AUSTRALIA’S grains industry has traditionally been an early adapter in terms of farm technology and farmers here will need to continue to do so to remain ahead of rival grain producing nations.
That was the message from the chairman of the Grains Research and Development Corporation (GRDC) John Woods, speaking at the Queensland Country Life Food Heroes event at Toobeah in southern Queensland last week.
“You only have to look in the changes in farming systems in Australia over the past decade to see how quick things have moved, with concepts that were once on the cutting edge, liked controlled traffic and 2cm accuracy guidance systems now commonplace.”
He said Australian growers would need to continue to innovate.
“There are a host of competitors in the grain growing world and they probably have advantages in terms of climate and soil type so if we want to remain competitive we will need to continue to make improvements in our productivity and technology will play a key role in this.”
“Our advantage has always been that we have seen technology and run with it, you don’t want to get to a stage where our competitors have access to certain technologies and we don’t.”
He nominated robotics and drone technology as areas where there could be further breakthroughs in coming years in the tech space.
Other agronomic advances may include the use of polymers to improve soil water holding capacity.
“This is something that really could have application in a lot of Australia’s cropping zones, especially in places like Western Australia, where sandy soils have very low water retention.”
“You have non-wetting sands with the silica in the sand actually repelling water, so you have a situation where you get 5-10mm of rain and the water will be pooling on top.
“Very little of that water makes it down and is used by the crop.”
He said there had been research into creating polymers that bind to the sand that improve the water holding capacity.
Mr Woods said the GRDC, responsible for a $420 million research and development investment portfolio, had to ensure it had the right mix between long term research that could lead to transformative change in the way crops are grown and projects with immediate on-farm application.
He said the GRDC also worked to ensure funds were spent effectively by not duplicating private research.
“Just taking the drone sector, there are a myriad of private businesses doing research in this area, there is no market failure in terms of R&D so we let those guys cover that area and focus on areas where there isn’t private research.”
Mr Woods said while the GRDC budget seemed large at face value, it was dwarfed in comparison with the dollars spent by the large biotech businesses in their ag R&D internationally.
“These guys have massive budgets, that’s why we are working in partnership with companies such as Bayer with our herbicide collaboration we are ensuring Aussie growers have access to cutting edge herbicide technology.”
He said another priority for the grains sector would be to ensure potential private investors in research could see a clear path to market for their products.
“We have to respect intellectual property and the right of the researchers, you look at places like China where there are concerns about the value capture process with IP and it holds back investment.
“This means things like end point royalties need to be respected because they are important to getting that critical private investment into R&D, which we really need give the struggle with providing core research capacity.”