State governments need to lift their game on extension programs to bring farmers the latest in agricultural research and development.
That’s according to federal Agriculture Minister David Littleproud, who flagged significant reform to the sector’s 15 levy-payer funded Research and Development Corporations (RDCs) at the Australian Bureau of Agricultural and Resource Economics and Sciences annual conference this morning.
He said the changes, highlighted in an Ernst and Young report released today, would be designed to bring the individual RDCs out of their silos and to work more collaboratively.
“States have a big role to play, and they have dropped the ball in terms of extension. So now it’s about making sure we (the federal government) collaborate with them. Stakeholders need bang for their buck,” Mr Littleproud said.
State governments across the country have drastically reduced the funding and scope of their extension networks in the past decade.
Mr Littleproud said the report identified a range of issues that need to be worked on by state and federal governments, as well as the research sector.
EY has not recommended any specific changes, such as amalgamating RDCs, or changing their funding model.
Mr Littleproud said the report drew on 550 stakeholder consultations, and he would consult with the research sector before announcing changes.
However, EY said commodity-based RDCs don’t collaborate effectively on shared problems, are to siloed in their approach which is a barrier to attracting private investment, and are too risk-averse.
Mr Littleproud said while Australia employs more research than the US and the Netherlands, it is only ranked 20th in Cornell University's international innovation rankings.
All three countries employ the same ratio of researchers, with around 4500 per million head of population.
Meanwhile the Netherlands and the US are ranked 2 and 6 for research performance, respectively.
“There is no reason in the world we should not be number one, Mr Littleproud said.
EY’s report said RDCs could be transformed through a 30-year reform program, but Mr Littleproud flagged faster changes.
“We are smarter than that, I think we can do it by 2030. I am an impatient guy,” Mr Littleproud said.
“Today I am challenging the RDC leaders to come to the table and work through it.
Mr Littleproud said he would consult widely with levy-payers, agribusiness and research institutions before setting the reform agenda.
“You don’t get change by yelling at people. You show a strategic vision of where you want people to go. If you bring people with you, people will follow,” he said.
Labor’s agriculture spokesman Joel Fitzgibbon has raised the possibility of making levy-payer funding contestable between all RDCs, and recently flagged the need for significant reforms.
Mr Littleproud said he would not be prescriptive about a future RDC funding model, but noted an open funding pool could create winners and losers and cause some commodities to miss out.