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More research into rural R&D facts would benefit IPA

22 March 2013

Farmers have labelled the claims by the Institute of Public Affairs (IPA) that investment into agricultural research and development (R&D) is a ‘waste of money’ as laughable.

National Farmers’ Federation (NFF) President Jock Laurie said the comments show the IPA is clearly out of touch with the realities of Australian agriculture.

“The IPA has called for all federal agricultural R&D to be abolished, saying that it hasn’t seen any credible figures that prove the research has led to productivity gains,” Mr Laurie said.

“For a body that claims to be a think-tank, the IPA is obviously not doing much thinking, let alone research, given there’s a whole host of sources that have analysed the returns of investment from agricultural R&D, and demonstrated the link between agricultural R&D and productivity, including ABARES and the Office of the Chief Scientist.

“The reality is, the benefits from agricultural research and development to the Australian community are enormous. Analysis by the Rural Research and Development Corporations indicates that the return on investment is $11 for every dollar spent.

“And, as ABARES have demonstrated, public R&D directly accounted for nearly a third of the productivity growth experienced in Australia’s broadacre farming sector between 1952-53 and 2006-07. Without these gains, the simple fact is farming would not be the innovative, progressive sector it is today and Australia would not be reaping the benefits from our food and fibre sectors.

“The comments by the IPA are simply ludicrous. A spokesperson for the body is also quoted as saying that ‘if a group of farmers have a good idea (for research) they should pursue it (themselves)’. As the Government made clear in their Rural R&D Policy Statement in 2012, the Australian rural sector largely comprises small, family business, and the incentive and capacity for these businesses to invest in R&D is low.

“The spokesperson also said, ‘if there is going to be a major breakthrough in wheat or cotton, international companies like Monsanto will be making them, not Australian R&D.’ Professor Tony Peacock of the CRC Association disagrees: ‘A robust study showed that the Cotton CRC delivered about a billion dollars of benefit to Australia. It's a plain dumb statement to say we ‘should leave it to Monsanto’. The billion in benefits came from better use of water, better control of pests and diseases and faster utilisation of technology to keep the industry competitive.’

“We suggest the IPA does its research a little better in future. As the Prime Minister said in a speech delivered to the NFF Congress last year, ‘Australia’s producers know the value of investment in rural research and development’ – but apparently the IPA doesn’t.

“As the Prime Minister also said, agriculture has been the sector with the largest productivity growth since 2007-08, and as the Opposition Leader said, it was only because of growth in the agricultural sector that we avoided going into recession as part of the global financial crisis.

“Based on the evidence, we know that for this growth to continue, public and private agricultural R&D investment must also grow – and we reiterate our call for an increase in total Government expenditure on agricultural RD&E by one percent by 2015,” Mr Laurie said.

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