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Minister’s recognition of farm R&D shortfall timely: NFF

3 March 2009

SPEAKING at the ABARE Outlook conference in Canberra today, Federal Minister for Agriculture Tony Burke recognised the need to build productivity growth across the sector to enable farmers to build resilience in the face of growing challenges, both here and abroad.

“We’re alarmed by the decline in agricultural productivity growth commensurate with the fall in research and development (R&D) spending,” National Farmers’ Federation (NFF) President David Crombie said today from Outlook ‘09. “With the benefits from 1960s and 70s research petering out, yield growth rates have fallen sharply.

“Damningly, Australia’s research intensity spending in agriculture has lapsed to the level it was in 1970 – plummeting from a peak of 5.1% in 1978 to just 2.9% by 2005.

“Our farm productivity growth has consistently out-performing most sectors of the Australian economy over the past 30 years, but there is no way the sector can sustain that productivity performance without the R&D to back it up.

“Australia’s global competitive-edge is slipping into decline when we can least afford it.

“If our $30 billion a year farm export sector is allowed to lag behind our global competitors, 315,000 full-time jobs in agriculture will be at risk – not to mention the hit to the 1.6 million Australian jobs across the rest of the economy that hinge on farm production.

“Today, ABARE Executive Director Phillip Glyde acknowledged this fact, noting that agriculture’s productivity growth levels have declined, particularly since the turn of the century, even after taking into account the effects of the prolonged drought.

“The Australian Farm Institute’s Productivity Growth in Australian Agriculture: Trends, Sources and Performance in 2007 should have been a ‘wake-up call’ for our governments. It exposed Australia’s R&D shortfall and highlighted that developing countries are outstripping Australia’s investment in agricultural R&D.

“Now matters are more serious. In the wake of the global economic crisis and the international scarcity of food, now is not the time to be cutting real investment in productivity-based research and development in agriculture.

“In fact, we need to be spending more. As well as needing to arrest this disturbing decline in food production, Australia needs to be positioning itself at the cutting-edge of the next wave of productivity opportunities.

“In January, we called on the Government to reverse Australia’s decline in agricultural R&D and work with the sector on a long-term plan to ensure sustained investment in productivity gains (NFF Federal Budget Submission 2009). We hope that message is getting through.”

More information is available in the NFF Federal Budget Submission 2009.

[ENDS]

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

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