GRAINS Research and Development Corporation (GRDC) Chairman, Keith Perrett, said he would be very surprised and disappointed if the Federal Government cut any spending on grains R&D in its upcoming budget.
The experienced NSW farmer and grains industry lobbyist said the current and previous Agriculture Ministers had made a number of strong statements regarding the importance of R&D to national issues of significance, such as food security and the environment.
“All the evidence we have seen is that R&D is a strong contributor to food security,” he said.
“Not just food security but food quality and environmental outcomes.
“If we are going to tackle the carbon issue properly we need reliable and effective R&D programs.
“We have heard the campaigns saying the government is going to slash R&D spending and that kind of thing in the upcoming budget but I’d be very surprised if the government went down that path.”
About one third of the GRDC’s annual income is derived from the Federal government; which matches two thirds of the compulsory grower levy of .99 percent of grain deliveries.
Its R&D programs include areas of biosecurity and quarantine relating to grain exports.
Mr Perrett said if government funding was slashed to the levels being speculated about, the researcher stood to lose about $20 million off its annual budget of about $120 million.
“I’d be very surprised if that happened,” he said.
“But if we lost that funding you’d throw into chaos our committed programs and it would have a significant impact on R&D providers and suppliers.
“It’s hard to see how you could walk up and just go ‘bang’ and take away significant R&D funding.”
Last month, Rural Press revealed that grains industry members throughout the nation had signed off on the National Grains Research Development and Extension (RD&E) strategy.
The strategy was developed after more than 18 months of extensive cross-industry consultation and is critical to the grains industry’s future, according to Mr Perrett.
He says a genuine national strategy is needed to remove costly duplications and improve the efficiency and delivery of grains RD&E in Australia.
It comes amid concerns the industry’s growth has slowed notably over the past decade, despite overall productivity growth averaging around 1.9 percent a year for the past 30 years; much higher than other commodity sectors in Australia.
Fears are held it could be used as an excuse to cut funding, rather than identify genuine cost saving measures.
But Mr Perrett said the strategy was ongoing and had been factored into GRDC’s budgets.
He said the strategy meat in the near future better infrastructure was needed to help provide research capacity, which would require an increase in funding, not reductions.
Any cuts in Federal government R&D spending would be inconsistent with that broad industry plan, he said.
“There will be an increased spend in the future to bolster that capacity where we can to meet some of the challenges that are coming around the corner and that’s consistent for the national strategic RD&E plan for grains,” he said.
Mr Perrett said GRDC was currently formulating its budgets and operating plan, which was done 12 months in advance.
Because of that, he said GRDC was not in a situation where “we can just switch off”.
“We’ve had discussions on expenditure and our operations and we are sticking close to that plan,” he said.
“We just can’t go and start chopping and changing programs quickly as it takes time to get researchers and work in place and to remain professional about it.
“We are not doing a budget up for next months; it’s a lot more planned and advanced than that."
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