Curtin in $100m food research deal

Brad ThompsonThe West Australian
Big deal:  Tan Spot of Wheat Program leader  Dr Caroline Moffat with Curtin vice chancellor Professor Deborah Terry in a grain growing lab.
Camera IconBig deal: Tan Spot of Wheat Program leader Dr Caroline Moffat with Curtin vice chancellor Professor Deborah Terry in a grain growing lab. Credit: Bill Hatto/The West Australian

Curtin University is positioning itself to become a key player in farming and the global food boom after securing one of the biggest investment deals in its history.

Under the five-year, $100-million deal to be unveiled today, Curtin will build a state-of-the-art grains research centre on the Bentley campus for a team of world-leading scientists.

It will also recruit new lecturers in agronomy and agribusiness to help produce a generation of industry leaders armed with the latest tools in crop technology.

Curtin has joined a Federal body funded by a levy on every grain grower as part of its major shift towards agriculture and food.

The research will focus on pushing farm yields to unheard-of levels by creating grain varieties resistant to pests and diseases which cost Australia's most valuable agricultural industry an estimated $500 million a year.

The work at the Centre for Crop and Disease Management will build on the success of projects based on traditional breeding techniques but could eventually include genetically modified plants.

Academics said the Curtin deal was at least as significant as WA's involvement in the Square Kilometre Array and much more valuable.

CCDM director Mark Gibberd said the deal with the Federal Grains Research and Development Corporation was the first of its kind.

"It is a game changer for the grains industry in WA and has substantial national benefits as well," Professor Gibberd said.

"We are looking at approximately $100 million invested in capital infrastructure, people and research.

"In addition to that, we are spending another $30 million on undergraduate and postgraduate training over the same five-year period."

It is understood Curtin will contribute the lion's share with GRDC committed to a minimum of $30 million with options to extend funding well into the next decade.

Banks and leading agribusinesses have signalled they are likely to invest in the innovative research model and undergraduate program.

Federal Agriculture Minister Barnaby Joyce will launch the centre today with new Curtin vice-chancellor Deborah Terry.

WA Governor Malcolm McCusker has also taken a keen interest in the move and offered his support.

Curtin hopes staff and students can move into the new building with about 8000sqm of laboratory and research and office space early in 2016.

Professor Gibberd said the research combined with greater expertise in agronomy and agribusiness would lead to significant improvements in farm sustainability and profitability.

"This is not just about research being done in the city," he said. "This is about research orientated towards regional development and sustainability through better farming systems."

Professor Gibberd said work by the Curtin research team on control of fungal crop diseases was already saving Australian grain growers up to $100 million a year.

'It is a game changer for the grains industry.'" Curtin Professor *Mark Gibberd *

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