Maintaining and increasing grain grower profitability, and addressing the production issues underpinning profitability through a multifaceted, coordinated approach.
Stuart Kearns is up for this challenge as a Grains Research and Development Corporation (GRDC) western regional panellist.
He is the GRDC’s Executive Manager Regional Grower Services and has recently joined the panel in an executive capacity, bringing with him almost two decades of experience with the GRDC, in which time he has focused primarily on grower services.
Mr Kearns is one of 11 members of the panel, led by chairman Peter Roberts, comprising grain growers, scientists and advisers.
“I’ve been with the GRDC since 1998 and in that time I’ve worked in many different roles,” he said.
“But the constant theme of my tenure has been grower issues and engaging with growers - understanding their issues and what’s impacting them in the paddock, knowing what’s burning a hole in their back pocket and what’s keeping them awake at night.”
Mr Kearns said the GRDC had increasingly moved towards addressing growers’ production issues through programs of work across multiple areas, or ‘initiatives’, rather than with single research projects.
“It’s not just one project or one response to issues such as weeds or soil constraints – these areas are being pulled together and coordinated by a program of four or five different projects that are working on different elements of these issues,” he said.
“In the area of weed management, for instance, the GRDC is investing not only in the Australian Herbicide Resistance Initiative, but short-term, tactical Regional Cropping Solutions Networks (RCSN) projects, as well as long-term molecular research,” he said.
Mr Kearns is one of five GRDC executive managers and in this role is responsible for leading its Regional Grower Services team, which aims to ensure that research and development (R&D) outcomes are delivered to growers and benefit their farm businesses.
The team comprises staff based in the GRDC’s Canberra and regional offices, including western regional grower services manager Roger States in the Perth office.
“Their fundamental role is to understand what growers’ issues are and to respond in a timely way, and the main way in which we understand these issues is through RCSNs,” Mr Kearns said.
“Once we identify the issues that are of greatest concern, we look for the best possible solution – which might be putting a research project in place, developing existing research results, or developing new ‘products and services’.
“Regional Grower Services is currently working on a range of 13 products and services - colloquially called the Baker’s Dozen - that includes hard copy publications, digital applications and face-to-face events.”
Mr Kearns said the GRDC had recently implemented significant changes to its structure and operations.
“This has occurred right through the organisation – from our staff and their roles and descriptions, right through to our regional presence, the way we do business and the way in which we engage with growers on a regional basis,” he said.
“The changes go a long way to preparing for the needs of growers today, and their needs in coming decades.”
Mr Kearns said change was needed as the landscape in which the GRDC operated was very different to what it was when the GRDC was established in 1990.
“The value of the Australian grains industry has grown considerably – we were an $8.5 billion industry less than 10 years ago, and now we find ourselves operating in a $15.5 billion industry,” he said.
“We’ve also witnessed a refocussing of state governments away from R&D which is changing the way in which we operate and the way in which we need to partner with other organisations.
“In addition, we’ve heard loud and clear from growers that they want to see the GRDC’s investment portfolio being directed at a very local level.”
Mr Kearns is a strong advocate of the benefits of a nationally coordinated R&D system.
“Australia represents 2 per cent of the world’s R&D in grains, and we need to have a system that enables the industry to connect with other organisations globally – to find solutions to grower issues in the cheapest, most effective way,” he said.
“And while Australia does have researchers and agronomists across the country, we don’t have all the capacity we need in each state.
“A classic example is wheat rust – we have a lot of research capacity localised at The University of Sydney in the Australian Cereal Rust Control Program, which provides services to wheat pre-breeding efforts throughout Australia.
“We build and maintain that capacity in that particular location rather than trying to fragment or duplicate it across the country.”
A video interview with Mr Kearns is available on the GRDC YouTube channel.
The GRDC plans and invests in RD&E for the Australian grains industry. Its primary objective is to drive the discovery, development and delivery of world-class innovation to enhance the productivity, profitability and sustainability of Australian grain growers and benefit the industry and the wider community.
02 6166 4500
Natalie Lee, Cox Inall Communications
08 9864 2034, 0427 189 827