At the recent Growing SA Conference in Adelaide, hosted by Grain Producers SA and Livestock SA, I was asked to present on the topic, ‘is SA still a leader in agricultural research and development?’
There was a time when I would have staunchly argued in the affirmative without hesitation.
But in preparing for my speech, I found myself needing to pause and reflect.
Historically SA has been a leader. Back in 1883, Roseworthy was the first agricultural college established in Australia and from then right through to the 1990s our humble state was an agricultural R&D powerhouse.
Look no further than the establishment and continual development of the Waite Institute/precinct as but one example to see that SA has been a leader in agricultural R&D.
Nevertheless, much has changed since the turn of the century. Gradual reductions in funding to PIRSA by successive governments – with consequential impacts on SARDI – and the demise of Rural Solutions and privatisation of extension, have certainly changed the scope and role of government R&D services.
The merger of the Science and Ag Science faculties at the University of Adelaide for cost savings has not helped the profile of agriculture, the Waite or Roseworthy, whose brand values have certainly diminished.
Additionally, one has to wonder if the proposed merger of the University of Adelaide and the University of South Australia might not further dilute the emphasis placed on agriculture, food and wine, given other state agendas.
Let me make it abundantly clear — I am not talking down ag R&D in SA. We are still doing some amazing things in this state, and there are some very good people in SA contributing excellence in R&D and innovation.
So, how do I answer the initial question put to me?
SA has built on a proud history of innovation and we have created some incredibly unique opportunities that continue to position and serve this state and our industries well.
But we have become a little complacent in elements of our activities. There are aspects of R&D that will continue to create challenges to traditional structures.
As key industry sectors, we need to be adaptive and responsive to change while also bridging into other industries and pulling in the technologies and research opportunities we need to serve our futures.
It is up to us to make sure our political leaders better understand what our industries do and what they will continue to deliver as industries of the future (more than submarines and rockets!).
We have the capability to again be a beacon for excellence and a magnet for scientific talent.
We can only truly be a leader in agricultural R&D if we are clear about what we need, what we can do best ourselves and what we can outsource — because we do not have the resources to do it all.
Industry leaders – PPSA included – need to talk up the significant changes delivered already through the adoption of research outcomes.
We need our political leaders to take up the significant opportunities to leverage what we already deliver for this state and to support a strong and vibrant research community in the face of unprecedented global change.
More than ever, we need to work together to build strong partnerships — both within and between the state farming organisations and local R&D agencies, with our national counterparts and the rural R&D corporations.
Agricultural R&D is all about growing the state.
That is why we need to remain at the front of the pack.
This column was written by PPSA Chair Professor Simon Maddocks and first appeared in the September 28, 2023 edition of Stock Journal.