Scientists lay out plan to future proof Australia’s agricultural sector

June 20, 2017

Australia’s leading agricultural scientists are calling on industry and government to establish a $100 million agricultural translation fund to help boost productivity and profitability, future-proofing Australian farmers against looming shocks like climate variability or major disease outbreaks.

The recommendation is one of five in a ten-year strategic plan for Australian Agricultural Sciences developed by the Australian Academy of Science.

Dr Jeremy Burdon, Chair of the Academy’s National Committee for Agriculture, Fisheries and Food, said that a new research translation fund supported by public and private equity would fast-track investment in the development of applications for the most promising Australian research and boost Australia’s economy through new and improved agricultural products and services in domestic and international markets.

The 10-year plan outlines strategies to capitalise on emerging technologies to create ‘digital paddocks’ that draw on a range of data sources to optimise planting, water, fertilisers and herbicides for various crops, depending on conditions.

It also outlines strategies to improve the strength and efficiency of agricultural research in Australia in ways that will increase the ability of governments and producers to maintain productivity and efficiency in the face of evolving natural challenges.

“Australia has repeatedly faced invasions of plant and animal diseases that, once established, consume large amounts of resources in order to regain control. Yet there are unfortunately plenty more to come,” said Dr Burdon.

“We know for instance that it’s only a matter of time until we see an outbreak of an aggressive invasive species such as the Varroa destructor mite that would devastate bee colonies and crop pollination.

“If the status quo is maintained, Australia will be unable to marshal well-coordinated research teams to prepare for and respond to these kinds of shocks. This will dramatically impact the Agriculture Minister’s vision to turn our agricultural sector into a $100 billion sector by 2025.”

The Academy’s report has also identified opportunities to improve efficiencies in the sector by streamlining governance arrangements between Commonwealth, state and territory governments, research agencies and universities.

“There remains a distinct lack of coordination of agricultural research and innovation in Australia and a culture of competition over collaboration,” Dr Burdon said.

“The scientific and research community must form stronger partnerships across sectors and industries, focusing on better-integrated global data, modelling and analytical capacities, to better respond to new opportunities and prepare for major threats to agricultural production.”

The full ten-year strategy is available from the Academy website. The Academy acknowledges the support of the Australian Research Council in the development of this plan.

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