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Agricultural Technology Transfer: From Free-of-Charge to Payable Services Considering Human Factors
Hsueh-Shih Lin
Hualien District Agricultural Research
and Extension Station (DARES)
150, Sec. 2, Ji-An Road, Hualien County, Taiwan ROC, 2005-12-01

Abstract

In Taiwan, government institutions used to execute most of the agricultural research programs, and as such, technology dissemination was also traditionally financed by government agencies. This extension system was gradually changed in consideration of the evolving needs of the farmers and changes in policies. The current status of agricultural technology transfer of the Hualien District Agricultural Research and Extension Station is described in this paper. In particular, it discusses agricultural technology transfer of new crop varieties as well as cultivation and processing techniques. To promote new agricultural technology and to obtain utmost commercial interest, a payable extension system is being established. In the future, the transfer of new technology will no longer be a free service.

Key words: Agricultural technology, ergonomics, human factors, intellectual property rights, plant variety transfer

Introduction

What is ergonomics? The International Ergonomics Association (IEA) adopted an official definition in August 2000, as follows: Ergonomics (or human factors) is the scientific discipline concerned with the understanding of interactions among humans and other elements of a system, and the profession that applies theory, principles, data, and other methods to design in order to optimize human well-being and overall system performance (http://www.iea.cc/ergonomics/). This concept was well established and developed in industry for many years, especially in hardware and software design, but was seldom found in agriculture. In fact, all kinds of agricultural technology are related to human beings, the farmers. The human factors do have great influence on the development of agricultural technology. In Taiwan, most of the agricultural research programs were conducted in government institutions, including agricultural research institutes, stations universities, and colleges. In general, universities and colleges are responsible for fundamental research and government institutes and stations are responsible for applied research. Taiwan has seven district agricultural research and extension stations (DARES), and two professional stations (one for tea and one for crop seeds). Disseminating agricultural technology to farmers is a major task of the government stations. Traditionally, the transfer of agricultural technology was executed by government agencies, and was free of charge. The government had to finance agricultural extension activities every year.

The direction of agricultural research may be influenced by human factors, and the system of technology transfer may be influenced as well. This paper introduces the current status of agricultural technology transfer, the influence of human factors, and changes in policy.

Traditional Methods for Agricultural Technology Transfer in Taiwan

Transfer of New Crop Varieties

To transfer new crop varieties to the farmers, a three-stage propagation (TSP) system has been conducted for many years in Taiwan. This system has proven to be highly efficient for rice crops. The first stage is the production of breeder's seeds. Since breeder's seeds are the most fundamental of seeds, any mistake is not allowed. The central government's breeding institutes are responsible for producing the breeder's seeds. To keep the purity and quality of each variety, the producing fields should be set up inside the stations. The second stage is the production of fundamental seeds, which is the responsibility of the local county governments to set up the producing fields. The third stage is the production of registered seeds. The local county governments would authorize honorable farmers to set up producing fields.

The rice variety Taiken 16 (TK16) was bred and named by Hualien DARES in 1996 (Lee et al. 1998). This variety was developed, after a series of experiments, from a cross between varieties Taiken 2//Tainung 67 and Pegonil in 1987. TK16 possesses the following characteristics: highly resistant to rice leaf and panicle blast, brown planthopper; moderately resistant to small brown planthopper, white-backed planthopper; high-yielding; and of good eating quality. TK16 became very popular five years after it was released. Hualien DARES set up a 0.1 ha field and produced 391 kg of breeder's seeds of TK 16 in 2002. These seeds were provided upon request, free-of-charge, to Taichung, Chunghua, Chiayi, Yunlin, and Hualien county governments. The county governments set up 4.5 ha fields to produce foundation seeds in the spring of 2003. The county governments had to budget to finance the administrative expenses and to subsidize the seed producers. The foundation seeds were provided, free-of-charge, to registered seed-propagation farmers. In the autumn of 2003, some 340 ha of propagation fields were set up to propagate registered seeds sold to the rice cultivation farmers. The total cultivation area of TK16 rice was 17,122 ha in 2004, occupying 7.2% of the total rice cultivation area in Taiwan.

For various reasons, the TSP system is not suitable for most horticultural crops, and has to be modified. For example, Hualien DARES released a tomato variety Hualien AVRDC 5 in 1990 (Tseng 1991). It is an F1 hybrid crossed between two inbred lines CL5915-206D-2-4-0-0 and L4783-S2-3-1-19-0. This variety is heat-tolerant, highly resistant to Tobacco mosaic virus, medium tolerant to bacterial wilt, and high-yielding. Because of its high tolerance to high temperature conditions, Hualien AVRDC 5 became very popular shortly after it was released. The total cultivation area was 1355.7 ha between 1992 and 1997.

