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More investment needed in rural R&D to drive innovation

23 July 2012

The National Farmers’ Federation (NFF) has today welcomed the Government’s announcement of improvements to Australia’s rural research, development and extension efforts.

NFF President Jock Laurie said that the Government’s plan to increase transparency, coordination and value for money within the existing research and development (R&D) model is positive, yet more needs to be done to ensure increased investment in Australian agriculture R&D.

“R&D is of fundamental importance to Australian farmers and the future of our agricultural sector. We already know that we need to grow more to feed the booming world population – and we know that we have less land, water and human resources with which to do so,” Mr Laurie said.

“Achieving this will require not only efficiencies in the current R&D model, but also a lift in research spending.

“Our farmers continue to face the challenge of declining terms of trade in agriculture, yet we remain internationally competitive through efficiencies and productivity growth – and it is through R&D and extension, and the technology and innovation that comes with it, that farmers have historically been able to achieve this productivity growth.

“Yet this growth is slowing. From the 1970s to early 2000s, the growth in the farm sector increased steadily at an average rate of 2.8 percent, consistently out-performing other sectors. As Minister Ludwig said in his announcement this morning, domestically, rural productivity has grown at more than twice the rate of other industries.

“Yet in the past decade, agricultural productivity growth has slowed to just one percent per annum.

“The Minister said today that approximately two thirds of agricultural productivity gains in recent years can be attributed to public R&D and extension – which is why it is vital that this investment continues to grow to ensure the industry can meet the challenges ahead, and that greater collaboration is encouraged with private R&D in agriculture to ensure our farmers receive the full benefits.

“That’s why we’re particularly welcoming of the flexibility announced today by the Government for the rural Research and Development Corporations (RDCs), particularly the opportunity for greater use of voluntary contributions from the private sector and the use of levy funds for marketing.

“We’re also pleased to note the Government’s commitment to the existing RDC model, and we’re hopeful that the additional transparency promised today will deliver a greater level of efficiency and accountability in the use of the industry levy and matched Government funds.

“It is essential that Australia puts its foot back on the pedal when it comes to innovation in food and fibre production, and while today’s announcement is certainly a step in this direction, we’ll continue to drive home the importance of R&D and extension with the Government,” Mr Laurie said.

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