Issue 5: Improving R&D coordination and innovation

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Australia’s organic industries are diverse, spanning bioregions, industry types with many kinds of products and production systems, ranging through all kinds of intensive horticulture to rangelands beef production or cosmetics, through to ciders, wines and spirits. It involves value-added and manufactured products to large-scale broad acre commodity production of pulses and grains.

This diversity poses several major issues, including how to organise and coordinate R&D and sponsor innovation. These issues need to be considered in the context of Australia’s established system of R&D levies and rural industry R&D Corporations. The Government has indicated that the creation of new organic focused RDC should be seen as a last resort, so it will first be necessary to find other ways to influence and enhance coordination across existing agencies.

Australia has well-established systems for aggregating funding and coordinating rural R&D organised around the rural R&D corporations model, which are organised around key commodities—like grains, meat, dairy—or lumped under broad entities like Horticulture Innovations. Organic growers pay R&D levies like other producers, but OFA claims that organics are missing out because “There is no co-ordinated industry plan or approach to R&D, and extremely limited sources of information for prospective research stakeholders. We are forfeiting potential access to RDC research, Government grants and a voice at RDC table by not having an effective peak body.”

The nature of rural innovation systems is well understood in theory. Agri-food R&D tends to be publicly organised and funded because of the structural characteristics of agricultural industries with very many separate players. Despite the image of independence, few farmers make decisions in isolation because they are in fact part of a complex systems—involving know‑how, technology, information and the value chain from plant breeders through to retailers in export markets—so while organic industry growth may appear attractive, ongoing innovation and R&D is needed to support a sizeable shift to organic farming practices.

Targeted R&D could be useful in overcoming constraints to growth in organic production, including through: reducing risk and uncertainty; enhancing expertise and skill and high quality technical advice; overcoming specific technical and production constraints; improving market information flows and strengthening market signals; and providing the analysis needed to help formulate more supportive policies.

A peak body may be useful in playing a role in coordinating the relevant agricultural agencies and RDCs, through facilitating greater flows or exchanges of information on R&D needs and capacity to satisfy these needs in ways that would ultimately improve organic production farming systems and value chains. By coordinating and communicating specific industry R&D needs to the commodity RDCs, the RDCs may focus R&D projects on the specific constraints or factors limiting expansion of organic production in their respective sector. While there are many agencies that could potentially be involved in organic R&D there are potential benefits that would flow from a coordinated national program.

Key issues

  1. How can R&D on organics in Australia be enhanced? Should coordinating processes and catalyzing R&D be a function of a new peak body?
  2. Should a peak body aim to coordinate R&D by, for example, commissioning scoping studies, feasibility studies or initiating processes joint venture organic R&D with existing RDCs and other research bodies?

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