Editorial Reviewing the year that was


A STRIKING feature of the GRDC investment portfolio, supported by graingrowers and the Federal Government, is its diversity - from 'blue skies' research to 'muddy boots' . This diversity makes it difficult to summarise the GRDC's achievements for anyone year, however the following provides some indication of the breadth of investments and the successes that the GRDC and its research partners have had in delivering outcomes to the industry.

In 2000-0 I, the GRDC made substantial progress towards realising its goal of restructuring Australia's wheat-breeding programs through the establishment of new joint ventures, which will offer choice of varieties to growers using the best contemporary techniques. One of these new ventures, SunPrime, is already operational, with another two ventures close to being final ised.

The value of the GRDC's longstanding investment in the National Cereal Rust Control Program (NCRCP) was emphasised with the breakdown in resistance of the Lr24 gene by a new rust strain. This program ensured that Australia had in place the resources to recognise when a breakdown in resistance occurred. Without the NCRCP, the costs to Australian industry of the breakdown in resistance of Lr24 could easily have reached $100 million in the first year, both from disease losses and from increased management costs. Already, progress has been made in developing alternative forms of resistance to Lr24. In the area of on-farm management, the industry-developed quality assurance program, 'Graincare', was made available to growers after the completion of a pilot program in April 200 1. The development of Graincare was led by the Grains Council of Australia, and was supported by the GRDC. It will improve the competitiveness of the industry in meeting the food and feed safety requirements of our customers.

An important aspect of the GRDC's portfolio is investing in the industry's human resources. In the past year, the GRDC significantly expanded enrolments for the 'Research Horizons' Course for Grain Leaders, supported the national ' Partners in Grain' initiative to fo ster the skills of the industry'S women and young people, and continued to support TOPCROP, now comprising 500 grower groups around Australia and involving around 5,000 growers.

Some of the most important achievements of the past year, however, are less visible because they relate to internal changes within the GRDC. These changes are designed to meet important chall enges in the Corporation's operating environment. The Corporation's management structure has been reconfigured, and the GRDC program structure rationalised, to provide for a more strategic and fl exible approach to research investments and research delivery. Within the GRDC, a new Strategic Development unit will ensure that the GRDC's investments are underpinned by a clear and coherent strategy that meets grower and government stakeholder needs. The unit will also be responsible for giving greater emphasis to monitoring and evaluating outcomes from GRDC investments and evaluating the potential of new areas for GRDC investment. This work will assist in ensuring that the GRDC has the correct balance in its investment portfo lio between long- and short-term investments and between program areas.

A new Business Development unit provides the GRDC with the expertise necessary to manage complex intellectual property and commercial issues. It will provide a clear conduit for GRDC interactions with the private sector, an increasingly important GRDC research partner and a significant contributor to innovation in the Australian grains industry. This unit will have parti cular responsibil ity for implementing the GRDC's policy on commercialisation, a crucial mechani sm for quickly and efficiently transferring new technology to growers.

The GRDC has rationalised the number of research programs from 25 to 6. This rationalisation will provide for greater portfolio coherence, including improved coordination between programs. Through their participation in Program Teams, the new program structure also enhances the capacity of the GRDC's Regional Panels to actively shape the strategy behind GRDC investments and ensure that investments are targeting those research areas that can make a real difference to the Australian grains industry.

The traditional areas of Crop Improvement, Crop Protection and Sustainable Farming Systems are included in the GRDC's new program line-up. The Value Chain Program, however, is a new addition. The inclusion of this program signals an increased focus and priority on research to improve the performance of Australian grain value chains in meeting market requirements. Investments in this area hold tremendous potential for increasing the prolitability of graingrowers through new technologies, products and processes that can assist growers to better meet markct requirements and 'capture' more of the value of the product they produce.

The Product & Service Dclivcry Program will have a criti cal role in interacting with other programs to en sure that research outcomes arc being de livered to the indu stry in ways that are practical and useable. Thc most importa nt research end- users arc growers; however, agronomists and private consuhant s, resea rc hers and other grains industry parti ci pants will also be targeted as part of the GRDC's push to accelerate the adoption of research outcomes by the grains industry.

Overall , 2001 has bcen a watershed year for the GRDC. It has provided a firm foundation for meeting the challenges that face the industry over the coming decade.

These challcnges include:

  • even greater scrutiny of the environmental sustainability of the industry; the need to manage complex relationships across the full spectrum of the value chain to meet our stakeholders' needs, at both a national and an international level;
  • the need to continue to contribute to industry efforts in meeting consumer quality requirements for grain and grainbased products; the need to integrate different technologies and research disciplines to achieve holistic research outcomes, and
  • the need to manage intellectual property issues and the commercialisation of research outcomes so that we can deliver even better technology to growers at a faster rate.

The GRDC's third Five Year Plan, to commence in July 2002, will outline in greater detail the GRDC's response to these challenges. Although more than 10 years old, in many ways the work of the GRDC has only just begun.