Investment to reflect industry's changing realities

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Photo of Dr Steve Jefferies

Steve Jefferies, managing director GRDC

I mentioned in the previous (May-June) GroundCover™ editorial that a great deal has been happening behind the scenes at the GRDC. We are coming close to completing a major redesign and realignment of the business. This process has been happening for more than 18 months and we expect growers will soon start seeing the difference on the ground.

The main driver of this redesign is to adapt to the reality of a new grains industry in Australia. Technology, climate, markets, globalisation, even the R&D environment have changed substantially over recent years and we need to be better placed to respond to this and be primed to capture every opportunity that drives grower profitability upwards.

Over the next few months we will be looking to bring new expertise and capacity into the organisation to help achieve this. While this is a challenging task for the GRDC in its role as growers’ research investor, there is no denying the sense of energy, purpose and confidence that comes with meeting challenges – and opportunities – through tapping the full depth of ‘sleeves up’ agricultural science and agribusiness expertise available to us in this country.

Every day we are seeing new examples of ingenuity and innovation delivering problem-solving technologies and enhanced grains business potential. The increasing responsiveness of production systems to the evolving needs of our end-user markets is testament to our industry’s capacity to drive positive change. An example of this is the rapid growth in area planted to chickpeas and lentils in eastern Australia and the growth of canola in western and southern Australia.

It is this capability that must continue to be sustained and assisted, and it requires insight and experience at every level to ensure that our production systems can service our markets astutely and profitably. For example, research investment decisions cannot be made in isolation to market drivers. A doubling or tripling of a particular crop’s overall production would be a dubious achievement if the net effect was to pull down prices and ultimately profits.

We also need to be in a position to fully accommodate new technologies, particularly digital ones, and the manner in which these tools can be exploited to enhance research and production. The digital landscape is evolving at a rapid rate and we need to be extremely responsive to this.

We will also very soon be starting a new five-year Strategic Research, Development and Extension Plan for 2017-22. The RD&E Plan will set out the primary, strategic objectives for this period. It will unapologetically be focused on driving grower profitability and on-farm transformational technologies necessary to achieve this critical goal.

This planning process that will guide GRDC research investments will be transparent and will include extensive consultation with levy payers and external stakeholders such as agribusiness and our research partners. It will entail a range of practical measures, including discussion panels, face-to-face meetings, focus groups and workshops.

The RD&E Plan will ensure existing industry-led strategies are incorporated into our portfolio of investments. It will also reflect policy initiatives such as the Australian Government’s Agricultural Competiveness White Paper, which entails a $4 billion investment in the farming sector as a whole, as well as the GRDC’s own adjustments such as our significantly increased regional presence.

The GRDC’s website will act as a primary source of information for levy payers and other stakeholders. It will also allow input or feedback into the development of the RD&E Plan. I urge all interested growers, stakeholders and partners to contribute to this process. We belong to a dynamic industry with an exciting future and we can all play a role in amplifying this.