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Governments Must Not Stall on Driving Vital R&D Investment

14 March 2006

New research revealing developing countries are outstripping Australian investment in agricultural research and development (R&D) should be a timely ‘wake up call’ for governments, both federal and state, and industries serious about ensuring the ongoing competitiveness of our $30 billion-a-year farm export sector.

While the private sector, including farmers, is investing in innovative research solutions to address climate change, sustainable environmental management and emerging agricultural technologies, in real terms Australia’s Federal and State Government spending on R&D has remained static.

The March edition of the Farm Policy Journal, published by the Australian Farm Institute, reveals that Australia’s farm exports are facing increasing competition from developing countries – not only due to their low costs but also because they are now investing more on productivity enhancing R&D.

Until now, sustained productivity growth in our key export sectors has underpinned Australia’s ability to compete and succeed in distorted global trading, however, this new report casts serious doubt over our ability to maintain that competitive edge.

Only last week the Federal Treasurer Peter Costello highlighted the importance of science and innovation in ensuring Australia’s productivity, growth and social prosperity.

“Farmers could not agree more with the Treasurer’s sentiments,” NFF President Peter Corish said. “So the Farm Policy Journal report must be ringing alarm bells for all those with an interest in rural R&D. The NFF acknowledges the impact of drought on matched R&D funding in recent years, however, it is essential that governments and industry do not stand still while we, as a nation, face an increasingly aggressive trade push from other countries.

“At the end of the day, there are still things governments must remain committed to, and a robust R&D program enabling a sector which accounts for some 25% of Australian export income to keep pace with developments, is one of them.

“In real terms, the report shows that Federal and State Government investment in agricultural R&D has remained static: in 1986-87 it was $900 million, in 2002-03 it remained $900 million.”

Australian farmers are fortunate to have a world-class R&D framework through the Rural Research and Development Corporations. However, it is essential that the system continues to be driven by strong partnerships between farmers (levy payers) and Federal and State Governments.

“This new report highlights the serious risks if governments or industry waiver in their commitment to this critical partnership,” Mr Corish added.

Media Enquiries: Brett Heffernan on (02) 6273 3855 or 0408 448 250.

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