WA grain report endorses revised R&D model

WA grain report endorses revised R&D model


Agribusiness
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THE WA grains industry doesn't want the GrainsWest solution to continuing research and development (R&D) in WA and has endorsed a new plan dubbed Grainswest-PLUS.

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THE WA grains industry doesn't want the GrainsWest solution to continuing research and development (R&D) in WA and has endorsed a new plan dubbed Grainswest-PLUS.

The Grains Industry Group (GIG) released its report to the public this week, effectively shutting down Department of Agriculture and Food (DAFWA) director general Rob Delane and Agriculture and Food Minister Ken Baston's GrainsWest solution, announced at the 2014 Dowerin GWN7 Machinery Field Days.

Instead the group, which encompasses key players in the sector, is proposing a small-scale operation that grows with need and operates in conjunction with universities and private research companies.

This is a far cry from the initial GrainsWest proposal which would take some 195 staff from the budget troubled DAFWA and continue operating in a similar manner to what currently exists.

GIG chairman David Falconer is joined by executives from WA's higher education institutions, Grower Group Alliance, WAFarmers, Pastoralists and Graziers Association, the Grains Industry Association of WA, WA Grains Group, the Australian Associated Agricultural Consultants and a representation from the private sector grains R&D in backing the Grainswest-PLUS model.

"A skills-based board with an independent chairman will have the carriage of developing a clear focus and scope for the entity we prefer to call Grainswest-PLUS - and only once that scope and matching business plan is completed, would we begin operational recruitment," said GIG chairman David Falconer.

"This means we will be advocating for DAFWA to retain in the short term the 195 staff working in the grains sector, until this robust process is completed and it then becomes evident what activities and projects Grainswest-PLUS will conduct and what specialist skills will be required to deliver them."

GIG's other major modification to the GrainsWest proposal, based on evidence from a world-wide review of the benefits of collaboration and co-location, challenges DAFWA's concept of setting up a single entity in Northam and instead proposes an administration node in Perth combined with regional capacity to deliver projects.

"Our wide ranging review highlighted that leadership, structure and well-managed collaboration with a range of service providers was more important than physical location when it came to driving effectiveness of the entity," Mr Falconer said.

"We advocate a culture of flexibility and locating research staff on a fit-for-purpose basis."

Mr Falconer said the international scan to identify the drivers of best-practise grains R&D also highlighted the need for rolling financial commitments in order to give key staff absolute security of tenure.

"The DAFWA model proposes a contractual commitment from DAFWA of five years of funding, but in our view that is a red flag and by the critical year two to three stage, staff will be more focused on the next round of funding than the research tasks at hand," he said.

"Our proposal is that Grainswest-PLUS is founded with two shareholders - the State Government, through DAFWA, and the GRDC - but there needs to be a contractual obligation to five-year rolling funding commitments from both parties to ensure there is the required stability to plan, build and maintain appropriate capacity."

News of efforts by the WA grains industry to take control of the future of R&D came out late last year in response to concerns the GrainsWest model had little industry involvement.

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

Mr Falconer said GIG had concerns R&D would leave the WA space entirely if control wasn't taken of the situation.

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.

The GRDC and DAFWA, as the founding members for the new model of R&D, will examine the GIG report and provide a response in April which will shape the structure and transition to Grainswest-PLUS.

Mr Falconer said he expected funding for Grainswest-PLUS to come from the two entities, but future funding could also come from the private sector.

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