant difficulties in filling positions in commercial and advisory roles.

Diversity of Capability Plant pathology Table 2 provides a comparison between the 2006 and 2012 surveys in regard to the particular subdisciplines in which plant pathology capability is applied. Not surprisingly, mycology remains the dominant area, but this, along with several other sub-discipline areas is showing a decline in the percentage of respondents that consider this to be their primary sub-discipline. Relatively large reductions are evident in bacteriology (already at a low percentage in 2006) and virology. There is an increase in the percentage indicating ‘Other’, suggesting that respondents are perhaps fulfilling broader roles than previously indicated. In fact nearly half of all ‘Other’ responses indicated multiple sub-disciplines and therefore broad plant pathology capability. Other responses in this area tended to represent the application of their expertise, rather than sub-discipline, for example, plant breeding, disease resistance, biocontrol, biosecurity and post-harvest disease management.

Table 2: FTEs in plant pathology sub-discipline areas 2006 and 2012

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Entomology In order to provide comparative data, categories for entomology sub-disciplines from the 2006 survey were retained. A comparison of full-time equivalents (FTEs) in entomology sub-disciplines is shown in Table 3. It was noted in the 2006 report that entomologists tended to select for ‘Other’ quite strongly with an emphasis on ecology. This remained true for the 2012 survey where nearly half of all respondents (47.9%) selected ‘Other’. Although the opportunity for direct comparison in some areas might be lost, for any future analysis, it would probably be beneficial to modify the entomology sub-discipline areas to more closely reflect those that respondents connect with.

Taxonomy/systematics remains the strongest sub-discipline area from those offered, accounting for 18.9% of respondents, very similar to 2006. Biochemistry showed an increase to 2.2% from a very low 2006 result, while genetics and insect pathology showed quite marked declines.


Table 3: FTEs in entomology sub-discipline areas

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Figure 1 shows a sample of ‘Other’ responses, which are dominated by ecology and integrated pest management as the primary sub-discipline.

• Figure 1: Word cloud indicating the range of responses from those who selected 'Other' as their entomology sub-discipline (2012) Organisational Distribution of Capability Whilst 14 different organisation types were listed in the survey, to simplify the analysis these were grouped into 5 classifications in the same way as the 2006 survey. The classifications and groupings are shown in Table 4. There is considerable overlap of activities between the classifications but the groupings are intended to provide some perspective of the nature of employment in these disciplines.


Table 4: Organisation type classifications

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Table 5 summarizes the responses received from each of the disciplines of plant pathology and entomology across the different organisational classifications. The table also shows those who provided input from an administrative perspective for each of the organisational classifications. For comparison, 2006 figures are shown in parenthesis.

The Gov1 classification, which tends to broadly represent the applied research and delivery sector shows quite a large decline in numbers, down from 60% of total capacity, to 42%. At the same time, there is an increase in the Gov2 classification rising from 11% to 20%.

The Edu classification has remained fairly stable with slight increases evident in the commercial sector.

The 2012 survey collected information on those with qualifications but not currently employed and seeking work. This group represented about 7% of all respondents.

Table 5: Distribution of plant pathology and entomology capability across organisation types

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Application of Capability The previous section identified the distribution of plant pathology and entomology capacity across different organisation classifications. In this section the application of capability is analysed, firstly in terms of the FTE allocation to a range of primary environments and secondly, the allocation to a range of different industries (primary focus).

Primary Environment

Primary environment is defined in terms of the nature of the activities undertaken by the respondents in carrying out their duties. The survey presented several primary environments and asked respondents to indicate the FTEs allocated to each, where applicable. Ten primary environments were offered in the 2006 survey but biosecurity was added to the 2012 survey and the category, support services, from the 2006 survey was replaced by advisory in 2012. Table 6 shows the results obtained from each survey.

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Research – Applied remains in 2012 as the most dominant primary environment at 41.6% of FTEs, very similar to the percentage representation in 2006. Research – Strategic remains at similar levels, whilst Research – Basic has shown a decline. Research overall dominates the primary environment representing 63.1% of all FTEs in 2012 compared to 65.8% of FTEs in 2006.

Extension and advisory (support services) were considered to be low in 2006 at 4.9% and 5.3% respectively. Both areas have declined noticeably in 2012 to 2.5% in the case of extension and 3.5% for advisory. It is not evident that the commercial sector sees itself as assuming these roles.

That is not to say that they are not active in extension and support, but clearly not from a specialist perspective.

Biosecurity, as a new primary environment included in 2012 is, in fact, quite substantial capturing 17.7% of FTEs. Much of this is probably a transfer from the quarantine environment, which has shown a decline, and perhaps from regulatory/policy. It is possible that some of the decline in the advisory area could be attributed to the new category of biosecurity as well, however, the low allocation of capability to frontline delivery and support is an area of concern and perhaps needs further investigation.


Interestingly the allocation to education/teaching has remained consistent between the two surveys. This area remains low at 4.4% and, as noted in the 2006 report it is clear that only a small proportion of the Edu classification (21% of overall capacity), considers education/training to be their primary role.

Primary Focus

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