Since Hualien AVRDC 5 is an F1 hybrid, the production of hybrid seeds needs higher techniques and more experienced workers compared to that of food crops. The breeding institute does not have enough manpower to do that. To accelerate the efficiency of seed production, Hualien DARES authorized the Seed Improvement and Propagation Station to propagate the hybrid seeds every year. Thereafter, the farmers were able to purchase the seeds from the government station. In this case, seeds were not free-of-charge.

Transfer of New Cultivation and Processing Techniques

The main method for disseminating new technical information and knowledge to farmers is to set up a demonstration field in a farmer's farm. During harvesting or a specific time, the research institutions would hold a meeting or a conference, and call for neighborhood farmers to observe the results. Once the farmers are satisfied with the results, the new technology would be transferred to them directly.

Moreover, the technical knowledge can be disseminated through the following pathways: publications, symposia, training courses, and periodical meetings. Each agricultural research and extension station has built up a farmers' database, and the connection between station and farmers is quite intense. Every year, the agricultural institutions publish many technical reports and brochures that are sent to farmers free of charge.

The agricultural technology training courses are organized by the Council of Agriculture (COA) and the various DARES are responsible for teaching and practical training.

The periodical meetings are organized either by the farmers' associations or by the agriculture production and marketing groups. The DARES sends its specialists to join the meeting and give advice.

In 2004, the Hualien DARES held 21 agricultural extension activities, which included six symposia, eight demonstrations for new crop variety, four demonstrations for new technique, and two training courses ( Table 1(1038)).

Influence of Human Factors

Once an agricultural technology is transferred to farmers, inevitably the station faces new problems. The maintenance of purity may become a problem, especially for food crops. Because most of the food crops are self-pollinated, the seeds are obtained automatically without artificial manipulation. For a new variety, its specific characteristics can be kept generation after generation. Therefore, the farmers may like to keep the variety by themselves, without consulting the original breeding institutions, to save on the cost of purchasing seeds. Human factors have influenced the decision of the farmers in this case. However, purity control is not a simple matter. Eventually, purity might be lost for various reasons. Intermixture might be a good reason, and genetic shift might be another reason. Tai-Ken 4, for example, is an aromatic rice variety and is very popular for its special fragrance. It was found many years ago in a farmer's farm that the aromatic character had been lost after several generations of cultivation.

Traditionally, any plant breeder's right to crop varieties developed by government institutions belong to the government, and is one kind of public property. Any civilian has the right to request the government to provide the original seeds. However, government institutions do not have sufficient capacity to serve everyone. Therefore, considering the human factors, one kind of authorized system was developed. Some technical farmer leaders or agricultural groups could be authorized to produce registered seeds. Gradually, these people would obtain more resources and interests than the general farmers, and even control the seed distribution systems. Theoretically, the interests of extension of a new crop variety should be shared by all farmers, but not for specific farmers or agricultural groups. The government should keep the balance and sustain a fair competition. Besides, a plant breeder's rights should be respected, too, although it seems to be a public property.

During the last 10 years, the cultivation areas of rice and upland crops in Taiwan greatly decreased from 363,479 ha to 237,015 ha; those of vegetables and fruits slightly decreased from 403,468 ha to 383,988 ha; and those of flowers slightly increased from 9,661 ha to 12,579 ha ( Table 2(1114)). The biggest change in the composition of cultivation lands was the shift to fallow lands. Since the traditional production became less competitive than the other sectors, farmers were forced to change their choice.

Most of the fallow fields grew non-economical green manure corps such as green manure soybean (Glycine max (L.) Meer.; sun hemp (Crotalaria juncea L.); sesbania (Sesbania roxburghii Merr); Chinese mild vetch (Astragalus sinicus L.); Woolly-pod vetch (Vicia dasycarpa Tenore.); lupine (Crotalaria anagyroides H.B.K.); Yokohama bean (Stizolobium hassjoo Piper & Tracy); Egyptian clover (Trifolium alexandrinum L.); rape (Brasica campestri L.); and buckwheat (Fagopyrum vulgare Hill.). The total cultivation area of green manure crops was 206,339 ha in 2004 (Statistics Office 2005).

Green manure crops are those that can increase the amount of nitrogen and organic compounds in the soil, and can modify soil texture. Because the nitrogen fixation bacteria coexist with leguminous plants in nature, most of the recommended green manure crops are leguminous plants.

