“When we talk about R&D and projects there is often a lot of focus on the researchers, yet the technical staff can be the forgotten people,” said Dr Conyers, who specialises in soil science with the New South Wales Department of Primary Industries.
“The short-term nature of employment contracts means there are very few technical staff left on permanent contracts.
“This can have ramifications as the staff will naturally take up more secure employment when it comes up, meaning, in turn, you have less expertise among the team and are forever in the training process with new staff.”
Dr Conyers said having decentralised research projects, where field work could be conducted in the areas it would be applied to, was critical.
“There are two elements to research – one the people involved have to have the right technical expertise – and secondly they have to learn the local farming systems and farmers,’’ he said.
“The research is of limited value without having an application to the farming systems being used in the area.”
Dr Conyers said technical staff were a critical part of this process.
“Good technical staff do a lot of work in terms of getting crops in the ground and getting them harvested.”
Dr Conyers said he understood the principle of not giving workers “jobs for life”.
“It is good to keep people on their toes, but on the other hand we need to consider the ability to do the task they have,” he said.
Dr Conyers said for everyone involved in projects, a three to five-year contract was not necessarily secure enough.
“If you’ve got a mortgage then that type of arrangement isn’t that desirable,” he said.
Dr Conyers said he felt the suite of grains research projects put together by the Grains Research and Development Corporation accurately reflected grower demand.