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Goal 3: Build adaptive capacity for the cotton industry

Building the adaptive capacity of the Australian cotton industry and enabling the industry to achieve its future vision is CRDC’s aim within his goal. To work towards this, CRDC focuses investments to deliver science and innovation capability and new knowledge, and to facilitate futures thinking.

In 2019–20, CRDC invested in 40 projects within this goal, accounting for five per cent of our total RD&E expenditure.

Performance against the Strategic Plan:

3.1 Science and innovation capability and new knowledge

3.1.1 Science and innovation capacity is strengthened and strategically fit for a digital future

Increase in the number of researchers supported through strategic pathways

Number of PhD, post-doctoral and early career researchers supported

CRDC supported 17 PhD candidates and 16 early career researchers in 2019–20. Sponsorship of the ABARES Science and Innovation Awards continued.

3.1 Science and innovation capability and new knowledge

3.1.1 Science and innovation capacity is strengthened and strategically fit for a digital future

Increase in the number of researchers supported through strategic pathways

Number of scientific exchanges

CRDC supported the biennial Australian Association of Cotton Scientists Conference, bringing together 194 cotton researchers from Australia and overseas. CRDC also supported participation by 22 international and domestic researchers in the 2019 International Cotton Advisory Committee Plenary meeting held in Brisbane.

3.1 Science and innovation capability and new knowledge

3.1.2 Increased understanding of and participation from the diverse human capital in regional communities

Information is available on the diversity of social networks (age, gender, roles, culture, range of service providers, occupations and skills)

Report released

During 2019-20, a post-doctoral project continued to develop an understanding of the needs of a future cotton workforce. In addition, a study was commissioned to assess the socio-economic contribution of the Australian cotton industry at a regional and national level.

CRDC also worked towards the development of the cotton industry’s digital strategy-building on the CRDC-led, cross-sectorial Australian Agriculture: Growing a Digital Future project. The digital literacy of people working in the cotton industry is a key focus of the strategy. The Growing a Digital Future project found agriculture-specific role categories had low levels of digital maturity. The project developed an agricultural workforce national digital capability framework, including recommendations to lift the digital maturity of the sector.

3.1 Science and innovation capability and new knowledge

3.1.3 Increased opportunities for innovation skills development

Degree to which innovation is supported by CRDC

Number of participants in innovation initiatives

CRDC supported 15 cotton growers (one from each Cotton Grower Association) to participate in AgriFutures Australia’s evokeAG event. In addition, a ‘futures’ workshop looking at novel farming systems was held, in conjunction with virtual workshops to consider reduced-input farming systems.

CRDC also continued to support the ABARES Science and Innovation Awards program.

3.1 Science and innovation capability and new knowledge

3.1.3 Increased opportunities for innovation skills development

Degree to which innovation is supported by CRDC

Number and details of new ideas generated that provide benefit for the cotton industry

Innovations in the areas of glass recycling, spray drift management, volunteer cotton control, insect control, and biodiversity monitoring continued their development in 2019-20.

3.2. Futures thinking

3.2.1 Australian cotton farmers are able to adapt to change

Growers report improved capacity to manage unknown or unexpected events (resilience)

Percentage of growers who report improved general resilience

CRDC continued to support CRDC Grassroots Grants to help cotton growers adapt to change and build resilience. In addition, CRDC invested in a project investigating resilience thresholds in regional communities. Baseline figures for levels of industry global life satisfaction, and physical and mental health have been established and were reported in the Australian Cotton Sustainability Report 2019. They will be tracked for change and used to inform future needs.

3.2. Futures thinking

3.2.2 Increased opportunities for strategic foresighting

Futures workshops lead to recommendations for future opportunities

Number of futures workshops

A ‘futures’ workshop looking at novel farming systems was held in 2019-20 in conjunction with virtual workshops to consider reduced-input farming systems.

3.2. Futures thinking

3.2.2 Increased opportunities for strategic foresighting

Futures workshops lead to recommendations for future opportunities

Number and details of future opportunities to be followed up

The novel farming systems workshop identified four discrete future opportunities, the first one of which – Sandbox Grants, to support farmers to try novel systems on their farms – will be trialled in 2020-21.