Having fallow fields is a temporary policy. The food safety issue has to be taken into account as the top priority. The main reason for growing green manure crops is to keep the soil fertility of the land. Once food shortage takes place, the fallow fields should be farmed again as soon as possible.

Human factors could also influence the type of agricultural management. Since most of the manure crops are green, people may feel bored when seeing green color everyday. Although the green manure crops have great contribution on keeping soil fertility, growing manure crops could not yield direct economical value, and the government should finance this project every year as well. If it has some positive effects, then people may support this policy.

Hualien DARES started a research program to investigate landscaping plants in 2001. The main purpose of this program is to select colorful plant species suitable for growing in the fallow fields and for using these as substitute to green manure crops. On the other hand, the colorful plants beautified the country fields, benefiting the industry of leisure agriculture (Chou and Yu 2003).

Many wild plant species were introduced to the station, and some observation trials were conducted. After several evaluations, four superior plant species were selected, including feather cock's comb (Ceolosia argentea L), cosmos (Cosmos bipinnatus Cav), yellow cosmos (Cosmos sulfurous Cav), and lupine (Crotalaria anagyroides H.B.K.). These plants can be used to enhance the fallow fields. Therefore, we called them landscaping plants. Many demonstration trials were conducted in 2002 and 2003, and obviously, people welcomed these plants. In 2004, the Yilan and Hualien counties had 136.7 ha of fallow fields with landscaping plants. Thousands of visitors were attracted to see the beautiful flowers during the blooming season. The most popular was cosmos.

Although landscaping plants do not have direct economic value, the huge demand for seeds promoted the seed market. Probably, seed propagation would become an industry in the future. This is another effect of growing landscaping plants.

The design and application of agricultural machines are easily influenced by the users. For instance, farmers introduced a funnel type of fertilizer-spraying device many years ago. This device is usually attached to a tractor, and run by the tractor as well. It was very useful, convenient, and labor-saving for the farmers. However, problems occurred when it was used for spraying organic fertilizers. Originally, this machine was designed for spraying solid-type chemical fertilizers. But the farmers wanted to use it for spraying organic fertilizers. Thus, the newly found problem had to be solved.

In general, the humidity of organic fertilizers is 35% or more, higher than that of chemical fertilizers (10-20%). Because of high humidity, the organic fertilizers easily aggregated to form larger particles. Large particles often blocked the exit of the device, making it difficult to spray. Hualien DARES modified two of the device's major parts in 1996 and the blocking problem was solved (Chiu et al. 1998). The technology's new design was transferred to an industrial company in 1997. In total, 476 sets of fertilizer spraying device were sold to the farmers in 2001 and 2005. This is a successful technology transfer case.

Policy Changes

The traditional way of agricultural technology transfer in Taiwan was almost free-of-charge, and the government had to budget for the coming years. Since the economic situation of Taiwan has changed a lot, the agricultural policy has to change as well. The proportion of agricultural gross domestic product (GDP) has gradually declined from 5.78% to 1.74% within the last 20 years ( Table 3(1069)). The agriculture sector has become less important than the other sectors. People may doubt the efficiency and competition of the agricultural sector. Actually, agriculture played an important role in our history. After the Second World War, the Taiwanese government executed an agriculture-supporting-industry policy, which resulted in the tremendous progress of the industry. The economic situation was improved, but the labor cost also increased. Young farmers changed their jobs and moved to bigger cities instead of staying in the countryside. It has become more and more difficult to see young farmers after the 1990s. The agricultural sector is facing big problems now. Why don't we change the policy again? The industrial sector may have the opportunity to feed back agricultural sector.

The industrial sector usually uses patents to protect its technological interests. Once the patents are implemented, the users have to pay royalty to the inventors. Patent in this case is one kind of private property. Patent owners are willing to promote commercial activities in order to gain from these. This pay system has made the industrial sector vigorously developed. Perhaps it could be employed by the agricultural sector, too. For this reason, agricultural technology is no longer free of charge. Some competitive technologies or those with market potential could be transferred to industry. The combination of academic and industrial strength would promote more economical interests.

After the promulgation of the Fundamental Science and Technology Act in 1999, all intellectual property rights (IPR) arising from government-funded research projects and not designated national property were conferred upon the organization responsible for the project.

