Global links key to research impact

Photo of Keith Perrett

Retiring GRDC chairman and Gunnadah grower Keith
Perrett: it is imperative the GRDC is structured to
better facilitate access to global grains research.

PHOTO: Brad Collis

For Australian grain growers wanting to exploit the latest international research breakthroughs from both the public and private sectors, the structure of the GRDC will need to change, says retiring GRDC chair Keith Perrett.

“International global research collaborations are absolutely critical to our business. But Australia is probably only contributing about three per cent of the grains-related research around the world. The GRDC might make up 45 per cent of that three per cent as far as the funding goes,” says Mr Perrett, a grower from Gunnedah, New South Wales.“Overseas, you have six big companies that spend about $5 billion a year. We need to tap into that research, and work out what parts are going to be suitable for Australia so our growers get access to that research information as soon as possible.”

Mr Perrett says being a statutory authority, and the constraints that come with that structure, can make collaborations with private organisations more difficult, particularly when it comes to commercial-in-confidence issues.

“While the statutory authority structure has served us well, the landscape is changing.

“I don’t think it is the best business model to engage, to be as nimble as we need to be, particularly with the corporate sector.”

Mr Perrett says the recent internal restructure of the GRDC has provided an improved alignment of internal business units and commercial drivers.

He says the GRDC already has strong relationships with a number of global public-sector organisations such as the International Maize and Wheat Improvement Center, the International Centre for Agricultural Research in the Dry Areas and the International Crops Research Institute for the Semi-Arid Tropics in India, as well as multinational corporations.

If the GRDC is to remain an influential player into the future, Mr Perrett believes the organisation needs to continue fostering relationships internationally.

“The big challenge will be ensuring we continue to get the engagement right, internationally, in the future. There is so much going on overseas and we have to work to make sure that Australian growers can reap those benefits.”

In Australia, he says stronger engagement with stakeholders is helping the GRDC to better target the most needed research, and the Grains Industry National Research, Development and Extension Strategy is providing a blueprint for the most effective investment in RD&E.

He sees the Australian Grains Genebank in Victoria and the Australian Export Grains Innovation Centre in Western Australia, both of which were outlined in the National Strategy, as examples of the consolidation of expertise that will improve coordination and collaboration of research. The collaboration with the University of Sydney, at the Narrabri research site in NSW, is also set to be a significant asset for the industry.

“One of the most difficult things facing the GRDC has been the decline in the spend of the public sector agencies. But we saw that coming. That’s one reason why we put in place the national RD&E strategy, so we could say to our partners ‘we understand your budgets are under stress, so here is an agreement of what we are going to do, and where, and how we can do it more efficiently’

“This has meant the grains industry has been less affected by public sector funding cuts than some other industries.”

Mr Perrett says it has been a hectic but productive six years as chair of the GRDC, and he is looking forward to the chance to “just go farming” when he returns full-time to the family property north of Gunnedah at the end of September.

Mr Perrett has been at the helm of the GRDC over the past six years, which has been a critical time in the organisation’s history. He has seen the GRDC work harder to get closer to growers – to better understand research needs and how to respond to them.

This is in part a result of the continued engagement with the regional panels and the formation of Regional Cropping Solutions Networks, in which Mr Perrett played an instrumental role.

As a result of this focus, the GRDC has been able to target investment in RD&E at a more local level to address the issues and constraints that are most relevant to Australian growers, across the grainbelt.

Stakeholder surveys show the majority of growers value GRDC-supported research, and cite RD&E as the grains industry’s great strength: “Growers associate changes to their farming systems and technology on their property with RD&E, and they associate RD&E with the GRDC.

“Even though our information may not always be GRDC-branded, we do know that it is getting to growers and being used to see real results in the field, which is our number-one priority.”



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