Grains research debate grinds on

Headshot of Jenne Brammer
Jenne BrammerCountryman
Agriculture Minister Mark Lewis.
Camera IconAgriculture Minister Mark Lewis. Credit: Mary Meagher

The WA grains industry received a welcome boost this week when Agriculture Minister Mark Lewis announced $54.4 million towards grains research and development.

But uncertainty remains about how a body responsible for WA grains research will be structured.

Mr Lewis said the investment to 2020, which includes $20 million from Royalties for Regions, would enable a new WA grains research and development model to be established, and ensured essential grains science capacity remained within the Department of Agriculture and Food WA.

Mr Lewis said the funding was part of moves to reinvigorate DAFWA, which had suffered steep budget cuts in recent years.

There are now fewer than 1000 staff employed by DAFWA, compared with 1600 when the Government came to power.

Mr Lewis said the State Government would work in partnership with the Grains Research and Development Corporation and the grains industry on the “best approach for research and development with a strong regional presence that would endure well into the future”.

“The certainty of additional State funding will also allow the State to leverage not only the nearly $20 million of its funding per year, but also the nearly $30 million of WA grain growers’ levies per year, against Commonwealth and other funding sources,” he said.

But the Grains Industry Group — an industry body that has proposed a new model for WA grains research — said it was disappointed the minister had not taken the opportunity to put in place a new structure that would be responsible for WA grains research.

GIG chairman David Falconer said for the past 18 months the group has worked on, and gained unanimous support for, a structure with the working title of Crop Research Institute of WA.

The proposed structure involved a company limited by guarantee with two founding members of GRDC and DAFWA, with the industry as advisory council.

Mr Falconer said the unanimous industry support for this body was reinforced by a recent survey undertaken by Peter Cooke of AgKnowledge.

“GIG has spent 18 months working with DAFWA, GRDC and the Office of Science to develop what was agreed by all parties to be a new and exciting model, but the minister has failed to grasp the opportunity to form the entity,” he said.

“We put up a good proposal with unanimous support, but the minister still says he’s working on it.”

Mr Falconer said while he welcomed the fact DAFWA funding would be reinstated, the failure to commit to an immediate timeframe meant it was unlikely any new model would be in place before the State election.

Mr Lewis said the current system had been in place for more than 30 years and he was aware of the amount of work that had been undertaken to identify the needs and structure for a new grains research model.

“There is no need to start from scratch,” he said. “However, as minister it is my responsibility to ensure that the necessary due diligence is undertaken to be confident that any new model meets the requirements of industry and the Government, and is capable of lasting another 30 years. I anticipate that the new arrangements will be in place by July 1, 2017.”

WAFarmers Grains Section president Duncan Young said the funding commitment would ensure not only the continuation, but the expansion, of the sector.

Shadow agriculture minister Mick Murray said the Government was giving back money it had taken away.

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