RD&E highlights:

Improving grower decisions in complex systems: A targeted tool to assist cotton growers in appropriate technology adoption (QUT2001)

This project looks to apply behavioural economics to decision making in agriculture. The ability for growers to continually assess emerging science, adapt technologies and improve practices increasingly underpins the profitability, sustainability and competitiveness of cotton- growing businesses and the Australian cotton industry. Choices of appropriate technology and digital systems for a farm business enterprise are often difficult to make, given the array of factors that need to be considered, including financial, environmental and, just as importantly, often unrecognised personal attitudes and biases. This project seeks to develop a personalised tool to help growers identify and prioritise appropriate technologies in which to invest, ones that are suited to their unique social, environmental and economic circumstances and trajectory.

Postdoc: Understanding and planning for the future cotton workforce (USQ1801)

As farming businesses continue to adapt and innovate to meet challenges to production and improve their sustainability, the success of these efforts depend on an adequately skilled workforce. This project considers how digital agriculture changes the skills required for the next generation of workers, the implications for work adjustment, and the ongoing development of these workers. The project has identified gaps in the following skills: technical, workplace health and safety, people management, leadership, employee employability, and personal management. It aims to provide best practice performance standards for growers and employees, in conjunction with the myBMP human resources module.

Cotton industry social and wellbeing indicators (UC1901)

This project is focused on developing robust, practical and relevant social and wellbeing targets and indicators for the Australian cotton industry. To do so, the research team are drawing on their extensive experience in developing meaningful objectives and indicators for rural Australia through the annual Regional Wellbeing Survey, the nation’s largest survey of social wellbeing in rural and regional areas. The project is developing baseline data for indicators, ensuring they can be compared to national averages and are meaningful to the cotton industry, its value chain, and key stakeholders and consumers. Key to a successful outcome is to ensure social indicators fit well within overall sustainability reporting about the cotton industry, and are relevant across the value chain of the industry.

Thresholds for resilience in regional communities (UM1902)

The resilience of cotton communities is important to the industry’s performance and sustainability. Through this project, a participatory resilience assessment with regional cotton communities is being undertaken to identify adaptive responses to change and contributions the cotton sector can make. It seeks to identify critical threats, major thresholds or tipping points facing cotton communities as well as opportunities for adaptation. The relationship between specified (related to cotton sector) and general resilience (capacity to cope with uncertainty and change) is also being examined in order to establish indicators of resilience. From this, the possible management responses to reduce future risks can be identified. This process will foster social networks and train participants in the use of resilience assessment processes, providing an ongoing capacity to respond to change dynamics and to measure success for the industry and communities over time.

Nuffield Australia Farming Scholarships (CRDC1801, CRDC1901, CRDC2009)

Three cotton growers received support from CRDC and Cotton Australia under the Nuffield Australia Farming Scholarships program in 2019-20: Luke McKay of Kununurra, Renee Anderson of Emerald, and Richard Quigley of Trangie. Luke’s Nuffield research, which he completed during this year, was focused on issues relevant to tropical cotton-growing systems. Renee’s research, which she continued this year, focuses on highlighting better management practices to improve the social, environmental and economic sustainability of agriculture and drive broader community support. Richard’s research, which he commenced this year, investigates cropping systems and methods to retain more crop residue in zero- tillage farming systems.

People in Agriculture website (DA1502)

The People in Agriculture project provides an online resource for the agricultural sector to help employers and employees with human resource management needs. Developed by a collective of Research and Development Corporations (RDCs), it provides an overarching agriculture perspective as well as sector-specific content, with resources for employers and employees on one centralised hub. Since its launch in 2017, the People in Agriculture website has delivered up-to-date employment information to over 100,000 farmers, managers and employees. The website features information on employment law, compliance and career management, and provides a platform for sharing employment stories in agricultural industries. A key feature is purpose-built templates, guides and fact sheets designed to help manage on-farm employees and guide farmers on professional workplace practices.

Travel: CGA representatives to attend evokeAG 2020 (CRDC2003)

Following the success of AgriFutures Australia’s inaugural immersive agricultural technology event, evokeAG, CRDC supported cotton growers to attend the second event held in 2020. evokeAG is the largest agrifood tech event in the Asia Pacific, attracting over 1000 delegates and 115 speakers. It provides an insight into the rapidly evolving world of agricultural innovation and is of interest to growers who are passionate about RD&E, innovation, solving problems through technology and new funding models, like venture capital. As a result, CRDC supported 15 cotton growers, representing their local Cotton Grower Associations (CGAs), to attend evokeAG. The growers were empowered to share their knowledge, learnings and key insights back to their fellow growers, via their CGAs, on their return.

