The 2019–20 cropping season again demonstrated the variability in fortunes for Australian grain growers. Much of the east coast and southern cropping regions were deeply affected by severe drought conditions. Parts of the western region were also impacted, although some were fortunate with the season.
This year particularly demonstrates the power of a national research, development and extension (RD&E) organisation that can invest and meet the priority needs of growers locally and regionally. We have been actively managing our financial position and reserves in a very tough year to ensure stability in investment moving forward.
R&D is not something that should be turned on and off. Long-term stable and strategic investment is required to deliver high-impact outcomes to our growers, whether it be new traits, agronomy, technology or farming systems, and it takes the best people and infrastructure to deliver these outcomes.
After a seasonally challenging period, we have used significant cash reserves to ensure continued investment in quality RD&E that produces results that benefit growers, and this includes maintaining capability and capacity for the grains sector.
A number of strategic initiatives have also been undertaken this year.
These include the establishment of Grains Australia Ltd (GA), which will be an industry good organisation tasked with key functions to enhance outcomes to growers and the broader supply chain. These key functions include commodity classification, trade and market access, and market information and education. The establishment of GA will enable some industry consolidation of organisations and activity, as well as deliver better alignment and integration, and reduce duplication. We have taken a leadership role to enable this to occur, working alongside Grain Producers Australia, Grain Growers Limited and Grain Trade Australia. GA will formally begin work with a skills-based board on 1 September 2020.
Legume crops are now a pillar of many farming systems across Australia. However, further work is required to both improve their place in existing systems and to enhance adaptation to new regions. We are investing heavily to deliver to growers in both these areas. As an example of this intention, we, together with the NSW Department of Primary Industries (DPI) recently committed to further investment in the chickpea breeding program. This research effort includes improving genetic tolerance to acid soils, chilling tolerance at flowering, reproductive heat tolerance, disease resistance, incorporating herbicide tolerance traits and providing growers with an understanding of farming practices to grow chickpeas profitably. This investment will bring new infrastructure, and germplasm, result in new capacity, and ultimately, accelerate genetic gain and varietal improvement for growers across Australia.
We announced in February 2020 that we are investing with CSIRO to identify the greenhouse gas emissions footprint of Australian grain production and identify trajectories that will allow growers to reduce emissions while maintaining and enhancing profitability. This research will assist the Australian grains industry to demonstrate environmental stewardship and inform future research approaches to enhance the clean and green image of Australian grain, which may facilitate access to new markets.
Many grain growers are also producers of other commodities, such as cattle, sheep meat and wool. We are partnering with other R&D corporations (RDCs) to ensure a more collaborative and efficient approach to strategic cross-sectoral investments. The objective is to improve value to levy payers and the Australian economy by more efficiently leveraging R&D funds. The focus of this collaborative effort has been to establish a cross-sectoral investment company that will facilitate co-investment from RDCs into research that will drive outcomes in the national interest, through our agriculture industry. The company will adopt best-practice corporate governance to underpin a more commercial approach to the management of intellectual property, making it an attractive proposition to leverage investments from private and commercial third parties to address challenges across Australian agriculture.
High on the agenda for cross-sectoral investment is a climate initiative, developing tools and information for strategic adaption and responses to a variable climate.
The needs of Australia’s grain growers remain at the heart of our portfolio of RD&E investments. To increase meaningful engagement with grain growers, we have refined the focus of our previous Regional Cropping Solutions Networks and Grower Solutions Groups to create the GRDC Grower Network. The new national network will continue to drive our understanding of local grower issues and assist in the development of investments that are locally relevant and have on-farm impact. The Grower Network will capture grower ideas, issues, constraints and opportunities at regional forums that are open to all growers, advisers and researchers.
COVID-19 has had an impact in the last quarter of activity this year at GRDC and is being felt by some of our research partners with the delivery of RD&E. We have worked constructively with our partners to minimise the impact on outcomes and to provide support where required. The largest impact has been and continues to be in our extension activities, with grower and adviser updates, field days and engagements all shifting to online formats. This change has been embraced by our team and also, most impressively by our growers and advisers. We will continue in whatever way possible to engage with our stakeholders to ensure they have the information for quality decision-making and can continue to advise us on future opportunities.
I am pleased to welcome our new Managing Director, Anthony (Tony) Williams. Tony commenced with us on 3 August 2020 and is a high-calibre leader with more than 25 years of commercial leadership experience in senior executive roles with Goodman Fielder and Bunge, across grains and oilseed value chains, in Australia, the Americas, Europe, Africa and Asia. Tony is committed to honing our operational capabilities, bringing out the best in our staff and culture, and making us more efficient in the delivery of our current investment portfolio and growing new sources of value for grain growers.
In closing this report, I’d like to acknowledge and thank Steve Jefferies for his enormous contribution to GRDC and to the Australian grains industry. As Managing Director, Steve was an instrumental agent of change, driving new purpose, strategy, structure and culture through the business. On behalf of GRDC Directors, I wish Steve all the best and look forward to his next contribution to the Australian grains industry.
I am proud that during very difficult seasonal conditions, coupled with the impact of a pandemic, we continue to invest in high-quality RD&E on behalf of Australian grain growers to deliver gains and improvements that result in greater profitability on-farm.