Grains innovation set to continue

Photo of John Lovett

CHANGE HAS been sweeping Australia's $9 billion grains industry. It has enjoyed a remarkable record of growth over the past decade, thanks to innovative farmers who have swooped on new varieties, crop types, farming systems and equipment technology.

Because farmers have used research outputs to make major changes over the period, productivity-growth has averaged 3.2 per cent a year, with gross value of production rising by more than 80 per cent and planted area increasing by 50 per cent.

So, there is no surprise that the organisation that oversees scientific development in the industry - the Grains Research and Development Corporation (GRDC) - should choose "Driving Innovation" as the theme for its new five-year strategic plan. The plan, starting on I July and running until 2007, reflects grower priorities for grains research and has been developed in consultation with the industry's national representative body, the Grains Council of Australia.

The new plan accepts the inevitability of major change across the Australian and international grains industry over the coming five years and commits the GRDC to ensuring grower and industry innovation meets the challenges involved. As well, the GRDC has become more business-driven, is more ably linking technology to adoption and has set out on a course to achieve global leadership in grains research.

In particular, the new plan predicts major technological change in areas like precision agriculture, biotechnology, grain storage, farm input discovery, processing and extraction techniques, product attribute development, grain and food testing, and farming systems techniques - the research issues that Ground Cover has reported to graingrowers over the past decade.

The Minister for Agriculture, Fisheries and Forestry, Warren Truss, who launched the new plan, said that previous GRDC plans have contributed to industry growth through better plant breeding, improved tillage practices and better resource and business management.

New approaches for research and development will help lead to the industry's gains over the next five years. Commercial joint-venture wheat-breeding arrangements have been set up by the GRDC in each of the grain industry's three regions, and should playa significant part in these gains.

Other crops, such as oilseeds and pulses, would be made more attractive to growers by research to define new management requirements and to overcome disease problems. This will offer 'real benefits for sustainable rotations' , while meeting a demand for human consumption and livestock feeding.

Sustainable farming systems research will help improve Australia's whole-farm profitability while protecting and enhancing the environment. This is essential to achieve the industry'S continued growth competitiveness.

Balanced information on biotechnology

On a very topical note, the GRDC accepts community concerns about biotechnology. It believes sensitive hand.Iing of the development of biotechnology - and balanced, truthful communication of its potential benefits to consumers and the environment (as found in the back pages of this edition of Ground Cover) - will win increasing public acceptance of the new technologies.

The Corporation's investments in biotechnology over the next five years focus on benefits that can be obtained in crop improvement and crop protection, including:

  • discovery of genes and molecular markers related to key performance traits in winter cereals - wheat and barley;
  • development of technologies for genetic modification of winter cereals and their application to critical input and output traits;
  • doubled haploid and molecular marker technologies for pulse and canola breeding programs by Australian and international collaborations; and
  • exploring the introduction of desirable genes from related species.

Supported by grain growers and the Federal Government through the GRDC, Australian scientists will continue to use a range of biotechnologies to deliver improved outcomes in the areas of yield, quality, nutrition and environmental sustainability.