Fellowships to boost ag science in WA

29 Aug, 2015 02:00 AM
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PREMIER and Science Minister Colin Barnett last week announced a $2.74 million Science and Agribusiness Connect initiative to develop the State's academic excellence in agricultural science.

The initiative - to extend over four years - includes an allocation of $1.5m for an agriculture and food fellowship program.

Mr Barnett said $1m of this would go to attract a distinguished researcher from interstate or overseas to build and lead a research team to develop WA's capabilities in an area of agricultural science, need identified through consultation with the Department of Agriculture and Food, WA universities and industry associations.

He said past fellows had assisted in creating hubs of academic excellence in WA, and had successfully enabled a research focus on particularly WA challenges.

Mr Barnett said a second early/mid-career fellowship worth $500,000 would be awarded to an outstanding WA researcher to support them in building a research team to translate research from the laboratory to the field.

The funding for both fellowships would be matched by a university or industry.

"This position will support the WA Fellow in establishing a research hub, and also help address the brain drain often found as post-doctoral researchers undertake research positions elsewhere," he said.

The Science and Agribusiness Connect initiative is a suite of exchange, fellowship and scholarship programs designed to boost the State's agrifood sector workforce and expertise.

Funded through the State Government's Royalties for Regions program, and to be administered by the Office of Science, the initiative also includes:

p a $880,000 tertiary program to improve the work-readiness of agricultural science students by providing exchanges, scholarships and work experience opportunities

p the Premier's agriculture and aquaculture entrepreneurship program which will support entrepreneurship and innovation through $360,000 to an annual scholarship program (three $30,000 scholarships a year for four years).

Mr Barnett said the entrepreneurship program would enable a WA farmer to pursue an idea, invention or practice within the fields of agriculture and aquaculture with the potential to broaden the economy and modernise the State.

"This will send the successful applicant overseas to learn other methods of farming within their specialised area, increasing their knowledge and skills,'' he said.

"Upon their return to WA, the applicant can apply newly acquired skills and share their knowledge within the industry."

The science statement for WA identified the key role played by the agricultural and food research sector in using science to broaden the State's economy.

"This suite of education initiatives will help attract more people to a career in science and support their career development," Mr Barnett said.

Regional Development Minister Terry Redman said WA had a unique opportunity to expand the State's $20 billion agriculture and food sector and capture new market opportunities, especially in Asia.

"To do that we need a range of science specialists, such as agronomists, pathologists, veterinary scientists, soil scientists and science communicators, to help lift productivity, quality and profitability," Mr Redman said.

"I am pleased Royalties for Regions can support the continued broadening of the economy by funding these important programs. They will offer great opportunities to promote academic excellence, to encourage students and to help develop and progress good ideas in agriculture and aquaculture."

WA's chief scientist Peter Klinken will also be closely involved in the development of the Science and Agribusiness Connect initiative. Professor Klinken is working with some stakeholders to develop a long-term strategy for agricultural research in the State.

"I look forward to being closely involved in the development of this program which presents a fantastic opportunity for the State to further develop its agrifood research capabilities," Professor Klinken said.

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