THE long-term future of grains research and development remains unclear as the State government and the Grains Research and Development Corporation (GRDC) continue to battle over how research and development will be delivered in Western Australia.
In an interview with the Farm Weekly, WA Agriculture and Food Minister Alannah MacTiernan was critical of GRDC’s on-the-ground spend in the State and the importance of local autonomy in making research investment decisions.
“We believe when you look at the amount (levy-payers) put into the GRDC pool, which is about 35 per cent, we get about 20pc back and because the structure of our industry is fundamentally different – ours is primarily an export industry – we don’t necessarily believe we are getting the researchers focused as we believe it should be,” she said.
“We provide more levy money than anyone else so it’s a chicken and the egg scenario – they (GRDC) say we don’t have the capability and specialities here but we don’t have the capital because the money isn’t being spent here.
“The (GRDC) say you can use some of the national research that we’ve done but I would say you could do that research over here – it’s not good enough.”
GRDC managing director Steve Jefferies defended the corporation’s investment in WA research, saying the State received the highest on-the-ground spend of all the States.
Dr Jefferies said WA levies made up about 35pc of the total GRDC spend in 2014/15, 30pc in 2015/16 and 31pc in 2016/17.
Total investment back on the ground in WA was 24pc.
“That is actually the highest of any State in Australia but we can’t be too centric about where the dollars are spent – it is where the best capacity is,” he said.
“We acknowledge that the capacity in WA could be better and we are giving serious consideration about growing the R&D capacity in WA but we will not be investing grower levies in WA research agencies unless they are the best at what they do in delivering value to WA grain growers because we are ultimately accountable to those levy payers.
“We are prepared to look at ways we can co-operate and partner with the government and universities in WA to grow that capacity so the investment made by WA grain growers is invested on the ground.
“It would be nice to have that but until we have that capacity on the ground we will continue to make that judgement call based on the best interest for the WA growers.”
In terms of expenditure Dr Jefferies said in the current financial year GRDC spent $51.5m in WA-targeted R&D and $41.2m with WA-based organisations.
This included the corporation’s 50/50 partnership with the Department of Agriculture and Food WA on funding the Australian Export Grains Innovation Centre (AEGIC), which is based in Perth.
Ms MacTiernan said following Labor’s election win in March she was presented with the existing plans to develop a joint venture between DAFWA and GRDC to fund and manage grains R&D in WA.
Known as the Grains Institute Research model, the plan was developed by the Grains Industry Group (GIG) and would an see an entity created that would receive funding from both DAFWA and GRDC to manage R&D in WA.
The GIG would act as an advisory group to approve research projects.
Ms MacTiernan said while she supported the idea she wanted to ensure that decisions about WA research were made by GRDC Western panel members and not at a national GRDC level.
“I was concerned within the first few days of coming in I was presented recommendations that I considered to be divestment strategies that were clearly driven out of the position that DAFWA had been forced into with the ‘slash and burn’ that had been going on, so I wanted to go back to the drawing board,” she said.
“In terms of the Grains R&D Institute, after a lot of deliberation and discussion I think it is a good idea, it makes sense but I will only sign off on the grain institute model if we get that local autonomy.”
Dr Jefferies said the model had been borne out of concern about a loss of capacity at DAFWA in downsizing its R&D investment and the loss of about 600 staff over several years.
He said while GRDC still favoured the model, the corporation was concerned that it would dilute its accountability to levy payers.
“Our view is that ideally we would have liked to see DAFWA create this entity itself and that we would love to partner with that entity but our preference is not to be a member of that company,’’ Dr Jefferies said.
“Our concern with being members of the entity is the potential loss of accountability to growers so we would prefer to partner externally so levy payers could have greater control over the investment rather than the board of the entity.”
Dr Jefferies said the GRDC wanted to grow the R,D& E capacity in WA but it was concerned about the long-term capacity of DAFWA to deliver research in the State.
From July 1, DAFWA and the Department of Regional Development and Fisheries will be incorporated into the Department of Primary Industires and Regional Development in a bid to streamline the agencies.