When James Clark hangs up his hat as chair of the Grains Research and Development Corporation (GRDC) northern panel this week, the northern grains research industry will bid farewell to one of its greatest supporters.
He’s been a formidable figurehead in the drive to boost grains research capability and capacity, in line with GRDC’s recognition that future industry viability will hinge on relevant, rigorous and well-validated research activities conducted by teams of professionals equipped with knowledge, experience and initiative.
Like the GRDC, Mr Clark firmly believes that the productivity and viability of farm businesses is paramount, requiring levy investment to be well-targeted, net a tangible return for growers and reflect growers’ most pressing research needs and priorities.
As a northern panel member since 2005 and panel chair since 2008, Mr Clark has harboured a long-term commitment to ensuring that the GRDC’s levy investment delivers dividends to growers.
This work has helped shape GRDC’s regional investment framework and is underpinned by a comprehensive Northern Region Strategy, which maps a clear path forward for GRDC investment in research, development and extension to ensure they address the major constraints faced by the region’s growers.
A key measure of the success of the strategy has been the co-investment by the region’s major research and development (R&D) organisations. This is exemplified by the development of a regional network of R&D nodes at Emerald, the Darling Downs and Goondiwindi in Queensland, and Narrabri, Tamworth, Trangie, Condobolin, Wagga Wagga and Yanco in New South Wales by the state departments of agriculture.
Each node encompasses research agronomists, technical staff and the necessary equipment to conduct detailed trials, which vastly increases the scope and resourcing for northern-focussed R&D projects, according to Mr Clark.
“The regional strategy aims to ensure that research, development and extension (RD&E) activities are coordinated across the region. The nodes allow the rapid development of large multi-year, multi-environment datasets, which means solutions that address priority issues can be delivered more quickly,” he said.
“This responsiveness and the specific relevance of the datasets will maximise the value of growers’ levy investments, particularly in the three to eight year-investment areas of agronomy, weeds, nutrition, soils, pathology, farming systems and pests.”
A further demonstration that the Northern Region Strategy addresses issues and constraints on a collaborative `bottom up and top down’ basis, has been the development of the network of GRDC-funded Grower Solutions Groups, according to Mr Clark.
These groups include the Northern Grower Alliance, Grain Orana Alliance, Central Queensland Grower Solutions Group and Coastal Grower Solutions Group – all of which play a critical advisory role in levy expenditure decisions.
“This effectively gives growers a direct say over how levies are spent and ensures that R&D work is comprehensively validated right across the northern region,” Mr Clark said.
Another important element of the strategy has been the investment in 19 mid-career science positions in collaboration with GRDC research partners across the northern region. This followed a review of existing career profiles and succession plans for the region’s key researchers to ensure that regional research requirements will continue to be met well into the future.
The Northern Region Strategy will continue to be a core priority for GRDC and the northern panel, helping mould the future of grains research in northern Australia – a legacy that Mr Clark has played a key role in.
Mr Clark officially stepped down from the northern panel chair position this week and will be replaced by NSW grain grower and agricultural consultant John Minogue.
To view Mr Clark discussing the strategy visit the GRDC YouTube channel or follow this link.
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Sarah Jeffrey, Senior Consultant Cox Inall Communications