The multiplier effect of collaboration

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John Harvey, managing director, Grains Research and Development Corporation.

In this era of rapid change – climate, markets, technologies – the challenges and opportunities that are defining our industry are unprecedented. Both ends of the grain value chain are requiring extensive research; at one end to address the unremitting challenge of production constraints and at the other to meet new market needs and opportunities.

Globalisation is an overarching pressure, be it climate change, gene discovery, biosecurity or competitive market forces. It reaffirms the GRDC’s focus on managing a coordinated, national RD&E program, within which there must also be adequate provision for speedily responding to local research needs.

To sustain forward momentum, the technological advances are becoming much more incremental than step-change. For the moment at least, there is no imminent ‘revolution’ like no-till. The science, and the research development and adoption on-farm or in value chain enterprises, is becoming more sophisticated and, in the pre-breeding and crop improvement area, more expensive. Many fields of essential research are now beyond one organisation, in many cases, beyond one country – and at a time when public-sector research has declined.

The GRDC’s response has been to step up its partnerships program, teaming with specialist research bodies and companies in Australia and internationally. Our objective is to find ways to leverage off our comparatively small national research budget by global standards and link in with much larger research programs and capabilities. Such collaboration creates a multiplier effect, giving our industry the resources needed to tackle the deeper and broader range of RD&E priorities that growers have in sustaining profitable businesses and in contributing to a profitable, internationally advanced industry.

This year, as part of this collaborative approach, we signed a $45 million five-year agreement with Bayer CropScience to establish the Herbicide Innovation Partnership. This partnership’s objective is to accelerate the discovery and development of innovative management solutions to weeds, which are costing our industry an estimated $3.3 billion a year (more than $140 per hectare in expenditure and losses).

We have also embarked on a program of bilateral research agreements to maximise the capabilities of different grains research centres across the country. In the first such agreement, the GRDC announced a five-year bilateral research program with Curtin University for ongoing R&D at the Centre for Crop and Disease Management. The GRDC is investing $5 million a year for five years ($25 million) with the remainder ($75 million) provided by Curtin University. The scope of research will cover world-leading molecular biology and follow this through to on-farm impacts on gross margins and farm-management practices. It is an example of the leveraging we seek, with a potentially major payoff for growers given wheat diseases alone cost, on average, more than $76/ha in lost production.

The above developments highlight the absolute priority that the GRDC places on maximising the return on investment for growers’ levies. Independent studies show that every $1 investment returns $5 in benefits to the industry, manifest in the delivery of new, advanced crop varieties for production and market gains, and more profitable farming practises such as advanced disease, pest, weeds, soils and climate management across a range of farming systems and circumstances.

Importantly, this is recognised by our grower stakeholders. Our latest stakeholder survey shows support for the research levy has increased from 74 per cent to 79 per cent since 2010. Growers’ rating of the GRDC’s overall performance has increased from 69 per cent to 83 per cent. This is a strong position from which the GRDC can continue to strive for improvement, particularly in the way it maximises the benefits to growers of every dollar invested in lifting grower and industry profitability.

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