In October last year the Federal Government released the National Agricultural Innovation Policy Statement. COVID-19 has made it hard for other news to have much of an impact in the past two years, so the statement largely went under the radar, but for agriculture, and the nation’s future economic fortunes, it’s important. The statement provides “direction for improving the Australian agricultural innovation system to drive productivity growth across agriculture and its supply chain”, establishing four new National Agricultural Innovation Priorities that target exports, climate resilience, biosecurity and digital agriculture.
Agriculture Minister David Littleproud said it was another step forward in modernising the nation’s research and development system and was vital in helping support the agriculture industry’s target of being a $100 billion sector by 2030. The importance of R&D investment for Australian producers, and right along the agricultural supply chain, cannot be overstated. Figures included in the National Agricultural Innovation Policy Statement show more than 50 per cent of Australian agricultural productivity growth has been attributed to RD&E investments, and for every dollar of public (eg. government and universities) investment in agricultural RD&E, there’s $12 worth of benefit for Australian farmers within 10 years.
Australian farmers are among the most productive in the world, thanks to world-standard farming practices, machinery technology advancements and increasingly effective inputs such as fertilisers and herbicides, achieved in a large part through billions of dollars’ worth of investment in innovation. It’s ensured the sector’s ongoing profitability, boosted its sustainability credentials, and helped achieve important social outcomes. And this need for ongoing innovation has never been more critical as our farmers navigate climate and water-related challenges, an increasingly competitive global market, shifting consumer patterns and expectations and the rise of digital technologies.
Companies engaged in the development and production of these innovations are key to this drive for ongoing improvements to agricultural efficiencies and productivity, and enhancements in export opportunities and global demand. They invest millions in the R&D process, anticipating grower and producer needs, translating those needs into potential market opportunities, and directing research and development into creating new products that address those opportunities. Weeds are an example of a grower issue in need of innovative solutions and a space where companies are investing considerable time and resources. Some estimates put the cost of weeds to Australian agriculture at in excess of $3.5 billion annually so the stakes are high when it comes to finding new herbicide solutions, and there are some exciting new prospects in this sector that are proving highly effective as part of integrated weed management strategies.
Australia is seen as a market full of opportunity for companies focused on the next innovation for agriculture, so the onus is on us now to provide incentives that can drive greater R&D interest in the sector, and opportunities for collaboration, such as new public/private partnerships. The identification of our innovation priorities for the industry is also key to the long-term growth and success of our agricultural industry, which is why the announcement of the National Agricultural Innovation Policy Statement last year was so critical. Now we need to see the leadership and resolve to drive these priorities forwards, and ultimately convert them into reality for the nation’s farmers.