Reflecting on an era of significant innovation

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Portrait of John Harvey

John Harvey, managing director of the GRDC.

This is my final editorial as managing director of the GRDC, and after 18 years with the organisation I feel privileged to have met and worked with so many hardworking and inspirational people involved in agriculture and grains research.

For the past 25 years the GRDC has invested in research, development and extension (RD&E) that has seen growers improve their farming systems and increase profit margins. For example, on an industry-wide scale we have achieved an increase in total factor productivity of 1.5 per cent per year, an increase in wheat yields of 1.12 per cent per year, and we have seen the doubling of water use efficiency.

Australia’s tough and variable conditions are part of the reason that growers value research so highly. Using RD&E to adapt ‘in-paddock’ has become a necessity for successful cropping.

As I take up my role with the Rural Industries Research and Development Corporation, I want to acknowledge how impressed I am to see so many growers embracing innovation to stay ahead of the curve. In the GRDC’s 2015 Grower Survey, 83 per cent of growers said they had directly benefited from RD&E activities over the past five years.

The GRDC’s network model means that grain growers across our three cropping regions are important contributors in driving our research agenda. Through the GRDC’s scale and international standing, growers are also influencing global research that is relevant to Australian conditions. Investing up to $200 million annually, our organisation is big enough that we can work with multinational researchers such as Bayer CropScience, forming our Herbicide Innovation Partnership (HIP). For the first time, Bayer’s international research includes problem weeds specific to Australian farming systems and conditions.

The HIP highlights the GRDC’s important role as the intermediary, linking growers with the best research being conducted worldwide. It is also a very exciting example of how we are putting the needs of Australian growers at the frontline of research outcomes.

Embracing innovation has become a competitive strength for the Australian grains industry and the value that growers place on innovation and R&D is an important aspect of the industry’s profile. Growers expect the GRDC to leverage and promote the competitive positioning of grains and agriculture to take the economy forward and promote jobs and growth, particularly as the resources boom declines and Australia’s terms of trade continue to get tighter.

It is necessary to increase the visibility of the grains industry and the GRDC to attract new domestic and international research partners and position us to exploit cross-sectoral innovation by opening up new conversations with different stakeholders. The GRDC also needs to attract and retain the best talent in the science and research community and make our sector aspirational for researchers.

To achieve these broader strategic goals we are undertaking a range of initiatives, including our media partnership, which includes grower events hosted by radio veteran Alan Jones. It means the GRDC is reaching a broader group of stakeholders than our Ground Cover readership, successfully raising awareness of grains innovation and the RD&E framework that makes grains a competitive industry offering appealing careers and lifestyles.

This awareness campaign amplifies the great work of the GRDC and the willingness and preparedness of growers to take an interest in RD&E, which ensures that we are geared up to capitalise on new frontiers in agricultural science and innovation. Finally, I want to take this opportunity to thank colleagues and growers for their support and wish everyone well for the season.

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