Collaboration opens doors to “big picture” research

13.07.21

Adding value to the thousands of levy payers across our industries is a key driver for research, development and extension (RD&E) at AgriFutures Australia. Now more than ever, collaboration will drive the way we deliver research outcomes for farmers and producers, who often face similar issues across related industries and in their own-mixed farming enterprises.

By John Smith, AgriFutures Australia, General Manager Research

Collaboration wears many hats and has many faces. Collaboration is having the right people in the room right from the word go; developing what the research might look like; and thinking about the research priorities which are so critical for industry.  It needs to be about the question or need RD&E is trying to solve, the output for industry, and the skillset required.

My team and I are connecting to industry and researchers to ensure our RD&E priorities align with producer and levy payer needs and expectations. However, our knowledge and understanding of our industries both as a team and an organisation goes much further than the day-to-day operation of a single project.

The future of collaboration

Farmers often have crops competing for the same piece of water and the same piece of land using similar large-scale infrastructure. For researchers, the future of collaboration will involve a greater understanding of an entire farming/production system and growers needs, rather than a single aspect of the system. In the future, we will be asking our researchers to understand how an enterprise can work together so that instead of competing for the available resources and/or infrastructure, there is shared knowledge. Along with productivity gains, this big-picture thinking allows us to make linkages across production systems so research will be assessed as a whole-of-system approach rather than in isolation.

This requires a step-change. Previously where we have considered a research project on its own, we are now asking our researchers and our AgriFutures Advisory Panels to think more broadly. Collaboration in the future will see researchers, Advisory Panel members and research institutions together in the same room, either formally in a project or in the formation of a research idea to ensure the best investment for each of our levied industries. In the coming years, we will need to work more in this space because innovation often comes from outside of an industry.

Collaboration leads to better “bang for our buck”

As we drive the growth of our industries, there is a limit to the number of individual projects we can manage. How do we rethink this? One of the possibilities is bigger research teams and more direct and greater interaction between researchers who have complimentary skill sets and are likely to have had someone else experience or deal with an issue.

Any future collaborative models must also allow for increased funding opportunities to leverage broader research and better outcomes for levy payers. Our programs contain varying degrees of collaboration with the research institutions we fund, and we are always looking for opportunities to do more. We value the in-kind contribution that our research partners bring to projects because it increases outcomes that can be achieved from investments. We place great value on our relationships with the many institutions and their projects we help to fund, now and in the future.

What does successful collaboration look like?

We are challenging researchers to take a holism approach to their research and to collaborate across borders—internationally and nationally. The AgriFutures Chicken Meat Program has taken the first step by developing a large-scale project encompassing nutrition, gut health and environment research.  This challenged research teams to work collaboratively (across institutes, industry and internationally) to develop programs of research to answer the question “what aspects of broiler nutrition will optimise gut health and the in-shed environment to deliver a sustainable chicken meat production system with enhanced animal welfare?” In doing this, the respondents brought together complementary skills including research, development, adoption, and extension together with expertise in specific technologies and products.

We are proud of our collaborative work in the AgriFutures Export Fodder Program. AgriFutures Australia and Grains Research Development Corporation (GRDC) together have invested $5.4 million in a $11.5 million National Breeding Program to provide new varieties for hay and milling oat production. The new Program will leverage technology such as genomics to respond to the changing needs of Australian growers and exporters. AgriFutures and the GRDC’s investment has been matched by the successful tenderer, InterGrain, an Australian cereal breeding company, with an additional $750,000 from the Western Australian Agriculture Authority (WAAA). WAAA’s investment supports the Western Australian Government’s $10.1 million election commitment as part of the Processed Oats Industry Growth Partnership. This research builds on more than 20 years of research by the South Australian Research and Development Institute (SARDI). From an initial investment of $2.7 million AgriFutures has been able to leverage other funding to make great gains for our levy payers and this is the gold standard for collaboration going forward.

Smarter Irrigation for Profit (Phase 11) is another outstanding example of collaboration with multiple partners; bringing together irrigation researchers, irrigators, advisors and technologists from the cotton, rice, sugar and dairy industries to develop practical, cost effective irrigation strategies and technologies to improve water productivity on-farm. These production systems are so different but unified by the need for a practical and cost-effective irrigation solutions. This Project is being led by Cotton Research Development Corporation, (CRDC) in partnership with Dairy Australia, Sugar Research Australia, Grains Research and Development Corporation, CSIRO, University of Melbourne, University of Southern Queensland, Deakin University, Tasmanian Institute of Agriculture, NSW Department of Primary Industries (DPI), Agriculture Victoria, Gwydir Valley Irrigators Association and supporting partners including farmer groups and commercial irrigation providers. Networking on this scale allows the same issue(s) to be dealt with, often expanding the scope of a research project because of the advantages of the skills knowledge available in the same room.

For smaller industries with limited budgets, collaboration is the driver for an effective R&D program. Smaller industries need to leverage the experience in similar industries, to help build a bigger program. Our collaboration with the GRDC extends to other projects such as Managing insecticide resistance in red legged earth mite led by Cesar Australia. The AgriFutures Pasture Seeds Program’s co-investment in the GRDC project has extended the study to pastures which is adding enormous value to our levy payers. We would not have been able to afford this research without this partnership. Collaboration is also important in generating awareness and interest in our RD&E investments like this project with the GRDC. We want our levy payers to be aware of what research is underway so they can build their understanding and confidence to adopt and gain the benefits of the research more quickly.

Finally, collaboration also sits in our Capacity Building Program. We want the people working in rural industries to develop their skills in governance, financial acumen, succession planning and strategic planning to consider applying in 2021-22 for a range of courses we will advertise on our website. Our stakeholders have told us they really enjoy learning from other industries in a collegiate environment where the challenges are different, yet similar. If we can harness the skills of farmers, producers, industries, researchers and panel members from diverse industries and institutions, imagine the flow-on effects for Australian agriculture.

For more information about AgriFutures Australia’s Rural Industries go to: https://www.agrifutures.com.au/rural-industries/

 ENDS

Media enquiries:
Jo Mazzocchi, AgriFutures Australia, Manager of Communications

Jo.Mazzocchi@agrifutures.com.au | 0418 469 605