Industry takes control of R&D future

12 Nov, 2015 12:00 AM
Regional Development Minister Terry Redman (left), Agriculture and Food Minister Ken Baston and the Grains Research and Development Corporation chairman Richard Clark.
We're not about GRDC structure, we're not about levies, our focus is to look at the production R&D
Regional Development Minister Terry Redman (left), Agriculture and Food Minister Ken Baston and the Grains Research and Development Corporation chairman Richard Clark.

WA'S grains industry is taking the future of research and development (R&D) into its own hands with a new initiative independent of the government and Department of Agriculture and Food (DAFWA).

The Grains Industry Group (GIG) was formed in August and encompasses key players in the sector and recognises R&D needs direction after numerous DAFWA budget cuts and decisions to cease operating in this capacity.

Leading the group is BusinessAg consultant David Falconer as chairman and Mingenew grower and Grower Group Alliance Strategic Advisory Group chairman Clancy Michael in the deputy position.

The group also includes representatives from WAFarmers, the Pastoralists and Graziers Association, the WA Grains Group, the CSIRO, the Grains Industry Association of WA, Curtin University on behalf of WA's tertiary institutions and private R&D firm Kaylx.

In recent weeks GIG has secured $60,000 in funding from DAFWA and the Grains Research and Development Corporation (GRDC) to investigate the best option for R&D in WA using examples from across the globe.

Mr Falconer said the clear co-operation of the key players in the grains industry illustrated the extreme importance placed by the industry on maintaining R&D in WA.

He said he was motivated to drive the GIG concept after discovering DAFWA director general Rob Delane and Agriculture and Food Minister Ken Baston's GrainsWest solution announced at the 2014 Dowerin GWN7 Machinery Field Days had little industry involvement.

"We are at a stage where it needs industry involvement to get ownership of it," he said.

"What's really unusual but also positive is that we have all groups together working for one outcome.

"We're not about GRDC structure, we're not about levies, our focus is to look at the production R&D for the State and how this can continue."

Mr Falconer said the joint funding from GRDC and DAFWA was "to look at the best model for production research in WA in a sustainable model".

The effort will be headed by former DAFWA director general and now GIWA policy and business development officer Ian Longson, with Esther Jones, from Bluesee, in an administration role.

It is due to report in mid-January.

Mr Falconer said Mr Longson would be consulting with all levels of industry from growers to exporters and the outcome was one GIG agreed needed to have the sole purpose of delivering the best productivity research for WA.

"It might include some aspects of GrainsWest but it's not a GrainsWest model," he said.

"We don't have any preconceived ideas of what it's going to be.

"GRDC has got funding, DAFWA has staff and GIG has the minds (of the industry).

"We've accepted the government is cutting the budget for whatever reason, so we need to move forward.

"There will be transition discussions with the WA government over funding requirements and any transitions for DAFWA, but until we know the model we don't know what the discussions will be.

"Whatever it does look like, GIG is about not losing the agricultural science capacity from WA.

"January fits in with budget timing and we would hope then that the government has an appetite for funding whatever the long term R&D model is that we determine to be for the best of the State."

DAFWA budget cuts include reducing staff from 1500 to 700 in 2017 and a further reduction government funding.

DAFWA and GRDC funding for R&D totals more than $50 million, but if this was to disappear so would about $60-$70m from the State's economy.

Without an R&D operation in WA, the GRDC would be forced to go elsewhere as its operations require a funding split for R&D and it cannot solely fund any research.

Mr Delane said DAFWA was committed to working with industry to design the best way to deliver on-farm productivity R&D to WA growers.

"The formation of the GIG brings broad representation to contribute to a range of perspectives on future R&D delivery options, to achieve a united approach with a clear long-term vision and provide advice to DAFWA, GRDC and the Agriculture and Food Minister," he said.

Mr Delane said the formation of GIG was a "once in a generation transformational shift in how grains R&D" is conducted in WA and industry engagement was essential.

"DAFWA anticipates that GIG will provide valuable insights into the GrainsWest concept, and possible enhancements to the proposed model, and values that input," he said.

GRDC managing director John Harvey welcomed GIG's formation and the representation of grower groups across WA coming together to drive forward grains R&D, ensuring the best outcome for growers in WA.

"Consultation is central to GRDC in determining research priorities and underpins all our investment decision-making to ensure that we achieve a balanced R&D portfolio," he said.

"We will listen to the outcomes of GIG, alongside our GRDC Panel and Regional Cropping Solutions Groups to ensure that GRDC's investment strategy reflects the needs of growers in WA.

"To this end, we have contributed funds to GIG and we look forward to a draft report from the group."

Grower Group Alliance Strategic Advisory Group chairman Clancy Michael said there was concern from industry that there was no long-term outlook for R&D in WA.

"What we're really looking for is something that's continuous and we want to know what is the model that's going to be there in 10 years," he said.

Mr Michael said WA's grains research realm had the expertise and numbers needed to keep R&D alive, but it was clear this was not going to exist in the form it always had and this was a chance for the industry to own its future.

"There's some very good people in the industry and we want to give them some surety," he said.

"We want those people to be here long-term but whatever has to happen has to suit everybody and people have to come to the table with no preconceived idea about a solution.

"There's plenty of models around in the Eastern States or internationally and even in the oil and gas industry and if we can engage with government and funders of R&D in putting together a model that gives the best possible outcome for every stakeholder, then that's all we can ask."

Grains Industry Association of WA chairman Sean Powell said the combined approach across the grains industry to ensure R&D remains in WA was unique and essential.

"It's a unique thing that we now have in the grains sector where there is a very good consensus from the broad range of industry representation," he said.

"The impetus for this is State Government, and government in general, will continue to retract from direct R&D investment and we need a solution for industry and for government to make sure R&D continues."

Mr Powell said the next phase would be more privatised and include more industry involvement and this initiative would help WA evolve.

Kaylx commercial director Ashley Bacon said his commercial insight added another angle to what GIG was considering.

He said in many cases commercial entities such as Kaylx were better equipped to assist with R&D rather than taxpayer money being spent to fund an initiative from the ground up.

"We don't want to see GrainsWest run off and duplicate services that can be provided by external parties," he said.

"I think it's fantastic that there's such great representation across the industry in this and everyone is 100pc agreeing on the common good that can come out of this.

"Which is essentially to have local research here in WA.

"Growers like to see field work done in their particular patch and it's why we do work from one end of Australia to the other."

Curtin University deputy vice-chancellor for research Graeme Wright said research is incredibly important to enable the WA grains industry to remain viable and competitive.

However, he said it was important to recognise this responsibility did not lie with just one group and this was why GIG was proving effective.

"Investment in specialist facilities and researchers in WA will ensure this State is an attractive place for national investment in grains research," Professor Wright said.

"Without WA-based investment in people and research facilities, even larger investments in grains research by national organisations and industry will not be available to support the WA industry.

"Universities are an essential part of this ecosystem."

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12/11/2015 5:33:30 PM, on Farm Weekly

How many grain organisations are needed to represent 4,000 WA growers? I counted 6 listed!!!


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