THE Federal Government is making a move to get more out of agricultural research and development, announcing this morning it has commissioned consultants to put together a ‘strategic vision’ for the future of Australia’s rural innovation system.
Agriculture Minister David Littleproud insists it is not a restructure of research and development corporations, however there is certainly some nervousness among RDC bosses as to whether their organisations will survive in current formats.
Spurring cooperation and collaboration, attracting capital from around the globe and improving pathways to commercialisation are the key areas the Minister wants the consultants to focus on.
The announcement that Ernst & Young had been appointed to conduct extensive stakeholder consultation - more than 450 interviews and 10 workshops in fact - and to investigate overseas systems comes against a backdrop of strong debate in the red meat industry about merging its three RDCs.
Duplication of roles and resources, with levy payer money being wasted in the process, is what has spurred that push and red meat’s largest RDC, Meat and Livestock Australia, has publicly supported bringing all under one umbrella.
Minister Littleproud made comments last week at a rural press event, in response to questions from beef industry representatives, that RDCs needed to be fit for the future.
He went as far as to say he did not support fiefdom protection and ‘not every child would receive a prize.’
Early reaction to the EY project among the RDC sector appears mixed, with some saying it amounts to the first step in forced mergers and others saying it is a justified and much-needed move towards ‘doing business better.’
Some leaders pointed out the EY report would be about far more than RDCs - taking in the millions invested in rural research by universities, for example.
Indeed, Minister Littleproud encouraged “all players from across agriculture, research and agtech sectors to contribute.”
“Australia should have a world-class, modern and dynamic rural innovation system which attracts capital and delivers the results of research as real tools farmers can use,” he said.
“I want all players across the industry to contribute to this work so we all have a shared vision going forward. This should be something every farmer and farm-related business can be part of and get real benefit from – not a bunch of buzz words which mean nothing and help no-one.
“Let’s make sure Australia’s rural innovation system is fit for the future and improve it through more strategic collaboration, improved pathways to commercialisation and by becoming a more attractive place for investment in research and agtech development.”
Fairfax Media understands rural RDCs have also been doing their own internal work on ensuring they are fit to respond to the future, although the EY project is expected to encompass a far wider stakeholder contribution and other areas of rural innovation.
This internal review by RDCs themselves is also unlikely to be examining the role of levy payer and Federal money in RDCs.
The “new vision” of Australia’s innovation system is expected to be launched early next year.