Why it's time to overhaul agriculture's R&D efforts.

Federal Agriculture Minister Senator Bridget McKenzie and Rural Press Club of Queensland president Stacey Wordsworth.

AN overhaul of Australia's research and development efforts is needed to kick start productivity and to ensure the profitability of agriculture improves, according to Federal Agriculture Minister Senator Bridget McKenzie.

Speaking at the Rural Press Club of Queensland in Brisbane on Thursday, Ms McKenzie said the R&D system needed to evolve to better focus on delivering benefits to producers and to enable the industry to jump ahead of global competitors.

As revealed this week, productivity has stalled in Australia, down to 1.1 per cent over the past five years from 1.5pc.

Ms McKenzie - who marked 100 days in agriculture's top job this week - said she remained committed to maintaining the long standing public-private partnership involving both the taxpayer and levy paying producers.

 Federal Agriculture Minister Bridget McKenzie speaking at the Rural Press Club in Brisbane.

"We do need less duplication and greater collaboration to deliver real productivity gains back to the farmgate and the taxpayer," Ms McKenzie said.

Under current arrangements Australia's 15 Rural Research and Development Corporations receive some $800 million in funding, including $300m in matching taxpayer funding for R&D.
"The current funding arrangements for the RDCs provide a shared commitment between industry and government to invest at least 1pc of the gross value of agricultural production in research and development," she said.

"I consider it this government's responsibility to ensure that we put this money to work and make a real difference on the ground for our producers and regional communities at the farm, not just now, but into the future."

What appears likely is that a number of R&D bodies will be merged, as has already been flagged in the red meat industry.

Ms McKenzie said she would announce an advisory board early in the New Year to provide options on reform opportunities.

"I will be making specific announcements about the reform roadmap in coming weeks including a discussion paper (to be) released on September 23 to guide engagement," she said.

"I am committed to this process to be inclusive and ensure all who have a stake have a say on the future of out innovation system."

Ms McKenzie said it was clear too much time was currently being spent on short term priorities and on the concerns of individual sectors.

She said some consolidation of the mechanisms for the planning and procuring research was needed.

"How much and in what form needs to be worked through," she said.

"There's scope for reducing duplication through better collaboration and organisational structures."

Higher quality industry advocacy was also required, as was better communication with producers as well as more knowledge products being commercialised, she said.

"Returns to producers from their levy payments should be much clearer than they are," Ms McKenzie said.

"But how do we fund it and support it with accurate policy research without the vested research that comes with funding each other,"

Ms McKenzie said biosecurity underpinned the future of Australian agriculture.

"Our reputation is as a reliable, supplier of safe, sustainable and high quality produce. And that's down to our biosecurity system," Ms McKenzie said.
"But increasing pressure from people movement, increasing cargo trade means the risks are growing exponentially year on year.
"Our entire value proposition to the world is not that we're cheaper, but that we have safe, reliable food supply.
"If we're going to make $100 billion by 2030 we need to jealously guard our competitive advantage and that means protecting our plants and animals - and people, we should never forget our people - from pests and diseases that aren't found here.
"African swine fever is potentially the biggest animal disease event the world has ever seen, and it is marching south through Asia, towards Australia."

Ms McKenzie also announced an independent review of the agvet regulatory system, which was established almost 30 years ago.

The comprehensive review, to be chaired by retired senior public servant Ken Matthews, will be completed by February 2021.

"Since the establishment of the National Registration Scheme for Agricultural and Veterinary Chemicals, both the number and type of chemicals has grown from 7000 in the 1980s to more than 12,000 products today," she said.

"We need a 21st century regulatory framework to support agriculture."

Source: Queensland Country Life 9 September