Consultants have role to play

Rueben HaleThe West Australian

Private agricultural research is a booming industry in WA, but a leading consultant says research funding is still dependent on the State Government.

AgInnovate lead consultant Danielle England told _Countryman _modern farming required agriculture to form research partnerships with the private sector, but in order to do so it required government support to obtain matching funds.

Ms England heads a team of consultants that work to bring industry and the private sector together in research partnerships.

The Narrogin-based Ms England, who is also contracted by Grain Research and Development Corporation to manage Grain and Graze in WA, spoke from practical experience about improving innovation practices on a farm at the Innovation in Agriculture forum held at Pagoda Hotel last week.

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She said the AgInnovate consultancy had grown rapidly and would likely employ five consultants by the end of the year.

"In this forum the concern is how to attract and maintain industry investment in research," Ms England said.

The pressure on groups like AgInnovate to fill the void of Department of Agriculture and Food WA research is escalating after the cash-strapped State Government slashed $30 million for the department's budget earlier this year, shifting much of the responsibility for agricultural research to the private sector in partnership with government. Ms England said her team and other similar organisations worked with famers, grower groups and funding providers and believed consultants were really picking up that slack and doing a great job.

She said with less government support, farmers in the State's more remote agricultural regions were feeling a sense of isolation and vulnerability.

"If we look around the core areas of Narrogin, Northam, Geraldton, Albany and even Esperance, it's not so much a problem," she said.

"But once we get out to places like Merredin and Southern Cross, where we don't tend to have the agronomists and the farm management consultants based, that is where farmers are really starting to feel the pinch.

"I think it will take a bit of time and support to get the private advisers and private extension consultants into those areas."

Ms England said the way agriculture programs were delivered had changed forever.

"The way research was done in the 1950s is not something we are seeing very often now and we expect things will not be done that way at all in the next 20 to 30 years," she said.

"My statement to farmers today is to make the most of the consultants they have available to them because it is the way of the future.

"More research, development and extension will be delivered by the private sector going forward."

Ms England said the next 12 months would be focused on consolidating the company's solid growth.

"Our aim is to continue do what we already do really well, which is to work with a range of stakeholders from the farmers, grower groups and researchers and maintain that network as one big happy family," she said.

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