Growers question GRDC shift

Jo FulwoodCountryman
Gary McGill said while the creation of extra jobs in regional areas might be a smart political move, he failed to see how this would deliver any tangible benefits on-farm to growers.
Camera IconGary McGill said while the creation of extra jobs in regional areas might be a smart political move, he failed to see how this would deliver any tangible benefits on-farm to growers. Credit: Countryman

The Grains Research and Development Corporation could be moving to the central wheatbelt town of Northam.

Federal Agriculture Minister Barnaby Joyce announced last week the GRDC would establish four offices outside Canberra, in Dubbo, Toowoomba, Perth (with the intent to move to Northam) and Adelaide.

But despite the Minister’s announcement, GRDC managing director John Harvey has refused to confirm the move, saying the organization was awaiting the outcomes of the Grains Industry Group’s first draft report on the future make-up and direction of the industry in WA.

“As we have an established office in Perth, we’re in the process of increasing resources to five staff to provide greater support to the Regional Panel and Regional Cropping Solutions Network,” he said.

“We are committed to working collaboratively will GIG and other stakeholders to ensure the GRDC is best placed to continue meeting the needs of growers.”

As part of the sweeping changes, the Rural Industries Research and Development Corporation will relocate to Wagga Wagga, and the Fisheries Research and Development Corporation will establish an office in Adelaide.

Mr Joyce said the Coalition had delivered on its commitment to relocate the three Canberra-based rural research agencies to regional Australia, in a move that he said would boost local economies and strengthen communities.

“Decentralisation is not just an abstract idea but is a real priority for this government. This announcement is tangible evidence of this election commitment being put into action,” he said.

“These departments, the Fisheries Research Development Corporation, the Rural Industries Research Development Corporation and the Grains Research Development Corporation have made the suggestions to us about where they would move and how they would move.

“So as such it is following their lead and working with them so it is a good approach to working with the industry for a better outcome.

“As well as being home to vibrant farming communities, these regions also have some of the best agricultural universities and research facilities in the country. It is logical that strong links should exist between the RDCs, universities and farmers on the ground in each industry.”

But farm leaders have questioned whether a move to Northam is in the best interests of the WA grains industry.

Pastoralists and Graziers Association grain industry spokesman Gary McGill said any relocation of the GRDC to regional areas, both here in WA and in the Eastern States, needed to show a proven productivity benefit to growers.

Mr McGill said while the creation of extra jobs in regional areas might be a smart political move, he failed to see how this would deliver any tangible on-farm benefits for growers.

“Will this make our farmers and exporters more profitable, is this going to see an increase in on-farm productivity,” he said.

“I think its well understood we have plateaued in productivity gains, and coupled with the fact wheat prices are currently at levels that we saw 20 or 30 years ago, clearly something has gone wrong here.

“You don’t have to be half cynical to think this move is politically motivated, and our organisation is very worried about the expenditure of grower money on moving staff and offices and infrastructure.

“Really, they are moving the deck chairs around and organising for the next party.

“What we would prefer to see is a rigorous independent review of the grains research system in Australia.

“This current system has never been independently reviewed or audited to determine whether it is a cost effective way of undertaking grains research in this country.”

WAFarmers grains section president Duncan Young said the organisation was happy to see an increased presence of GRDC staff in the Perth office, but questioned whether a move to Northam would be in the best interests of the industry.

“Realistically I think the office will stay in Perth. Unlike a lot of other states, Perth is central for the whole grains industry,” he said.

“However, while we were opposed to the original idea to move the entire operations to Wagga, we think that some decentralisation is a good thing.”

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