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Speech to launch 'Innovating rural Australia: RDC outcomes report 2002', Canberra, ACT.
Speech to launch Innovating Rural Australia: RDC Outcomes Report 2002
Canberra, ACT, 27 March 2003
Good morning, ladies and gentlemen.
I would like to welcome you all here today to share in the launch of the 2002 edition of the Innovating Rural Australia: Research and Development Corporation Outcomes Report.
This is an important report as it showcases the significant achievements of the rural research & development corporations - or RDCs - in delivering benefits to improve the competitiveness and sustainability of their respective industries. The report also delivers, significant social and community benefits to regional and rural Australia.
This is very important to Australia’s national economy as the agricultural, forestry, food and fisheries industries represented around 22 per cent of Australian exports of goods and services in 2001-02.
It is worth noting that last year farm exports contributed $31.5 billion to Australia’s economy, with the total value of farm exports rising by an estimated 42 per cent over the past five years.
R&D continues to make a significant contribution to the growth of our rural industries. For example:
â the estimated value of Australia’s forest and wood products,
including paper and paperboard products, was $1.7 billion in 2001-02, an increase of 46 per cent since 1996-97; â Australia’s burgeoning seafood industry is growing strongly, with an
estimated gross value of fisheries production of $2.5 billion in 2001-02, a 41 per cent increase over the previous five years; and â exports of Australian pork have increased from $40 million in 1998
to $264 million in 2002, or an amazing 560 per cent!
Much of that expansion can be attributed to the innovative nature of Australia’s rural industries and the R&D that underpins it. Ongoing economic growth depends on:
â ensuring that the investment is strategically focused to meet the
emerging needs of industries; â that the best science is available;
â that its well managed; and
â that the results are made available to their industries in a form that
can be easily adopted.
This, I believe, is the most important strength of the partnership between
the Commonwealth Government and industry to manage R&D through the rural RDCs.
This partnership has been successfully delivering results for rural industries for over 10 years. In 2001-02, industry contributed $209 million, with the Commonwealth contributing $196 million - totalling an investment of over $400 million.
As many of you would know, the terms of trade for most industries - or the index of prices received to prices paid - has declined over the past 20 years. Improved productivity has been essential for rural industries to remain viable and internationally competitive. R&D, funded by the RDCs, has been in many cases, the underlying factor ensuring this growth.
The results of this investment, has provided farmers and resource managers with tools to make better decisions.
For example, although the current drought has significantly tested the rural sector on many fronts, farmers are still implementing innovative practices and strategies to manage associated risk. These strategies are being made possible by world-leading research funded through the RDCs.
The Report also provides excellent accounts of many of the RDCs projects that are improving competitiveness and sustainability of their industries, and delivering benefits to the community. I would like to share a few of these with you today:
â Horticulture Australia Limited is trialing a partial root-zone drying
system for canning peaches that has resulted in water savings of up to 40 per cent and improved fruit quality. This system has been used to successfully save water while maintaining or improve the quality of grapes; â significant R&D investment in feed and farming techniques by
Fisheries RDC has resulted in increased tuna exports of $336 million in 2001-02, compared with just $4 million in 1990-91; â Grain R&D’s ‘Million Hectares for the Future’ project - in partnership
with the National Dryland Salinity Program - is refining new tools to enable farmers to calculate the salinity rate and land suitability more accurately. This will enable them to make better cropping decisions, increase productivity and reduce soil and water degradation over more than one million hectares; â $60 million has been invested by Australian Wool Innovation and
Land and Water Australia in the 'Land, Water and Wool' initiative. This will help wool producers make productive use of saline land and better use of climate forecasts, to improve river health and water quality; manage native vegetation, biodiversity and pastoral land; and consider future land management options; â the Rural Industries R&D Corporation published the Rural and
Regional Guide to e-Commerce written as an introductory user’s guide to the Internet for business in rural and regional Australia. Such was the demand that following its launch in July 2002, the guide sold more than 750 copies in the first six weeks; â the Dairy RDC’s Women in Dairying project involving more than 400
farmers in leadership training events and over 1000 in associated activities. Six years of work by the DRDC to build the skills and knowledge of dairy industry women was recognised at the 2001 Australasia-Pacific Extension Network Awards for excellence in extension; and
â the Cotton RDC is closely involved with the cotton community,
located at Narrabri in NSW, is the only RDC located outside a capital city. Around 13 per cent of its budget is invested in fostering researchers and human capital to promote innovation within the industry and cotton growing regions.
Dryland salinity is estimated to cost $130 million annually in lost agricultural production, $100 million in damage to rural and urban infrastructure, and at least $40 million in damage to environmental assets.
I am proud of the RDCs strong commitment to confronting this issue of national importance. I’d like to highlight that the Report has a special feature on the RDCs innovative research programs to tackle the dryland salinity issue.
Successful R&D and innovation relies on people. Bringing industry and science together is only part of the equation for success. The key lies in having people within industries, with the expertise to solve problems, skills to adopt innovative solutions - thereby ensuring future industry growth. The RDCs have been instrumental in contributing to this growth.