Australian Rural Leadership Program – Courses 25, 26 and 27 (RIR1901, RIR1902, RIR1903)

The ARLP is a 15-month leadership development program that takes place across Australia and overseas, immersing rural, regional and remote participants in a series of unique experiences to develop their leadership capabilities. Cotton industry scholarships are offered each year, with support from CRDC, Cotton Australia and Auscott Limited. During 2019-20, cotton’s course 25 ARLP participants Fleur Anderson of Theodore and John Durham of Coleambally completed their program, and course 26 participants Chantal Corish of Goondiwindi (also supported by Prime Super) and Rod Gordon of Goondiwindi commenced. The course 27 participant, Ruth Redfern of Narrabri, was announced during 2019-20 and will commence the program in 2020-21.

ABARES Science and Innovation Awards for young people in agriculture (ABA1901)

The Annual ABARES Science and Innovation Awards, run by the Department of Agriculture, Water and the Environment, are a competitive grants program that provides funding for innovative research projects to benefit Australia’s rural industries. CRDC is a supporter of the annual awards, and in 2019-20, supported two award recipients: the 2019 winner, Dr Dean Brookes of the University of Queensland, and the 2020 winner, Dr Dinesh Kafle of the QLD Department of Agriculture and Fisheries. Dean’s innovative research project focuses on scanning irrigation water for trace amounts of DNA left behind by pests and pathogens, as a potential new way to quickly identify the presence of difficult-to-find cotton pests. Dinesh’s novel project investigates whether cotton plants can be primed with silicone to boost their defences against fusarium wilt and reniform nematode.

CRDC Grassroots Grants (CGA1902-1904; CGA2001-2005)

CRDC’s annual Grassroots Grants program provides grants of up to $10,000 to cotton grower associations (CGAs) to support local projects. The grants support on-farm trials, demonstrations and workshops, and build intrinsic value, such as fostering collaboration, peer-to-peer learning, and improving research skills for non-researchers through on-farm and grower-led research. Since the program began in 2011, 77 projects have been supported, with $670,000 invested by CRDC into grower organisations across the valleys. During 2019-20, these projects included the installation of weather stations in the Lower Namoi; on-farm evaluation of pumping telemetry in the Macquarie; a study tour to investigate planting times, pests and spray drift management strategies for growers in Walgett; an on-farm demonstration of the internet of things (IoT) and low-power, long-range (LoRaWAN) networks in St George; and a project to foster cross-sectoral RD&E collaboration and leadership in Northern Australia.

Rural Safety and Health Alliance (RIRDC1901)

The Rural Safety and Health Alliance is a partnership of Research and Development Corporations (RDCs) investing in a fresh approach to improve primary production’s health and safety record centred on innovative research and extension. The Alliance aims to generate positive change in the Australian agriculture industry’s work health and safety record, using innovative research and extension to deliver practical health and safety solutions. Key objectives include setting clear priorities to better target research, development and extension, strengthening industry leadership, and developing a ‘shark tank’ funding model, where applicants work together to pitch projects for funding. The Alliance is focused on six work health and safety (WHS) priority areas, including: the development of agricultural communication guidelines; identifying and prioritising cross-sectoral WHS overlaps; reviewing health and safety data capture in agriculture; creating healthy farm management cultures; understanding behavioural insights to WHS; and critical control management on farms.

Case studies:

Case study: Dinesh awarded cotton’s 2020 Science and Innovation Award

Dr Dinesh Kafle being presented his CRDC-supported Science and Innovation Award by the Minister for Agriculture, The Hon. David Littleproud MP.
Dr Dinesh Kafle, an agricultural scientist at Queensland’s Department of Agriculture and Fisheries, is the CRDC supported ABARES Science and Innovation Award winner for 2020.

Dinesh was presented with his award at the ABARES Outlook Conference dinner in Canberra in March 2020, attended by CRDC’s Executive Director Ian Taylor and Board Director Jeremy Burdon.

