Organisational change to keep RD&E driving hard

A picture of John Harvey

John Harvey, managing director, Grains Research and Development Corporation

Just as growers are constantly adjusting to changing seasons, markets and industry circumstances, so too is the GRDC. As an organisation we are experiencing a period of significant transformation to ensure we continue to maximise the effectiveness of research investments made on behalf of growers and the Australian Government.

Grains research, production and marketing all function within an increasingly complex environment shaped by both local and global challenges and opportunities. It means a proactive research manager such as the GRDC must continually be fine-tuning its systems, processes and business models, as well as its research priorities in response to growers’ changing needs.

Research, development and extension (RD&E) has been fundamental to sustaining our industry’s profitability and competitiveness in the face of challenging seasons and global market shifts.

The total value of the Australian grains industry has grown from $8.5 billion in 2009-10 to $15.5 billion in 2013-14 and the long-term growth in total factor productivity (a measure of production efficiency) for cropping specialists is 1.5 per cent per annum. This compares favourably with other broadacre enterprises – for example, beef is at 1.3 per cent; mixed crop/livestock 0.9 per cent; and sheep 0.2 per cent.

The challenge is to sustain this trend. For the GRDC this means ensuring we have in place the right organisational culture, systems and personnel. We must keep on the front foot in fighting pests and disease, breeding robust new varieties, managing weather and climate variability, and helping to drive innovative farming practices that counter productivity constraints.

In other words, we have to be dynamic – dynamic in the way we engage with growers and industry-support professionals, and dynamic in the way we forge new research collaborations.

Part of this is reflected in the wholesale changes being made to our operations and processes, particularly our website, IT and customer relationship systems to ensure we are good listeners: for growers to know they are being heard, and to ensure we are subsequently effective in the way research outcomes are delivered on-farm.

Another fundamental change we have embarked upon is to be far more dynamic in our research relationships – leveraging local science capacity to join, and even drive, much more extensive international research programs that would otherwise be beyond Australia’s resources. The objective of this strategy is to make sure Australian growers are among the first to benefit from scientific advances that will improve productivity and profitability.

An example of this is the new venture between the GRDC and Bayer CropScience in Germany. The GRDC will contribute $45 million over five years and receive royalties and milestone payments on products derived from this research. The joint venture Herbicide Innovation Partnership will research new technologies with which to overcome the pressing, worldwide issue of herbicide resistance.

This is a critical issue (costing Australian growers some $3.3 billion a year) and acknowledged to be too big a task for any one company or even country. By teaming up with Bayer CropScience, the GRDC will help drive this crucial research and bring into play an advanced, dedicated research team that Australia on its own could simply not assemble. The venture also includes Australian universities, which will benefit from involvement in advanced industrial research techniques.

This is what we mean by the GRDC being dynamic and forward-looking in the way it continues to deliver technologies that protect, and ideally lift, profitability in the face of constant production challenges, or by responding profitably to market opportunities.

We are determined to be attentive and nimble.

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