GRDC Research Updates are a hothouse of new projects, debate, knowledge-sharing, ready-to-go innovations and a sneak peak at what is on the horizon for our cropping industry. For this issue of Ground Cover we crossed the country to cover Updates in Adelaide, Wagga Wagga, Goondiwindi, Auburn, Perth and Yuna.
Time frames define research programs
Outgoing GRDC managing director John Harvey at the Grains Research Update, Perth.
PHOTO: Brad Collis
The complexity of crop production challenges needing long-term research, combined with the simultaneous need to deliver immediate benefits to growers, was the overarching factor behind the recent restructure of the GRDC, former managing director John Harvey told the Perth GRDC Update.
He said that in looking at how to get the most value from the corporation’s $220-million research portfolio it was decided to move away from the previous management structure, based on research themes, and instead divide research priorities into short-term, medium-term and long-term time frames.
“Short-term projects are those that will deliver benefits to growers within three years: typically, locally based extension and adaptation,” he said.
“Medium-term projects are those that need three to eight years to deliver outcomes on-farm: the more complex system challenges such as soils, rotations and other regional agronomy issues.
“And the eight-year plus time frame is for over-the-horizon projects. The development of those big ‘disruptive technologies’ that displace conventional technologies and change the industry.”
Mr Harvey said that when GRDC management looked at its research portfolio it became clear it needed to be managed quite differently, in particular the short and medium-term projects that would be better run out of the regions into which they are delivering.
“So we now have four regional offices: Toowoomba, Dubbo, Adelaide and Perth. This is a clear sign of where the GRDC is going and it is my expectation that we will eventually end up with 50 per cent of our staff based in these regional offices.”
Mr Harvey said a structure that created a research, development and extension continuum, from long to medium to short-term as research progressed from inquiry to a technology ready for adoption, also put the GRDC in a better position to leverage off the more extensive international research effort.
“Only two per cent of grains research is done in Australia and increasingly the big ‘disruptive technologies’ are being developed in public/private-sector partnerships. So it is important that Australia, as a comparatively small player, is connected to this to ensure we secure the benefit of new developments,” he said.
Mr Harvey cited the GRDC’s participation in the International Wheat Yield Partnership (IWYP) and the Herbicide Innovation Partnership with Bayer as examples.
“The IWYP has a goal of doubling wheat yield potential by 2050. We have doubled yields in Australia over the past 20 years and we need to do this again over the next 20 years.
“This partnership brings together the best brains from countries such as Canada, the US, France, Germany, Mexico and Australia. If it is successful, Australia’s participation means breeders and growers here will be among the first to get the outcomes of that investment.
“The second example is the Bayer partnership. In the search for new herbicides, chemical companies focus on North America, then Europe, Russia, South America and finally Australia. However, this deal with Bayer makes Australia a tier-one country, so the very first screening of any new ‘actives’ will be tested on Australian weeds and if any look good the first trials will be done here in Australia.”
Mr Harvey said the significance was clear given weed control costs the Australian industry $3 billion a year.
He said Australian growers were strong supporters of research. The benefits from R&D are real, he said, and reflected in annual grower surveys showing more than 80 per cent of growers have changed something in their operations as a consequence of R&D.
“It’s a great culture that we have here. Growers are interested in R&D and the GRDC puts a priority on making sure research is useful and that growers know about it.
”He pointed out that Ground Cover has the second-largest circulation in rural publishing with 84 per cent of growers saying it is their primary source of information on national grains R&D and on-farm innovation.
This is backed up by other GRDC initiatives such as the annual round of grower and adviser GRDC Grains Research Updates, which attracted more than 5000 participants in 2015.
Mr Harvey’s tenure as GRDC managing director has ended and he will be succeeded by Australian Grain Technologies CEO Dr Steve Jefferies.
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