Clark passionate about research

Jo FulwoodThe West Australian

Incoming Grains Research and Development Corporation chairman Richard Clark believes his farming business would be doomed if it was not for the advances made by GRDC in increasing crop yields.

"Our yields have doubled since GRDC started," he said.

"If I look at my farm now and ask myself 'could I survive on 50 per cent of my current yield?', I think I'd be doomed. I really do.

"I'm still farming because of R&D and I suspect without R&D I wouldn't be farming for very long in the future."

A veteran of the research and development sector, Mr Clark was a GRDC board member for two terms from 1996 until 2002.

He is chairman of the Wheat Research Foundation of NSW and a director of wheat breeding company Advantage Wheats.

He was also the founding chairman of the NSW Farmers grains research committee, and a founder of the NSW research advisory committees for GRDC.

Mr Clark farms 1340 hectares of black-soil floodplains at Tulloona, near North Star in northern NSW, in partnership with his wife, Barbara.

"We've been farming for generations up here in the north-west of NSW," Mr Clark said.

"Historically, we've been wheat growers, but the rotation now means that we are growing canola, chickpeas, wheat and barley.

"We also grow summer cops such as sorghum, sunflowers and, from time to time when the risk-reward ratio is attractive, we grow cotton," he said.

Mr Clark believes the future profitability of the grains industry lies with the advances that will be made by research and development.

"If you think about what GRDC has done - we've brought canola on from a minuscule crop to a major part of the cropping rotation," he said. "We've brought chickpeas from a minor crop to a very significant crop.

"We've got a farming system now that is much more sustainable than it was in 1990, and I think it would be an unwise decision to walk away from those sorts of benefits."

But Mr Clark does not believe GRDC will be jumping anytime soon into the role of marketing the Australian grain crop. "I don't see us getting into the Australian Wool Innovation or Meat and Livestock Australia style of promotions," he said.

"Grain is so substantially transformed after the farm gate that I don't think we would have an impact even if we tried."

As to the hot potato of a return on investment when it comes to the GRDC levy?

" Return on investment is always difficult - some research is extremely long-term research and in some ways the low-hanging fruit has already been picked, and if we are going to continue to improve profitability and productivity then the gains are going to be smaller in the future," Mr Clark said.

"The huge gains that some areas have got out of zero till or control traffic - it's harder to see where the next one is going to be. By the same token, if we stop advancing we are doomed.

"It's important industry has ownership of where their funds are going. It's important that we have those sorts of discussions. But I don't see how you could administer a levy that applied to some growers, who supported research and development, and not to others, who didn't support it."

Appointed by Federal Minister for Agriculture, Fisheries and Forestry Joel Fitzgibbon, Mr Clark said he was planning on visiting WA in the next few weeks.

"WA has issues, such as non-wetting soils and weed resistance. Those are things that WA puts a big effort into, but then they also benefit from national research into things such as drought resistance and salt tolerance," he said.

Mr Clark will replace current GRDC chairman Keith Perrett in early October.

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