Funding to boost grain research science

28 Dec, 2016 02:00 AM
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Pastoralists and Graziers Association president Tony Seabrook (left), WAFarmers chief executive officer Stephen Brown, Moore MLA Shane Love and Agriculture and Food Minister Mark Lewis.
Pastoralists and Graziers Association president Tony Seabrook (left), WAFarmers chief executive officer Stephen Brown, Moore MLA Shane Love and Agriculture and Food Minister Mark Lewis.

A MORE than $54 million funding boost to WA's grains research and development has been welcomed by the industry but there is yet to be a decision on how grains R&D will be managed.

Agriculture and Food Minister Mark Lewis last week announced the funding over four years to ensure grains science capacity remained in WA.

He said the investment, comprising $20m from Royalty for Regions, $21m of new State government funding and a $13.4m reallocation of existing Department of Agriculture and Food (DAFWA) funds, would invigorate grain crop science, innovation and technology.

It is hoped that this will potentially be leveraged against Grains Research Development Corporation (GRDC) and other funding sources.

"Grains makes up about $5 billion of the $8b in exports for WA and accounts for almost half the national grain growing capacity so it is very important that we increase profitability on our farms and in every paddock," Mr Lewis said.

"We're obviously a significant part of the national grains capacity and from a WA perspective if agriculture is to be that key driver, the focus is for me to get agriculture back in the game.

"That's where our R&D investment sits in the R&D spectrum - it's about driving that on-ground profit from the paddock."

Mr Lewis conceded that DAFWA had endured years of budget cuts and he was keen to turn the department around.

"It is no secret that we have seen the department go from 1600 to 1000 full-time jobs and when I took on the portfolio I was presented with three options to basically become a bio-security agency without any R&D, industry development, market access or natural resource management and to me that is unacceptable."

The announcement of additional funding into grains R&D has been welcomed but some industry representatives are disappointed no decision was made on the delivery model which has been languishing for more than two years.

While Mr Lewis "anticipated that the new arrangements will be in place by July 1, 2017" and the process to establish the model will begin in the new year, there is concern that this will be forgotten and drag on further following the March State election.

Mr Lewis said DAFWA had been working with the Grains Industry Group (GIG) and GRDC, looking at a range of different models to deliver grains research in the State.

"It is my responsibility to ensure that the necessary due diligence is undertaken to be confident that any new model meets the requirements of industry and the government, and is capable of lasting another 30 years," he said.

As reported in the Farm Weekly (New approach to WA grains research, June 30), the grains industry welcomed the decision by the State government and DAFWA to abandon the GrainsWest network proposal, which was launched in August 2014.

The proposal, which was widely criticised for its lack of industry consultation, would have seen grains R&D in WA move almost 200 staff from DAFWA and continue operating in a similar manner to what currently exists.

GIG, made up from industry representatives including WA Grains Group, Grains Industry Association of WA, WAFarmers and Pastoralists and Graziers Association, put forward a modified proposal in response to develop a demand-driven funding body.

Under this proposal DAFWA and the GRDC would be joint shareholders and GIG would act as an advisory group to approve research projects.

Farm Weekly understands that mid-December Mr Lewis commissioned a further report on grains R&D, asking GIG members what the R&D model should look like.

This is despite the DAFWA Future Directions Report, which was released in November, supporting the collaborative venture that had been put forward by GIG in February 2016.

"Instituting this new collaborative R&D entity will be a good outcome for the grains industry in this State, and will set a vision and build confidence that DAFWA can partner effectively in R&D programs to the benefit of other industries in the agriculture sector," the report said.

GIG vice president and grower group alliance chairman Clancy Michael said there had been a lot of work done by the collective industry to develop the right model.

"We all know this is the way forward - we won't have the same agriculture department we had 20 years ago as it is not the best spend of money," he said.

"If (Mr Lewis) has concerns with the model put forward by GIG, we are happy to address them - there has been a lot of bipartisan support and a lot of compromise to get to this point.

"Stop going around and around - the time for action is now."

Both WAFarmers and PGA are disappointed that there is still no announcement on the model.

WAFarmers grains section president Duncan Young said the State needed to build on existing capacities to keep up with demand.

He said industry widely accepted that the current model was insufficient and this had driven GIG's establishment.

"GIG, GRDC and others all support a change to the model - it feels like we are going back to the future if we can't move forward on the model we all support," he said.

PGA western graingrowers committee chairman Gary McGill said it was clear from previous research that the industry accepted a non-government entity model.

"While it is pleasing that the State government has announced funding to look after the interest of grain growers, we are disappointed that there has been no reference to the delivery model," he said.

GRDC managing director Steve Jefferies said GRDC had been working with DAFWA to ensure there was no further decline in R&D in WA.

"Like industry, we have been concerned by the government pulling back, which has seen DAFWA lose in the order of 600 people.

"For GRDC to be able to deliver enduring profitability we need research partners to deliver research on the ground.

"We welcome the announcement by the minister but our position on this has been the creation of an entity in partnership between DAFWA and GRDC, where we have a better delivery model that optimises the levy dollar investment and the State government investment by WA taxpayers."

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