Dinesh’s innovative research project will investigate whether cotton plants can be primed with silicon to boost their defences against fusarium wilt and reniform nematode. His project will germinate cotton seeds in soil with added silicon, before infecting them with the diseases.

Dinesh says that while silica is present naturally in the soil, it is difficult for crops to absorb. He plans to examine if there is any priming effect when plants are given soluble silicon as seedlings. Dinesh says very little work has been done on silicon in the past.

“It’s a novel approach,” he says. “So, if successful, it’s going to be really a great tool for growers to consider while managing the disease.”

The study will trial cotton seeds grown in both seedling trays and pots, to test whether transplanting silicon-primed seedlings provides better defence than direct sowing. Dinesh says the concept of priming itself is also relatively new, having been studied mostly in ecological settings.

“I’m trying to see if the priming has any implications in agriculture, so it’s really exciting,” he says.

Dinesh grew up in a small village in Nepal, living next to an agricultural research station whose field trials would inspire him for life. He trained in Germany and Israel, before turning his attention to Australian cotton in 2018. Dinesh says it’s been amazing to work in such a large, profitable and interesting industry.

“It’s a lot of opportunities,” he says. “I’m still learning so many things, and it’s an exciting field of agriculture.”

As the recipient of this year’s award, Dinesh will receive a CRDC grant to undertake this novel research.

The Annual ABARES Science and Innovation Awards, run by the Department of Agriculture, Water and the Environment, are a competitive grants program that provide funding for innovative research projects to benefit Australia’s rural industries. CRDC has been a partner in the awards for 12 years.

For more: Read more about Dinesh’s work with reniform nematodes in the Winter 2020 edition of CRDC’s Spotlight magazine.

Case study: Making farms the safest of places

Cotton picking.
Over the past 20 years, there has been only a small reduction in the number of farm-related and non-intentional injury deaths across the Australian agricultural and fishing sectors.

However, these reductions, while welcome, have not been as extensive as those in other known high-risk sectors such as mining and construction, making primary production comparatively the most dangerous industry in Australia.

Recognising the need to explore different approaches to get different results, nine Rural Research and Development Corporations have come together to form the Rural Safety and Health Alliance (RSHA).

“The people who work to produce our food and fibre are the most valuable asset to this sector, so more work needs to be done,” said RSHA Executive Officer, Andrew Barrett.

The partners are CRDC, AgriFutures Australia, Australian Eggs, Australian Pork, Australian Wool Innovation, Dairy Australia, Fisheries Research & Development Corporation, Grains Research and Development Corporation and Meat & Livestock Australia.

“This collaboration seeks to leverage the commitment, commonality and resources of the RDC partners to create positive health and safety impact across the sector,” Andrew said.

“During 2019, the alliance partners created the RSHA Investment Strategy and Investment Plan, and this year will see a number of foundational projects commence, seeking to create impact that flows to the on-farm level, as well as addressing strategic change at the system level.”

RSHA partners recognise health and safety is a complex challenge, in a sector like no other. “We are building strong relationships within the partners, including leveraging the impressive leadership and work of CRDC in the area of health and safety,” Andrew said.

“We are collaborating with important stakeholders, including the National Farmers Federation, Farmsafe Australia, Safework Australia and state-based regulators.”

CRDC has previously invested in RD&E aimed at improving health and safety in Australia’s rural industries through the Primary Industries Health and Safety Partnership (PIHSP), the forerunner to the RSHA. The cotton industry has put strategic programs in place in collaboration with Cotton Australia via Farmsafe, myBMP’s WHS module, and AgSkilled training program delivering WHS courses.

With the latest WHS injury and fatality data up to 2014, CRDC recently commissioned a study to update the data, which will inform the industry’s sustainability reporting. Along with the dairy industry, the industries are the only two that actively collate WHS data.

The study found that while from 2014-19 the industry appears to have made progress in terms of reducing the number of injuries, fatalities are still occurring. These involved similar factors identified in previous studies: aircraft, vehicles and machinery.

“CRDC is committed to improving the safety of people working on farms,” said CRDC R&D Manager Rachel Holloway, who oversees WHS investment. “We, along with dairy, have led the way in terms of data collection and action around WHS on farms, and we’re looking forward to sharing our knowledge with other industries to improve the status of agriculture across the board.”

For more: read the full article in the Autumn 2020 edition of CRDC’s Spotlight magazine.