THE man at the helm of the Grains Research and Development Corporation (GRDC) was in WA last week, spruiking the organisation’s new research, development and extension plan that aims to create ‘transformational change’ within the nation’s grains sector.
The corporation launched its fine-tuned RD&E Plan 2018-2023 in recent weeks, with its key purpose to create enduring profitability for Australian grain growers with a minimum six per cent rate of return by the end of the five-year period.
GRDC managing director Steve Jefferies shared the corporation’s five-year plan with a group of growers and industry stakeholders at the Dowerin GWN7 Machinery Field Days on Wednesday, after a week of GRDC cross-panel engagement meetings in Canberra.
Mr Jefferies said the changing landscape of agriculture across the country meant significant change was needed within the GRDC to ensure value was returned to growers.
He said although the gross value of grain production in Australia had risen from an annual average of $6.5 billion to more than $15b within the past 15 years, progress was stagnating.
“Over that same time there’s been a hugely declining terms of trade for you, a much higher cost of production, volatility of climate, and on top of that is the high risk of grain growing today,” Mr Jefferies said.
“Growers are essentially having to front more capital costs in your farming businesses and put a large part of the risk upfront more so than you’ve ever had to do before.
“What we’re seeing is profitability of farming in large parts of WA has actually levelled off, and in some parts of WA we understand is in decline, and that means everything that we’ve been doing that’s been successful in the past we can’t keep doing.”
Mr Jefferies said five key objectives had been selected as part of the plan, which included improving yield and yield stability, maintaining and improving price, optimising input costs, reducing post-farmgate costs and managing risks to maximise profit and minimise losses.
According to Mr Jefferies, the plan had so far been received well by growers, who understood risks needed to be taken with their levies in order to achieve transformational outcomes.
“I think the thing that resonates really well with growers is that we’re prepared to look at things and say more of the same is not going to be good enough, even though there’s been a lot of success,” Mr Jefferies said.
“We do need to be transformational and that means we’ve got to take risks and if we’re going to take risks we’re going to have some investments we’re going to be making where their (growers) levy dollars aren’t going to pay off.
“They’d rather that than us being conservative and them only getting incremental or no gains at all.”
Mr Jefferies said minimising the impact of frost and heat stress on grain yield and stability, expanding the area of high-value crops such as pulses, and improving the accuracy of short-range and medium-range weather forecasting were a few of the 30 key investment targets outlined in the 2018-2023 plan that would benefit WA growers.
“We’ve pumped a lot of resources into frost research in the past and you could argue about whether it’s had any significant impact,” he said.
“We have to rethink it; we have to sit down, redesign it, and take some more risk and think about how we’re going to have much higher impact than we’ve ever had before.
“I can assure you we’ll also be doing everything we can do to provide access to WA growers with a high value pulse crop.
“We will be transforming our investment in pulse improvement, with WA being the number one target of where we want to go.
“It’s highly likely that we’ll be working on chickpeas and lentils, but there might be some other things we’re looking at as well.”
Last Wednesday marked Mr Jefferies’ first visit to the Dowerin Field Days, where he was joined by new GRDC Western Regional Panel chairperson Darrin Lee.
Mr Jefferies said after recent cross-industry meetings, the GRDC team was “ready to hit the ground” with its new five-year RD&E plan.
“Now is the time to get to work; we’ve got a goal, we’ve got a target and we’ve got some serious challenges we want to address but there’s a lot of excitement on how we’re going to go about doing that,” he said.