The Australian Academy of Sciences recently released a plan for research and development across the agriculture sector over the coming decade. It analyses how innovation, science and research will drive Australian agriculture forward and how national investment in agricultural science is vital to ensure the sector reaches its full potential.
The purpose of this Decadal Plan for Agricultural Sciences is to identify and define actions that will position Australia’s agricultural sector to take advantage of major scientific and technological advances occurring over the coming decade.
Developed by the Academy’s National Committee for Agriculture, Fisheries and Food, the plan recommends a new research translation fund supported by public and private equity to fast-track investment in the development of applications for the most promising Australian research. The $100 million fund would boost Australia’s economy through new and improved agricultural products and services in domestic and international markets.
The plan outlines how fundamental science and agricultural research will contribute to Australia’s successful agricultural future. It stresses that to realise the future that Australia is capable of, we need to enable our researchers to achieve solutions through education, career development and retention of top-class researchers. It is essential to coordinate Australian research to prioritise and stabilise its funding so that it is commensurate with the nature of the challenges that agriculture faces into the future. The report also recommends solutions for the challenges identified to consolidate Australia’s role in the future of agricultural sciences.
The plan points to declining enrolments in agricultural science university degrees over the last 15 years, despite there being an estimated six jobs available for each graduate. However there has been somewhat of a turnaround in this decline in the past four years and the Academy suggests various factors have seen a rekindled interest in food production in Australia that should see this trend continue.
The Academy’s report has also identified opportunities to improve efficiencies in the sector by streamlining governance arrangements between Commonwealth, state and territory governments, research agencies and universities.
Opportunities for technological and production improvements are continuously being identified from scientific research. However, to attain step change improvements into the future will require integrated multidisciplinary research underpinned by a well-resourced science research pipeline.
Recommendations from the Plan include:
- The Australian Government establish a national agricultural research translation and commercialisation fund, to invest in promising agricultural discoveries and fast-track their commercialisation into new and improved Australian products and services in domestic and international markets.
- The academic, industry and government sectors partner to create a doctoral training and early career support centre for the agricultural sciences.
- The agricultural research community engage strongly with infrastructure planning processes at all levels to enable agricultural research to benefit from, and contribute to, shared national capabilities, including emerging data-infrastructure and maintaining the pool of skilled technicians that unlock value from national infrastructure capability.
- The Australian Government consider reviewing and updating arrangements for national coordination of agricultural research and innovation in Australia.
- All organisations in the agricultural sector do more to understand and effectively engage with the public on social acceptance of agricultural science and the enterprises it supports. This also applies to understanding that agriculture reaches far beyond the farm gate.