Meat and Livestock Australia is pioneering innovative approaches to organising and delivering extension activities through regional community committees.
I am also delighted to note that through the Industry Partnership Program, 12 of the rural Research and Development Corporations have committed to supporting women from their respective industries, for a 12-month program. The program involves two important tiers. The first - attending the Australian Institute of Company Directors course. The second - is a valuable mentoring program.
This program strongly shows how the RDCs are not only focussing on the traditional nuts and bolts of research, but also developing the human capacity of their industries - which is just as essential, as investment in production issues.
The Government’s continued investment in rural R&D not only illustrates the important role RDCs play in helping Australia’s rural industries and regional communities, but also recognises the benefits to the broader community and the natural environment.
Late last year I was in Europe on portfolio business. A good proportion of this time was spent on rural R&D issues in France, Germany, Spain and the UK.
First, I would like to note that - without exception - the Europeans were extremely impressed with the collaborative partnership approach the Australian Government has developed with industry, in determining rural industry research priorities.
From my discussions, it became alarmingly clear that farmers, industry and other key stakeholders were not involved, at all, in determining the direction of industry R&D.
In fact, there was little coordination, if any, between government
research and industry research. This is in stark contrast to the system we have, whereby all stakeholders - industry and government - are involved in this process.
As an important partner in this arrangement, the Commonwealth Government regularly provides the RDCs with a statement of its R&D interests and priorities.
Today I would like to outline the Government’s new priorities for the RDCs. These new priorities for rural R&D compliment the National Research Priorities announced by the Prime Minister in December.
The Government considers successful R&D in the following areas can deliver substantial benefits to industry and the broader community:
1.Sustainable Natural Resource Management; 2.Improving Competitiveness through a Whole-of-Industry Approach; 3.Maintaining and Improving Confidence in the Integrity of Australian Agricultural, Food, Fish and Forestry Products; 4.Improved Trade and Market Access; 5.Use of Frontier Technologies; 6.Protecting Australia from Invasive Diseases and Pests; and 7.Creating an Innovative Culture.
â sustainable natural resource management - as its most
significant land managers Australia’s agricultural, pastoral and fisheries industries have a strong influence on managing our natural resources. As such, good natural resource management is fundamental to realising the long-term economic, social and environmental goals of the nation. The Government expects the RDCs will improve their delivery of science and information to support the regionally driven approach to natural resource management and to develop more sustainable and profitable agricultural management practices;
â improving competitiveness through a whole-of-industry
approach that emphasises efficient and effective supply chain management. To be successful, industry must focus on meeting the needs of increasingly sophisticated and demanding consumers, with quality being a key determinant of success;
â maintaining confidence in the integrity of Australia’s food,
fish and forestry products — thereby maintaining this country’s reputation as a supplier of high quality produce. It is important that the RDCs provide leadership on food supply chain policies and food regulation reform to ensure the development and implementation of rational, evidence-based policies;
â improving trade and market access - the rural sector depends
heavily on access to international markets and the prices it receives on those markets. As such economic research into the nature and impact of trade barriers and scientific research into technical market access issues have proved vital to the efforts of Australian trade negotiators in improving trade prospects for our rural industries;
â making use of ‘frontier’ technologies — particularly
biotechnology — which offers a range of potential benefits across the
rural sector. It is important to quantify and document the benefits flowing from new genetic technologies so we can develop and apply evidence-based policies to foster their development;
â protecting Australia from invasive diseases and pests - the
RDCs can help here by pursuing R&D to help reduce the risks posed by invasive diseases and pests; and
â creating a culture of innovation, largely by investing in the
sector’s most important asset — its people. As I said earlier the key lies with having people within the industries with the skills to solve problems, adopt innovative solutions and grow the industry.
I believe these priorities, which have been strongly endorsed by the RDCs - combined with the priorities from their respective industries - will go a long way to ensuring the benefits are enjoyed by their industries and the wider Australian community.
The model we have for rural R&D is recognised by many as world’s best practice. The Commonwealth Government is proud of the strong partnership it has developed with industry, particularly through the RDCs. However, I believe none of us can afford to become complacent and we should always strive to do things better and improve our performance.
Recently, Minister Nelson met with the rural RDCs and reinforced the importance of the research community in ensuring the adoption, application, understanding and the use of our investment in science by the end users.
This is probably an important distinction to make between the RDCs and their colleagues in the Australian research community. Many research organisations measure performance on the basis on the number of patents, or level of commercialisation as an indicator of performance.
However, demonstrating that research is actually being adopted by farmers and resource managers - rural end users - is fundamental to the RDC model.
Copies of the Report are available here today, and I’m sure you will find the Innovating Rural Australia Report an interesting and informative account of the RDCs achievements during the past year. Representatives from several of the RDCs are here this morning. I strongly encourage you to speak with them, as they are eager to discuss the achievements R&D in their respective industries.