Grains Research Development Corporation ‘grainstorming’ to develop five-year plan for $180m annual investment

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Grains Research Development Corporation managing director Nigel Hart.
Camera IconGrains Research Development Corporation managing director Nigel Hart. Credit: GRDC/GRDC

Grains Research Development Corporation is in the middle of what its new boss says might be its most important consultation process yet — casting a wide net for input on its next five-year plan.

GRDC managing director Nigel Hart visited Perth in June as his first trip to WA since starting the role, to meet a range of stakeholders including WA Agriculture Minister Alannah MacTiernan.

The organisation is developing its five-year plan for 2023-28 and asking farmers and wider industry where its grains research, development and extension spend should focus during the next five years.

Mr Hart said answers to the multimillion dollar question would shape how GRDC invested the $180m to $200m it invests each year on behalf of the nation’s 22,000 grain growing operations.

“It is about making sure we are focusing on the areas - pre and post farm gate – critical for growers in terms of supporting their businesses to be profitable and sustainable on the longer term,” he said.

“We want to make sure we are capturing quite clearly, where people are looking for GRDC to invest during the next five years… in addition to the ongoing investments we have on the books.

“There are a lot of areas you can invest in, but we need to make sure we are getting the maximum amount of impact for every dollar spent by GRDC.”

Farmers pay a levy to GRDC worth 0.99 per cent of the farm gate value of their grain, with that figure matched by the Federal Government — up to 0.5 per cent of the three-year rolling average of the gross value of crop production.

The funds are used to invest in rural research, development and extension projects for the grains industry, with excess levies often kept as reserves to cover poorer production years.

Mr Hart said GRDC had been consulting with its National Grower Network in recent weeks and believed GRDC was “coming off a high base” in terms of delivering value to growers.

“I think it is important to recognise that GRDC has been delivering some really good impact and good results,” he said.

“But we are always looking for good ideas... it’s a combination of evolution and revolution, we know growers are happy in terms in what we have been doing around those continuous improvement areas where we are looking at a 2 per cent increase in productivity.”

Since starting in the role in April, Mr Hart said he had been doing “plenty” – including getting his head around GRDC’s 600-plus portfolio of projects, meeting the internal team, the board, research partners, growers, industry groups, and ministers.

Plans for his first trip to WA were sidelined when he came down with COVID-19 earlier this year, but he finally made it across the border in June.

While in WA, he attended a GRDC board meeting, met with UWA to learn about the Australian Herbicide Resistance Program, Murdoch University, Australian Grains Export Innovation Centre, Grains Australia, InterGrain, and the GRDC western region panel.

During the trip, GRDC announced $30m over five years for the Perth-based Centre for Crop and Disease Management and $12m for AEGIC – matched by the State Government – over four years.

His next trip will be to WA for the July 21 launch of the WA Agricultural Collaboration.

The long-time grains supply chain expert — who ran his own corporate advisory business until March this year — stepped into the role in April after being announced as the successful candidate in February.

He succeeded Cathie Warburton who had been serving as interim managing director and stepped back into her role as people, communications and governance general manager.

Mr Hart was previously a senior executive at Long-Term Asset Partners.

He earlier spent more than two years at ADM as global director of ports and director of ports and storage development for Asia Pacific, and previously spent more than 12 years at GrainCorp.

Originally from New South Wales, Mr Hart said he had always been involved in grain which was one of his “passions”, after farming with relatives after university before pursuing a corporate career.

He said taking on the role at GRDC was a “distinct privilege” after a career focused on delivering greater value to growers.

“GRDC plays such a critical role in terms of doing research, which helps farmers with enduring profitability and sustainability,” he said.

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