Budget axe over CRCs

Jo FulwoodThe West Australian

Co-operative Research Centres will have $26.8 million cut from their budgets over fours years after the Federal Government's Budget announcement last week.

But according to CRC Association chief executive Tony Peacock, WA is already missing out on research innovation because the State has been without any CRC for almost 12 months since the wind-up of Future Farm Industries CRC last year.

He said the projected funding reductions would round off a decade of cuts to CRCs across the country.

CRCs work through a bid process, whereby industry links with Government funding to research specific projects.

Agricultural CRCs are already established for pork, sheep, dairy, invasive animals, plant biosecurity and poultry.

Mr Peacock said the impact of the funding cuts on the AgNorth project was still unclear.

He said the cuts could deter industry from considering research bids.

"It costs quite a lot of time and effort and money to bid for a CRC," he said.

"These bids are often pulling together at least $100 million for an activity, and when it becomes less and less likely to get funding, then industry becomes less inclined to back them."

Carnarvon fruit and vegetable farmer Michael Nixon, who now grows onions, bananas and pumpkins, said he was disappointed to see funding cuts to the CRCs, coupled with long-term cuts to the CSIRO.

Mr Nixon, who has sat on various industry bodies in the meat and horticulture industry, said science was the single-most important government initiative for the future profitability of agriculture.

"The Government has certain responsibilities … and one of those is to develop and improve the country so the whole country benefits," he said.

"If we don't invest in agriculture here in Australia, there will be other countries that will come to the fore and beat us.

"The amount of money that other developed countries are spending on agricultural technology, for example, is mind- boggling.

"In decisions like these, I don't necessarily see that the Government is actively assisting us. Sometimes I think they make uninformed decisions inside a bubble."

Meanwhile, details of the first round of the Federal Government's $100 million Rural Research and Development for Profit Program, announced in the 2014 Budget, were released earlier in the month.

A total of $26.7 million has been allocated to a range of industries including dairy, meat, pork, cotton, sugar and horticulture.

But Mr Nixon said he believed most farmers were sick of seeing ribbon-cutting exercises without results.

"They have quietly got rid of one and have given it over to the other," he said.

"I don't think you'll find a farmer in Australia from any level or sector who would agree to cutting funding to science and innovation in any area."

Meat and Livestock Australia has been awarded $5 million in grants for research projects to look at weed biological control and global supply chain.

Dairy farmers will see more than $2.5 million spent specifically on programs in their industry, plus an extra $4.8 on collaborated projects.

WAFarmers Dairy section president Phil Depiazzi, who farms at Dardanup, welcomed the research and development grant funding for the dairy industry.

"WA is sure to benefit from the projects - Western Dairy, as always, will ensure beneficial research, development and extension carried out by Dairy Australia is delivered to WA dairy farmers," he said.

"The challenges is for dairy farmers to implement the changes within their businesses to ensure they extract maximum value from the work undertaken.

"RD&E is extremely important to ensure we remain efficient and profitable, and have a sustainable industry in Western Australia."

But Mr Depiazzi said he was disappointed to hear of the funding cuts to the CRCs.

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