A plant breeder's right is an IPR, which has to be respected and protected by law. The "Plant Seed Act" was promulgated and enacted in 1988, and had been amended three times during the last 16 years. The last amended version was completed and promulgated as "Plant Variety and Seed Act" in 2004. This Act protects plant variety rights, facilitates improvements in plant varieties, and implements a plant seed administration system in order to promote farmers' interests and benefit agricultural development. However, the plant variety right is not automatically enforced for all the plant species. It was regulated in Article 4 that seed plants, ferns, and other plants designated as botanical taxa, as governed by this Act, should be published by the central competent authority. That means only the plant species reviewed and published by the government can possibly have the rights. There are 94 plant species with assigned rights until 2005 (Chang et al. 2005), and most of the food crops are not involved. The main reason why food crops were not involved is to protect the farmer's rights, in order to fulfill the food safety policy. After promulgation of the last amendment of the Plant Variety and Seed Act, the government decided to change the policy, and now, all food crops will be involved. The free-of-charge TSP system for food corps will be changed as well, andthe farmers will face the impacts in the near future.

To fulfill the regulations of the Fundamental Science and Technology Act, the Council of Agriculture (COA) helped establish the systems on promoting R&D outcomes and implemented performance-based funding measures to encourage organizations and researchers to file for patents, technology transfers, and copyrights.

COA promulgated a rule, Directions for the Implementing of Academic-Industrial Cooperation Program, to promote cooperative behaviors in 1998. In 2001, COA promulgated another rule, Regulations for the Possession and Employment of Scientific Research Outcomes, to regulate the behavior of agricultural technology transfers. These efforts have helped expedite the application of R&D outcomes.

Current Status of Agricultural Technology Transfer in Hualien Dares

To promote the new system, Hualien DARES started to do cooperation programs in 2001. Twenty-five academic-industrial cooperation programs were conducted in the last five years ( Table 4(1087)). It seems that some unique techniques or fields of investigation were popular. These include tissue culture, food processing, and agricultural machinery.

On the other hand, all the breeding projects were not involved in the academic-industrial cooperation programs. It might be possible that because a breeding project might need a longer period to experiment, the commercial companies were less interested in this matter. Thus, much of the breeding work was still carried out by government institutes.

Nine new crop varieties were released by Hualien DARES in 2002_2004. The crops included two rice varieties, two tomato varieties, one yam variety, one green onion variety, one cattail willow variety, one peanut variety, and one bitter gourd variety ( Table 5(1249)). In the transfer of new varieties to farmers, different models were used, considering crop type and the human factors. Rice and peanut varieties followed the traditional TSP system model. Tomato variety Hualien ASVEG 13 followed the same model as variety Hualien AVRDC 5 did. Yam, green onion and cattail willow are vegetatively propagated crops. Once released, the farmers could propagate by themselves. The tomato variety Hualien ASVEG 14 and bitter gourd variety Hualien 1 are seeking for the opportunity of transferring to commercial companies, and this is a payable model.

Hualien DARES obtained five patents, all on agricultural machinery, in the last five years ( Table 6(1376)). It seems that patents for crop research are more difficult to file than those for machinery.

Hualien DARES transferred seven techniques to industrial partners in the recent five years, and two of them were transferred twice ( Table 7(1258)). All of these transfers are payable. According to the regulations, 60% of the payment goes to a National Science Development Fund, and 40% goes to the researchers. Processing, tissue culture, and machinery techniques seemed to be popular for patent registration.

Agricultural technology can be simple or complicated, depending on how sophisticated the techniques are. Technology does not only involve unique technical knowledge but also some secret know-how. For example in transferring the processing techniques of aromatic herbal bath bag, one should consider three important things. First is the cultivation technique; second is the harvesting time; and the third is the processing technique for aromatic plants. Since most of the aromatic plants are not native to Taiwan, cultivation of adaptable varieties in an appropriate season is very important. More than 240 varieties of aromatic plants, including the most popular lavender, rosemary, thyme, mint, basil, tea tree, and salvia, were introduced and evaluated by Hualien DARES. The station established particular cultivation techniques for each species, and the appropriate growing season was also investigated. The suitable drying temperatures and the reasonable packing procedures were also established. The above-mentioned techniques should be transferred to the partners simultaneously. Eventually, some minor changes, as influenced by human factors, might be necessary.

The main purpose of agricultural technology transfer is to achieve utmost economic interest with the combination of industry and agriculture. Consequently, the transfer of some agricultural technologies may need to follow the new payable system. Considering the influence of human factors, the free-of-charge system will be sustained for the less competitive parts. Whether the goal can be reached or not, the payable system is inevitably a new trend, and it should be promoted without hesitation.

