CSIRO sci­en­tist urges re­searchers to be ag­ile

Top sci­en­tist: Progress must be mon­i­tored

The Northern Star - Northern New South Wales Rural Weekly - - Front Page -

SOME of the most ex­cit­ing in­no­va­tions in Aus­tralia are com­ing out of the agri­cul­ture and food sec­tor says the direc­tor of CSIRO Agri­cul­ture and Food, John Man­ners, in a lengthy re­port on the evolv­ing agri-tech­nol­ogy sec­tor in Aus­tralia.

Re­searchers are “de­liv­er­ing prod­ucts and tools that will help us adapt to the tri­als of a warm­ing cli­mate, meet the chang­ing di­etary pref­er­ences of a grow­ing pop­u­la­tion, and help make food pro­duc­tion more sus­tain­able and pro­duc­tive,” Dr Man­ners said.

But he noted there were changes in where such re­search is gen­er­ated.

“Tra­di­tion­ally, science ad­vances in agri­cul­ture have come from gov­ern­ment-funded lab­o­ra­to­ries and aca­demic in­sti­tu­tions,” he said.

“But as gov­ern­ments around the world look to make sci­en­tific re­search de­liver in­dus­try out­comes and be fi­nan­cially more self-sus­tain­ing, a shift is hap­pen­ing.

“Agribusi­ness in­no­va­tion is now in­creas­ingly found in part­ner­ships and al­liances be­tween re­search or­gan­i­sa­tions and in­dus­try.”

Yet while Aus­tralia has con­sis­tently scored highly in in­ter­na­tional rank­ings for the qual­ity of its re­search, when it comes to trans­lat­ing those sci­en­tific dis­cov­er­ies into real-world out­comes, it is lag­ging far be­hind com­pa­ra­ble coun­tries, so far, in fact, that this year Aus­tralia lurked at 76th on a global rank­ing for in­no­va­tion ef­fi­ciency, ac­cord­ing to Dr Man­ners.

“Aus­tralia is also at the bot­tom of the OECD when it comes to col­lab­o­ra­tion of uni­ver­si­ties and science in­sti­tutes with in­dus­try,” he said.

The Aus­tralian Gov­ern­ment is tak­ing steps to im­prove the trans­la­tion of Aus­tralian science into eco­nomic ben­e­fit, at the same time as agribusi­ness re­search and devel­op­ment is go­ing through a pe­riod of sig­nif­i­cant change.

Glob­ally, around 5% of all re­search and devel­op­ment in­vest­ment goes into food and agri­cul­ture, but the source of that in­vest­ment has changed con­sid­er­ably over the past half a cen­tury.

In richer coun­tries, such as Aus­tralia, pub­lic spend­ing on re­search and devel­op­ment has de­clined partly be­cause of fis­cal deficits but per­haps also be­cause, it has been sug­gested, gov­ern­ments (and vot­ers) have grown com­pla­cent, tak­ing the sup­ply of qual­ity food for granted, Dr Man­ners said.

“But we know the need for new ideas and in­no­va­tion in agribusi­ness hasn’t gone away,” he said.

“If any­thing, it’s more nec­es­sary than ever, as cli­mate change threat­ens food se­cu­rity and a grow­ing global pop­u­la­tion places even greater de­mands on agri­cul­tural pro­duc­tion and the nat­u­ral re­sources it heav­ily de­pends on.”

In recent years, the agribusi­ness in­dus­try has ex­pe­ri­enced some mas­sive merg­ers and ac­qui­si­tions that are chang­ing the land­scape, cre­at­ing ever larger, glob­ally-con­sol­i­dated play­ers that will chal­lenge smaller re­gional com­pa­nies.

While these merg­ers and ac­qui­si­tions may re­sult in in­creased ef­fi­ciency in re­search and devel­op­ment, they also im­pact how re­search and devel­op­ment in agribusi­ness un­folds.

Con­sol­i­da­tion gen­er­ally re­duces di­ver­sity in prod­ucts and in think­ing, and as the nat­u­ral world has shown us time and time again, di­ver­sity is a key to re­silience. De­spite all their ex­tra­or­di­nary re­sources, these mega-com­pa­nies can lose some of their agility, their will­ing­ness to take risks and their abil­ity to op­er­ate out­side ac­cepted pa­ram­e­ters.

With all the recent fo­cus on in­no­va­tion, there are sug­ges­tions the term has come to rep­re­sent noth­ing more than the pur­suit of money at the ex­pense of the fun­da­men­tal and ba­sic science that un­der­pins all re­search and devel­op­ment.

“But it’s im­por­tant to re­mind our­selves that with­out in­no­va­tion, there is no progress,” Dr Man­ners said.

Fund­ing R&D through­out the re­search pipe­line – from “blue sky” projects to trans­la­tional science – also makes solid eco­nomic sense, with the num­bers to back it up, Dr Man­ners said.

You can read Dr Man­ners’ c full re­port at www.blog.csiro. au.

The need for new ideas in agribusi­ness hasn’t gone away. — John Man­ners

PHOTO: CON­TRIB­UTED

With a record num­ber of farm­ers in­vest­ing in tech­nol­ogy, the source of in­no­va­tion is chang­ing.

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