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Year in review: RD&E highlights

Collaboration to tackle major cross-sectoral challenges

100 per cent of CRDC’s investments in 2019-20 have been in partnership with the cotton industry, and 48 per cent have been in cross-commodity collaborative projects with our fellow Research and Development Corporations (RDCs).

CRDC has led three major collaborations: Smarter Irrigation for Profit phase 2, and More Profit from Nitrogen, under the Rural R&D for Profit program; and Cotton Landcare Tech Innovations 2021, under the National Landcare Program Smart Farming Partnership. CRDC has also partnered in eight additional projects under the Rural R&D for Profit program, addressing cross sectoral issues in climate, pests, weeds, diseases, energy, digital technologies, and natural resource management.

Team RDC working towards whole-of-agriculture collaboration

CRDC is working closely with the RDCs to develop a framework to facilitate collaboration across the whole of agriculture and promote participation of a greater diversity of actors within the Australian agro-ecosystem. This collaborative framework links to the cross-sectoral RD&E strategies and provides a mechanism for the RDCs and other participants to partner to address key issues facing agriculture, including climate variability, water-use efficiency, biosecurity and soil quality. The first initiative the collective RDCs are partnering on under the new framework is the Climate Initiative: a significant new co-investment program, led by CRDC, to foster thriving agriculture, fisheries and forestry industries regardless of pressures from a variable and changing climate.

Release of Australia’s Cotton Sustainability Report

CRDC and Cotton Australia have released the highly anticipated Australian Cotton Sustainability Report 2019, following on from the inaugural report published in 2014. The report tells a positive story of increasing efficiency in the use of resources, including water and land. It reveals long-term trends that producing a bale of cotton now takes 48 per cent less water, 34 per cent less land, and 97 per cent less insecticide than it did in 1992. The report provides data on eight priority social, economic and environmental topics, and by comparing performance over five-year periods in these important sustainability areas, highlights areas for improvement. CRDC and Cotton Australia are now progressing the development of the industry’s sustainability targets.

Bringing the world of cotton to Australia for ICAC

The International Cotton Advisory Committee’s (ICAC) 78th Plenary Meeting was held in Brisbane in December 2019, hosted by the Department of Agriculture, Water and the Environment with support from CRDC as a major sponsor and organising committee member. ICAC is an association of governments from cotton-producing, consuming and trading countries, and is the only global intergovernmental group for cotton and cotton textiles. More than 300 people from 23 member governments attended the meeting, including representatives from five international organisations and five non-member countries. Ten presenters from CRDC’s world-leading crop of cotton scientists shared their latest research and expertise.

Cotton and grain partnership: spray drift hazard alert and warning system

A CRDC and Grains Research and Development Corporation (GRDC) collaboration has been working to minimise the potential and impact of spray drift from cotton and grain properties since 2016. Before this, there was no reliable or accurate method to determine when inversion conditions were hazardous or not for spraying. Research supported by CRDC and GRDC developed a Spray Drift Hazard Alert and Warning System. The partners are now moving to deliver this technology to growers through establishing a network of Profiling Automatic Weather Stations (PAWS) across the cotton and grain belts of eastern Australia.

Developing cotton in Northern Australia: major collaboration announced

A $2.1 million research program for Northern Australia supported by CRDC was announced in March 2020, to trial high-value crops such as cotton with potential rotation crops. The two-year ‘Potential for broadacre cropping in the Northern Territory’ project is being co-funded by the Cooperative Research Centre for Developing Northern Australia (CRCNA), CRDC, GRDC and 14 industry partners. This is the largest collaboration to date for the CRCNA. This project will collate historic broadacre cropping data, natural resource information and an understanding of market opportunities to support the development of viable broadacre cropping systems in the NT, helping to de-risk broadacre agriculture in the Top End.

Artificial intelligence app to help identify problem pests

Silverleaf whitefly (SLW), mites and aphids are not easily detected in cotton, and left untreated, they can slash the value of the crop. To make identification easier, University of Southern Queensland researchers are developing a new artificial intelligence smartphone app with funding from CRDC. The app uses vision-detection algorithms that automate pest counting on each leaf using infield cameras and image analysis software. Through the app, growers and agronomists can then use real-time photo capture, reducing sampling times and offering more precise detection and recording of pests for decision making. The app was first tested during 2019-20, and will be deployed for further testing during 2020-21 on a potential pathway towards commercial release.

