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Speech to the Grains Research and Development Corporation Investment Planning Week 2007



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7 11 July 2007

To the Grains Research and Development Corporation Investment Planning Week 2007

Thank you Terry [Terry Enright, Chairman of the GRDC].

Good afternoon members of the GRDC Board, parliamentary colleagues, ladies and gentlemen

It’s my pleasure today to launch the Grains Research and Development Corporation’s ‘new look’ website and 2007-2012 Strategic R&D Plan - Prosperity through Innovation.

Role of the Strategic Plan The GRDC is charged with enhancing the profitability and environmental sustainability of the grains industry, through investment in research and innovation, and the new strategic plan is a ‘plan of action’ to guide their R&D investments over the next five years, to 2012.

As they say, “If you don’t know where you are going, you are likely to end up somewhere else.”

Many factors that influence the development and direction of strategic plans, especially for the rural and research development corporations (RDCs), remain relatively constant over time. And this is certainly true in the case of the GRDC.

For example, the need for crop improvement and new varieties is always a high priority of grain farmers; and with the large majority of grain produced in Australia destined for overseas markets, farmers want a product that meets the demand of consumers around the world.

They also want crops that are more resilient to our variable seasonal conditions and pest and diseases and of course, crops that require less inputs for more returns.

The GRDC has a strong record of accomplishment in these areas.

Achievements under 2002-07 strategic plan I want to quickly share with you, some of the many impressive achievements of the GRDC over the past five years, under their 2002-07 strategic plan.

Firstly, “Dune”, Australia’s first variety of juncea canolawas released. Some of the key advantages of juncea canola include:

• vigorous early growth, • greater drought and heat tolerance, • greater potential for direct heading - and therefore lower cost of production ,

• and potentially higher yields in low rainfall areas.

This represents a great addition to a farmer’s arsenal in combating the challenges associated with farming in Australia’s dry conditions.

There was also the development of “Flagship” — a barley variety developed using GRDC funds, which has a grain yield 7% higher than the current industry standard and is also more

resistant to disease.

I understand, the industry is expecting that Flagship will soon be a leading export malting barley for Australia.

And another significant achievement was the formation of a single, national pulse-breeding program - Pulse Breeding Australia, launched earlier this year.

This is already paying dividends, with commercialised new and improved varieties including two new chickpea varieties, two new lentil varieties and three new peanut varieties.

It’s no surprise therefore, that 50% of GRDC’s investment under the new 2007-2012 strategic plan will be directed to plant breeding.

New Challenges But of course, while some things stay the same, other challenges facing Australia’s rural industries do change over time.

Biofuels, genetically modified products and climate change have all emerged as significant issues over the last five years.

These are issues that will heavily influence R&D investments in the years to come.

And, even those challenges that will always remain in Australia, such as drought and the subsequent flooding rains, challenge us in different ways overtime.

In 2002, at the beginning of the GRDC’s last strategic plan, most people in the farming community were responding to the drought as Australians have always done.

A drought was something that happened from time to time, and something that you just needed to ride out.

Five years later, farmers are still dealing with the devastating effects of this prolonged and severe drought.

While recent rains in southeastern Australia are a promising sign that the drought may be close to ending, the length and severity of this drought has resulted in a necessary shift in thinking.

It is widely recognised by farmers, industry and the wider community, that water can no longer be considered a low cost commodity.

Regardless of the amount of rain Australia may experience in the future, it is broadly accepted that we must all learn to live with less water.

Consequently, water-use efficiency and managing climate variability feature heavily in the strategic planning, for not only the GRDC, but all the RDCs.

These issues cannot be addressed by the farmer alone, they require national, cross-industry approaches, and increased collaboration is certainly a strong emerging theme when it comes to dealing with the big issues.

The changing nature of the challenges confronting Australia’s rural industries requires planning that is forward looking. To remain competitive, we must continue to anticipate future opportunities and problems, rather than react to them!

Strategic plans must also be flexible enough to allow for shifts in industry and government priorities, the regulatory environment, as well as international influences on the Australian farm sector.

I am pleased that the GRDC 2007-2012 strategic plan is both forward looking and flexible.

For example, the Plan recognises the importance of the current debate concerning the state and territory moratoria on growing genetically modified crops.

If the moratoria are lifted, your investment in research and analysis into the market acceptance of GM food grains will help you to capitalise on the market opportunities this presents.

R&D Priorities The GRDC strategic plan also aligns well with the Government’s new set of rural R&D priorities.

Many of you will be aware that the Government launched the new priorities in May, after strong consultation with industry, research funders and the state and territory governments.

The priorities aim to foster innovation, and guide R&D efforts, in the face of the economic, environmental and social change faced by all rural industries.

The priorities focus on five major challenges facing rural industries.

They need to:

• boost productivity and add value to production, • effectively operate supply chains and markets for existing and new products, • support strong natural resource management, • build resilience to climate variability and climate change, and • protect Australia from biosecurity threats.

In addition to directly focussing on these issues, continual investment is also essential to build skills in the research community and amongst end users and advance technology to support research and our industries.

As highlighted in the GRDC strategic plan, the revised priorities will help all RDCs to direct their investments into areas of national significance over the next five to ten

years.

RDC Model and accountability The RDC model, undoubtedly, has been a success.

But such a large and growing investment by Government and industry is - and should be - the subject of increasing levels of scrutiny and accountability.

In 2005-06, total expenditure through this partnership of industry levy collections and matching Government funding was more than 540 million dollars.

That’s an enormous investment.

So it’s essential all the R&D Corporations clearly show they are providing a strong return on investment, through improvement in the competitiveness and sustainability of Australia’s primary industries, and delivering benefits to industry and the wider community.

In response to this, I am pleased the GRDC, along with the other RDCs, is establishing a stronger, more consistent reporting system to paint a better picture of the impacts of all their R&D investments.

Website Of course, higher returns on investment result from wide adoption, and the new and improved GRDC website will be of great help when it comes to informing farmers of the results of your research investments.

Following extensive consultation with growers, consultants, researchers and other industry representatives, the GRDC has developed a new, state of the art site.

In particular, the new site is quick loading, which is extremely important when research shows that web sites only have three seconds to make an impression!

It also provides greater simplicity, consistency and ease of navigation to deliver key research, development and extension results to the Australian grains industry.

Some of the key features of the new website include research and development information organised by topic, classification and category, and for those who prefer to get straight to the point, there is also a fast, efficient and up to date search engine.

One of the improvements I expect will be popular is the regional and issue-specific events and diary dates. This will help farmers identify quickly what’s on in their region.

There is also improved access to GRDC media releases and the extremely informative Crop Doctor, Grains Flashes and Ground Cover publications.

I offer my congratulations to those who have clearly worked very hard to get the new website up and going.

I encourage all of you to surf the new site when you get a chance - or simply head to the publications stand later for a look.

Conclusion On that note - it is my pleasure to launch GRDC’s 2007-2012 Strategic Plan and the

new website.

I look forward to seeing the many positive outcomes that they bring.

Thank you.

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