Change is the foundation for the industry’s future

Peter Reading

By Peter Reading, Managing Director, Grains Research and Development Corporation

The grains industry is moving through a period of significant structural change, as illustrated by the Australian Grains Industry Strategy 2005-2025, released at Grains Week.

This change – in technologies, products, information flows, business structures and in markets – affects the whole industry and has brought into focus the pressing need for all of the different sectors including research and development to develop stronger working relationships.

Our industry has many voices, which now need to be joined to articulate a shared vision for the future and to reach agreement where there are common issues.

Within the industry the GRDC is in a unique position because it can encourage change throughout the value chain by supporting research and development in different sectors. As ‘demand pull’ replaces the traditional ‘supply push’ such research will be the key to making sure that producers and end-users remain in step with each other.

This linchpin position brings with it particular responsibilities – an independent and clear whole-of-industry perspective for a start. But the GRDC must also be willing to change itself; to review its own business processes.

The GRDC is mindful of its obligation to operate efficiently, effectively, and transparently to maximise the effectiveness of the investments it makes for its stakeholders – growers and the Federal Government. This means it must also ask the same of research groups that earn GRDC support.

One of the weaknesses that has been identified in the Strategy is the fragmentation and duplication of resources throughout the industry, including the national R&D effort. There is a history of ‘turf protection’ that has seen significant duplication and in some cases a reluctance to share information between research providers.

An increased drive for greater accountability, by the GRDC, of its investment portfolios, will help ensure that research is done for the right reasons and that stakeholders get a return on the funds they contribute.

In this period of change that is laying the foundations for the industry’s future, performance criteria for everyone need to be clear, and research must be measured by what it delivers to growers and the industry as a whole.

Crucial in achieving this is communication. This has long been a GRDC priority and is embodied in the panels system that places the GRDC on the ground among growers and other industry representatives.

It is the subsequent communication of industry needs to the research community, and the communication and delivery of R&D outcomes back to the industry, that makes or breaks us.

Communication has been identified as essential to the success of the Strategy – but perhaps from here on a different form of communication to what we might have expected in the past. The exhaustive work that has already gone into the Strategy suggests that people in the Australian grains industry have begun to talk not only to, but with and about each other.

Footnote: The Australian Grains Industry Strategy 2005-2025 is available through Ground Cover Direct, 1800 11 00 44, ground-cover-direct@canprint.com.au