CRDC support results in new tool for dryland crop destruction

AquaTill Injeticide, a new tool incorporating herbicide with ultra high-pressure water cutting, offers dryland cotton growers an alternative method of crop termination with minimal soil disturbance post-harvest. The technology was first tested on mulched cotton in 2017, through a CRDC supported project looking at opportunities for dryland cotton with Bollgard 3. CRDC subsequently supported AquaTill’s founder as a participant in the Pollenizer start-up rural.xo microhack. He has since partnered with a machinery manufacturer and a herbicide registrant. Under a new CRDC-supported project, demonstrations are planned for cotton farms during the 2020-21 season.

Innovative online biodiversity management guides for growers

CottonInfo has launched new online biodiversity management guides for Australia’s 36 cotton-growing shires, giving cotton growers detailed biodiversity information and outlining beneficial practices to support biodiversity on their farms. Growers can select their local government area (LGA) to see a snapshot of the biodiversity in their shire, along with practical tips to improve conditions for the diversity of species in that specific cotton landscape. This initiative is an outcome of the ‘New technologies to improve natural resources (biodiversity) on Australian cotton farms - Cotton Landcare Tech Innovations 2021’ project funded by CRDC in partnership with the Australian Government’s National Landcare Smart Farming Partnership Initiative.

Focus on biosecurity: the UN International Year of Plant Health

2020 is the official UN International Year of Plant Health, providing a platform to raise awareness of the importance of plant health and biosecurity, and of CRDC’s RD&E investments in this area. From a research perspective, CRDC is a member of the Plant Biosecurity Research Initiative (PBRI), which supports cross-sectoral RD&E to minimise the damage caused by biosecurity threats to Australia’s plant industries. All seven plant-based RDCs are members of PBRI. From a preparedness perspective, CRDC and Plant Health Australia staged Exercise Blueprint in August 2019. This simulation exercise of a biosecurity incursion brought together key stakeholders within the cotton industry to examine a fictional scenario of the detection of cotton blue disease; only months before a response was required to the discovery of fall armyworm in Northern Australia.

Building adaptive capacity: support for industry leaders

CRDC continued to invest in industry leaders during 2019- 20, under the Strategic Plan goal of building adaptive capacity. These include Nuffield scholars, supported by CRDC and Cotton Australia: Luke McKay of Kununurra, Renee Anderson of Emerald, and Richard Quigley of Trangie; the ABARES Science and Innovation Award 2020 winner, Dr Dinesh Kafle of the QLD Department of Agriculture and Fisheries; and the latest cohort of Australian Rural Leadership Program participants in conjunction with Cotton Australia and Auscott Ltd: Fleur Anderson and John Durham (course 25), Chantal Corish and Rod Gordon (course 26), and Ruth Redfern (course 27).

Giving back to the grassroots: investing in research programs with grower organisations

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 through on-farm and grower-led research. Since the program began in 2011, 77 projects have been supported, with $670,000 invested by CRDC. During 2019-20, these projects included the installation of weather stations; on-farm evaluation of pumping telemetry; a study tour to investigate planting times, pests and spray drift management strategies; an on-farm demonstration of the internet of things (IoT) and low-power, long-range (LoRaWAN) networks; and a project to foster cross-sectoral RD&E collaboration and leadership in Northern Australia.

Ensuring a strong relationship with RD&E partners

Every investment CRDC undertakes on behalf of the cotton industry is in partnership with a valued research provider. To assess the strength of these partnerships, and ensure continuous improvement, CRDC invited key partners to provide feedback on the health of the partnership during 2019-20. The feedback from this process demonstrated strong results across each of the three organisational performance metrics: overall satisfaction with the partnership across all partners was strong (8.4 out of 10), as was satisfaction with CRDC as an organisation to trust (8.9 out of 10), and satisfaction with the way CRDC engages (8.3 out of 10). CRDC will continue to invest in and develop these relationships because collaboration underpins the industry’s RD&E success.

Enhancing commercialisation and innovation: CRDC business strategy

CRDC developed a business strategy in 2019 that specifically seeks to enhance the development of innovative solutions across the challenging issues facing Australian agriculture. The business strategy identifies the importance of strategic, national and international partnerships that can bring greater diversity to solutions creation, as well as allowing for private investment. Further, the business strategy increases the focus on developing commercial outcomes and improving management and access to intellectual property developed through RD&E, with the aim of increasing revenue into the sector.