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Research the key to long-term gains for a smarter economy

16 December 2008

“AUSTRALIAN farmers’ nation-leading productivity growth of 2.8% a year over the last 20 years has been achieved on the back of the groundbreaking technologies and sustainable practices discovered through research and development (R&D),” National Farmers’ Federation (NFF) CEO Ben Fargher said today as he welcomed a new Rural Research Development Corporations’ Report.

“As today’s Measuring economic, environmental and social returns from Rural Research and Development Corporations’ investment report shows, the return on investment from a sample of projects yields an $11 average return for every dollar spent. Not only do efficiency gains made through R&D underpin adoption of new technologies and farm practices that make us international leaders, they pay for themself 11 times over.

“Of these positive results, half represent major public spill-over gains – including improved biodiversity, reduced soil erosion, fewer diseases and water-saving efficiencies – benefits that flow through to consumers, supply chain participants and the wider community.

“Today’s report reveals that RDCs invest around $540 million a year, comprising $325 million from industry and $216 million from the Australian Government. For every dollar from the Australian Government, industry contributes $1.50.

“Despite this result, farmers are concerned that Australia does not become the marketplace equivalent of a ‘sitting duck’ as we fall behind our competitors, many of whom are now outstripping Australia’s commitment to staying ahead of the game through R&D investment.

“In sporting terms, we’re told how hard it is to get to the top, but that it’s even harder to stay there. That’s the situation our farmers face. We are at the top of our game and renowned the world over for our internationally-competitive and environmentally-sustainable food and fibre production. But staying there demands a serious additional investment in R&D.

“Across all of government, more must be done. While farmers invest in innovative research solutions to address climate change, productivity growth, sustainable environmental management and emerging agricultural technologies, in real terms, Australia’s federal and state government spending on R&D has failed to keep pace.

“As other countries invest more heavily in agricultural R&D, Australia will, inevitably, fall behind and be consigned to playing catch up. The long-term consequences for our farm exports – accounting for 61% of everything our farmers produce and 20% of Australia’s total commodity exports – could be dire.

“With the Australian farm sector underpinning 12% of GDP and 1-in-6 of all Australian jobs, the negative ripple effects will be felt through the whole economy. It is essential that governments and industry do not stand still in R&D innovation while we, as a nation, face major challenges such as global food scarcity and a changing climate.

“Today’s report should give governments, both state and federal, confidence that agricultural R&D investment yields a significant bang for their buck – it must be a much higher priority for spending in the future.”

[ENDS]

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

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