Innovation at heart of agriculture

Innovation at heart of agriculture

Federal Minister for Agriculture and Water Resources, Barnaby Joyce, welcomed the announcement of the Australian Government’s National Innovation and Science Agenda as an affirmation of the strong focus on research, development and extension (RD&E) in agriculture.

Federal Minister Joyce said the new agenda would bring renewed focus and vigour to Australia’s already robust rural RD&E system that has delivered sustained productivity gains to farmers for decades.

“The National Innovation and Science Agenda released by the Prime Minister and Federal Minister Pyne has a range of initiatives focused on the future that will further boost agricultural innovation efforts,” Federal Minister Joyce said.

“Support for Australian business and researchers to collaborate internationally, for entrepreneurs and innovative start-ups, and for a sharper university focus on research end-users, will all complement our existing investment in agricultural innovation.

“As the driest inhabited continent on earth, we’ve continually had to farm smarter to get the most out of the land we’ve got. To meet the global food demands of the future, farming smarter must be at the core of all decisions we make.

“Australian agriculture has a long history of innovation and problem solving—we invented the first mechanised grain stripper (1843) and the first practical and effective mechanical sheep shears (1877). Today we are at the front of the pack with our use of robotics and drones in agriculture, but we must maintain an eye on the future as the next major change might be just around the corner.

“For decades government and the agriculture industry have worked hand-in-hand to push the innovation frontier forward. Through a matched funding approach government and industry are expected to deliver $5.5 billion over the next 10 years through the Rural Research and Development Corporation (RDC) system. ABARES estimates that for every dollar we invest in agricultural R&D, farmers generate a $12 return within 10 years.

“In 2011 Labor planned to support the Productivity Commission’s recommendation to halve the government’s contribution to Research and Development Corporations. It was only immense pressure from the Coalition, supported by agricultural industries that had depended on RD&E innovation to get them through the millennium drought, that forced the government to maintain this critical funding.

“So important is agriculture RD&E that the Coalition Government went to the 2013 Election with a policy to increase RD&E by $100 million in the agriculture sector. Then, in the Agricultural Competitiveness White Paper, the government doubled this program in recognition of its importance to drive agricultural innovation.

“RD&E is a key ingredient to improving innovation and productivity; Australia needs new developments to provide farmers with the tools to help them maintain a competitive advantage in an increasingly global and fluid market place.

“Government–industry partnership funds are delivering projects and partnerships with real benefits. Last year a joint CSIRO and Grains RDC project was awarded a Eureka prize for increasing crop yields by $250 a hectare with participants finding yields boosted by more than 50 per cent without any additional water usage.

“The Grains RDC is also partnering with Bayer CropScience, a globally recognised research company, to develop the next generation of herbicides. It is important to foster commercial partnerships to speed up commercialisation and adoption of ground-breaking technologies.

“It’s not just RDCs that are funded to innovate. Through the Package Assisting Small Exporters, we are currently funding the Queensland Government for a study into new packaging to improve shelf life of leafy greens destined for export markets.

“This government is also backing the next generation of innovators and in 2016 we are awarding $240,000 in grants as part of the Science and Innovation Awards for Young People in Agriculture.

“The University of New England was recently awarded a grant of nearly half a million dollars to develop a new sheep data management system to improve decision-making on-farm.

“We’re funding a whole range of innovative projects under this programme—including the development of smarter irrigation practices, new management techniques for fruit fly, looking at new and improved animal feeds, new approaches for white fish aquaculture, monitoring tools for tree crops, new biological weed controls, and the list goes on.

“Boosting farmgate returns is a core driver of the Coalition Government, and through encouraging commercialisation and adoption of good science into more innovative practices—and the Australian Government’s National Innovation and Science Agenda adds a further boost to our already robust agricultural R&D framework.”

This story was first published in Leading Agriculture magazine.