The GRDC is every grower’s R&D department

Image of Steve Jefferies

Steve Jefferies, new managing director of the GRDC.

This is my first Ground Cover editorial as the GRDC’s new managing director and what a great privilege and honour it is to take on the role of leading the corporation. I have been fortunate in being able to study grains R&D around the world and know that many other countries are envious of Australia’s R&D system and in particular the GRDC’s role.

My whole career has been in the Australian grains industry. I have worked in various plant breeding-related roles both in the public and private sectors, helping to deliver improved varieties. This new position offers a great opportunity to make an even bigger difference to the lives of Australian grain growers.

When I took this on I began thinking about what it means to be a true leader of innovation, research and development. One company that has clearly demonstrated these attributes is Apple, which sits at the cutting edge of disruptive digital innovation and has changed the way we use personal devices, consume music and access information.

Apple’s innovation is driven by its R&D department in Cupertino, California, where it employs 12,000 and invests more than US$4 billion annually in R&D. Imagine if each grain grower had to individually try to achieve the same innovation. There are about 22,000 Australian grain growers, many of whom operate as single-owner enterprises. Most of our enterprises cannot afford their own R&D department like Apple, nor can they create the critical mass of resources and expertise to drive the innovation required. I see the GRDC as one consolidated R&D department for every grain grower in Australia.

The GRDC creates a critical mass that can effectively invest in innovation to drive future profitability. If we think of the GRDC as the grower’s own R&D department, we carry a critical responsibility to deliver innovation and value to growers.

It is very early days for me at the GRDC and I am on a steep learning curve. So far I have been very impressed with the passion and dedication shown by GRDC’s people. They are clearly driven to make a positive difference to the lives, profits and opportunities of Australian grain growers and industry. 

In order to adapt to the modern grains industry and respond to growers’ needs, the GRDC is in the process of making some major changes which include:

  • a restructure of the research portfolio to ensure an appropriate balance in delivering short, medium as well as long-term benefits to growers;
  • relocating staff from Canberra to regional offices to strengthen the GRDC’s local and regional connections, which benefits delivery; and
  • improvements in the way we seek direction from growers on what are their most important research priorities.

I recently participated in a GRDC local grower solution group prioritisation meeting at Moree in northern NSW. This Grower Solutions Group identified and prioritised projects that addressed local production issues that impact on grower profitability. Similar to the Regional Cropping Solutions Networks (RSCN) in other states, growers and agronomists provide input and drive the GRDC research process from the ground up. The results from prioritisation meetings are fed back into the GRDC research process and fast tracked to “on the ground” local research. I was very impressed with this process, along with the high technical knowledge and wealth of experience in the room, and the positive, collegiate attitude.  

I look forward to participating in future research priority-determining activities in other regions over the next few months.  

I hope to get “out and about” and meet as many growers as possible over the spring and pre-harvest period. I look forward to hearing about the issues you are facing and how your own R&D department can better deliver value to you.


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