Acknowledgments

The author would like to thank the following colleagues for providing useful information and precise data: Mr. Tung-Wu Chang, Dr. Chi-Tsun Chen, Mr. Wen-Hsien Chien, Mr. Chen-Wen Chiu, Mr. Ming-Ho Chou, Mr. Cheng-Zu Pan, and Ms. Yueh-Shia Tsay.

References

  • Chang, H. J.; M. L. Chang; I. J. Wu; and W. L. Yen. 2005. The achievements and prospect of the Plant Variety and Seed Act enacted in our country. Agriculture Police & Review 157: 47-53. (in Chinese)
  • Chen, C. C. 2004. Lanyang No. 1: a new variety of cattail willow. Bulletin of the Hualien District Agricultural Improvement Station 22: 21-34. (in Chinese with an English abstract)
  • Chiu, C. W.; D. P. Shung; and J. T. Ho. 1998. Introduction of a new fertilizer sprayer. Technical Report of Hualien District Agricultural Improvement Station Issue 41. (in Chinese)
  • Chou, M. H. and D. F. Yu. 2003. Creating attractive amenity of countryside using green manure for landscape. In: Hou F .F. (ed.), pp. 73-84, Proceedings of a Symposium on the Development and Application of Leisure Crop Resources; Hualien District Agricultural Research and Extension Station. (in Chinese with an English abstract)
  • Huang, P. and T. W. Chang. 2002. The characteristics and cultivation methods of a new long-shape yam variety: Hualien 3. Agricultural Newsletter of Hualien District Agricultural Research and Extension Station (39)1:11-15. (in Chinese)
  • Lee, C. Y.; W. T. Liu; D. P. Shung; F. F. Hou; L. C. Chen; and Y. S. Chen. 2003. Development of the new rice variety Hualien 19. Bulletin of the Hualien District Agricultural Improvement Station 21:31-48. (in Chinese with an English abstract)
  • Lee, C. Y.; W. T. Liu; C. H. Ting; M. C. Cheng; C. C. Chen; T. H. Tseng; and D. J. Liu. 1998. Development of the new rice variety Taiken 16. Bulletin of the Hualien District Agricultural Improvement Station 16:1-22 (in Chinese with an English abstract)
  • Statistics Office. 2005. Agricultural statistics yearbook 2004. Council of Agriculture, Executive Yuan. Taipei.
  • Tseng, S. I. 1991. A newly developed fresh market tomato cultivar _ Hualien AVRDC 5. Bulletin of the Hualien District Agricultural Improvement Station 7:113-125. (in Chinese with an English abstract)
  • Yang, H. Y. and P. Huang. 2002. Breeding of a new green onion (Allium fistulosum L.) variety "Futsun-Langyang No.3." Bulletin of the Hualien District Agricultural Improvement Station 20:33-44. (in Chinese with an English abstract)
  • Yang, S. S. and J. T. Chen. 2003. Newly released cherry tomato variety Hualien ASVEG 13 and its characteristics. Bulletin of the Hualien District Agricultural Improvement Station 21:13-30. (In Chinese with an English abstract)
  • Yu, D. F. 2004. Development of peanut variety Hualien NO. 2. Bulletin of the Hualien District Agricultural Improvement Station 22:1-20. (in Chinese with an English abstract).

Index of Images

Table 1 Agricultural Extension Activities Held at Hualien Dares in 2004

Table 1 Agricultural Extension Activities Held at Hualien Dares in 2004

Table 2 Changes in the Cultivation Areas of Main Crops in Taiwan in the Last 10 Years

Table 2 Changes in the Cultivation Areas of Main Crops in Taiwan in the Last 10 Years

Table 3 Composition of the Gross Domestic Product of Taiwan in the Last 20 Years

Table 3 Composition of the Gross Domestic Product of Taiwan in the Last 20 Years

Table 4 The Academic-Industrial Cooperation Programs Conducted by Hualien Dares in the Last Five Years.

Table 4 The Academic-Industrial Cooperation Programs Conducted by Hualien Dares in the Last Five Years.

Table 5 New Crop Varieties Released by Hualien Dares during the Last Five Years

Table 5 New Crop Varieties Released by Hualien Dares during the Last Five Years

Table 6 Patents Obtained by Hualien Dares in the Last Five Years

Table 6 Patents Obtained by Hualien Dares in the Last Five Years

Table 7 Agricultural Techniques Transferred by Hualien Dares in the Last Five Years

Table 7 Agricultural Techniques Transferred by Hualien Dares in the Last Five Years

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