Plans for new grains research unit

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Jenne BrammerThe West Australian
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The Department of Agriculture and Food WA's main grains research capability will be housed under a proposed new GrainsWest initiative, which will be formed as part of the four-year $20 million Boosting Grains Research and Development project funded through Royalties for Regions.

A component of the Boosting Grains R&D project, announced at last year's Dowerin Field Days, is to form GrainsWest - a working title rather than the official name of the project - as a not-for-profit company owned by the WA Government to deliver high-value targeted agronomic research that addresses industry priorities.

Preparatory work is under way to establish the company, which would have its headquarters at DAFWA's Northam site, with satellite R&D operations based at DAFWA sites at Geraldton, Merredin and Esperance.

DAFWA grains industry executive director Mark Sweetingham said the shape of the business was under development with existing and potential partners and staff.

The new company would require final sign-off by the State Government, and Dr Sweetingham expected the new operation could be in place within 12 months.

Dr Sweetingham said the proposal had drawn from previous State Government collaborations in the grains sector, such as the Australian Export Grains Innovation Centre with Grains Research and Development.

DAFWA grain researchers would be moved across to the proposed company.

A further plan of the $20m Boosting Grains R&D initiative is to recruit four new early-career grains scientists, who would come under the GrainsWest umbrella and be regionally based.

Currently there are about 160 individuals working at DAFWA in grains research and development, including some areas outside the GrainsWest scope

DAFWA's existing flagship R&D projects could also be rolled into the GrainsWest centre. These include more grain from less rain, lifting the yield ceiling, frost-proofing farm businesses and regional agronomy systems.

Dr Sweetingham said the proposed company would be likely to have strong relationships with the private sector as well as universities and the CSIRO.

"DAFWA is working with the Government, industry and the GRDC to explore a better approach to deliver grains R&D that will endure well into the future," he said.

"This approach will be more inclusive and engaged with the private R&D sector, whether local or multinational," he said.

GRDC western grower services manager Roger States said the GrainsWest initiative was a positive development and he was confident it would deliver the required research outcomes for the State's growers.

Mr States said the structure of such a company would be better placed to attract and maintain high-calibre talent.

He expected the GRDC would have a strong relationship with this organisation in the future.

Fine-tuning the structure of the GrainsWest model will be one of the items on the agenda for a new Stakeholder Reference Group, announced this week by DAFWA to provide industry feedback on the development of the Boosting Grains R&D project.

The five-strong group, overseen by Dr Sweetingham, had its initial meeting in May and is charged with providing industry feedback on the development of the project.

Members include rural consultant and agronomist Chris Wilkins, GRDC chairman Peter Roberts from Dunn Rock, and grain grower Gemma Walker from Munglinup, who is also vice-chairman of Partners in Grain.

Mid West rural consultant Cameron Weeks and Grower Group Alliance chairman Clancy Michael are also members of the group.

"It is important that the Boosting Grains R&D project is closely aligned with our clients' needs so that investments can best target efforts to accelerate production gains," Dr Sweetingham said.

"This group has the expertise and linkages with a broader network of growers, grower groups and agribusinesses, who will provide valuable input as this project gains momentum."

The scale of WA's grains industry is reflected by its lion's share of DAFWA's research capabilities.

DAFWA said it would continue to deliver a range of functions and services across WA that deliver important benefits to the agrifood sector, including biosecurity programs, supply chain and food industry development, support for exporters, policy development and red tape reduction, capacity building and decision-making information (including 130 weather stations) and targeted research and development.

DAFWA, which has about 1000 full-time equivalent staff, said there would be about 100 redundancies this year, including a self-funded voluntary scheme which is under way for 50 redundancies. It is expected DAFWA will need to reduce staff by another 50 by the end of the year.

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