Hopes for ag research lift with uni deal

Ag sector renews calls for SARDI budget increase


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NO FIX: Former SARDI research leader Andrew Lake says the agreement is a “good first step” but believes it would be “wishful thinking” to believe it is a fix.

NO FIX: Former SARDI research leader Andrew Lake says the agreement is a “good first step” but believes it would be “wishful thinking” to believe it is a fix.

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A new agreement between PIRSA and the University of Adelaide to boost agricultural research capabilities in SA has been welcomed but industry has renewed its calls for the state government to inject more funding into PIRSA’s research arm, SARDI.

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A new agreement between PIRSA and the University of Adelaide to boost agricultural research capabilities in SA has been welcomed.

But Grain Producers SA and Livestock SA have renewed their calls for the state government to inject more funding into PIRSA’s research arm, SARDI, to ensure the state’s farmers remain competitive and sustainable.

Under the previous Labor government, millions of dollars was slashed from SARDI’s budget and while the 2018-19 budget saw no increase on 2017-18, it was unchanged.

Last week, SARDI and the University of Adelaide, which have enjoyed a close working relationship for many years, announced they had signed an agreement to help them leverage more external funding for research, development, extension and innovation.

Primary Industries Minister Tim Whetstone says the agreement will have a key focus on crop and food sciences.

“Through the partnership, SARDI have the opportunity to access alternate funding sources that otherwise wouldn’t be available to them, such as the Australian Research Council grant scheme,” he said.

“By working collaboratively, SARDI and the university will be able to leverage their strengths and put forward stronger research proposals that can be more competitive in funding rounds – ultimately attracting greater research projects into the state for the benefit of our primary industries.”

The University of Adelaide's vice-chancellor Peter Rathjen, said the partnership with PIRSA will provide ongoing benefits for South Australia.

"Throughout its history, through research and our graduates, the University of Adelaide has made a profound impact on Australia's multi-billion-dollar agriculture, food and wine sectors. This new partnership will help us to grow our research capability in these fields for the benefit of South Australia,” Professor Rathjen said.

"SARDI researchers and facilities have been co-located at our Waite and Roseworthy campuses for decades. While there has been much interaction between us during that time, this new partnership deepens our relationship and creates more opportunity for world-leading research based right here in SA.”

GPSA chief executive officer Caroline Rhodes said it made sense for PIRSA to work with the University of Adelaide.

She welcomed the agreement saying it was vital research capacity was maintained in SA.

“SARDI already plays a key a role in developing research partnerships across industry, helping to leverage R&D levies paid for by SA growers to bodies such as GRDC,” she said.

“It must remain competitive when applying for research grants and tendering for contracts, so industry will be closely watching the delivery of its new research investment framework.”  

But Ms Rhodes says an “uplift” in PIRSA funding is needed, which would also encourage more private sector investment.

“This investment must be in line with the value of the grain industry to the state and its huge potential to grow productivity and exports,” she said.

“Last year’s season highlights the need for ongoing research to improve on-farm productivity, reduce production risk and attract capital in the longer term.

“Grain producers must have access to the latest science and technology to remain both profitable and sustainable.”

Livestock SA president Joe Keynes also welcomed the collaboration between the research bodies but said it was disappointing it did not appear red meat was a priority area for the agreement, especially when industry had been proactive developing the sheep and beef blueprints.

“The Marshall government has stated that it wants an increase in sheep and cattle numbers, which transfers into more jobs in the processing sector and other benefits, but to achieve that we need increased investment in R&D at a state level,” he said

“It is not just federal funds that are needed, we all have a part to play and that includes an increase in state government funding.”

MORE SARDI FUNDING NEEDED

The state’s farmers are paying the price for state government funding cuts that forced much of the long-term research to be abandoned, according to Pristine Forage Technologies chief executive officer Andrew Lake.

Mr Lake,who has been a strong advocate for addressing the “systemic decline” in public sector R&D, says the return on investment from extra state government funding would pay for itself “many times over”.

“The difference in crop yields from where we could be in SA if we had kept pace with the rest of the world’s gains is $300 million to $400m annually,” he said.

 “It is steady as she goes down and we are now at a point where growing crops in this state is now of marginal economic viability and we face losses from the industry.”

Mr Lake spent more than 20 years with the Department of Agriculture and later SARDI breeding pasture and forage legumes until the late 1990s when he joined the private sector.

“Young people have found it difficult to build careers within SARDI, being offered soft money with three to five year projects so they are only able to keep increasingly old scientists when what we need is young people with new ideas,” he said.

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