Research and Innovation

Australia’s primary industries have a strong tradition of being innovative and adaptive to new challenges. They have proven to be highly efficient and competitive in international markets. The outlook for the Australian primary industries sector is strong, with the world’s demand for food rising, driven by population growth and calls for higher quality and greater variety of food, and biofuels.

Investment in research and development (R&D) and innovation is vital for ongoing growth and improvement in the productivity, profitability, competitiveness and sustainability of Australia’s agriculture, fisheries, forestry and food industries. 

National spending on primary industries R&D is estimated to be over $1.6 billion per annum. Government investment (both federal and state/territory) in primary industries’ innovation:

  • recognises that the large number of small producers could not gain an economic return from individual investment in R&D and that farm products are largely uniform and non-rival in nature
  • acknowledges the significant intra- and inter-industry spillovers and regional and rural benefits that accrue from publicly supported R&D
  • addresses important national development and sustainability objectives, such as biosecurity and natural resource management.

At the federal level, rural research and development corporations (RDCs) are the Australian Government's primary vehicle for funding rural innovation. RDCs are a partnership between the government and industry created to share the funding and strategic direction setting for primary industry R&D, investment in R&D and the subsequent adoption of R&D outputs. The RDCs commission and manage targeted investment in research, innovation, knowledge creation and transfer on. In 2008-09 the total expenditure by the RDCs on R&D was around $470 million.

While RDC investments service the identified needs of industry, they also address national R&D needs through the Rural R&D Priorities (the priorities). The priorities are intended to achieve a national understanding of current critical R&D investment needs and to better target agricultural, fisheries, forestry and food industry R&D efforts.  A common understanding of rural research priorities will better position Australia’s agricultural, fisheries, forestry and food industries to embrace innovations and adopt new technologies, to respond to market changes, to open up new markets and to maintain a competitive edge in the face of economic and climatic challenges. 

The Australian Government established a coordinating Rural R&D Council to provide independent advice on issues related to rural R&D including the development of an investment plan for rural R&D. The council was appointed by the Minister for Agriculture, Fisheries and Forestry in January 2009, as the government's independent strategic advisory body on rural research and development. The council’s term ended in December 2011. The Council initiated the circulation of regular updates on rural R&D policy. These updates continue to be produced by the department, and posted on the Rural R&D Council website.

Through the Primary Industries Ministerial Council (PIMC), the Australian Government works with the state and territory governments to develop and implement a national approach for  rural research, development and extension (RD&E) in Australia. Under PIMC the Primary Industries Standing Committee (PISC) RD&E Subcommittee is charged with looking for improvements in the efficiency and effectiveness of rural RD&E, to maximise the contribution of RD&E to primary industries, rural and regional Australia and the wider community. The Subcommittee is made up of representatives from the Australian, state and Northern Territory government departments responsible for primary industries, RDCs, CSIRO and universities. The PISC RD&E Subcommittee is managing the development and implementation of the National Primary Industries R,D & E Framework to encourage greater collaboration and promote continuous improvement in the investment of RD&E resources nationally.

Recognising the pace of climate change and its impact on primary industries and associated rural communities, the government has committed $130 million for primary producers to adapt and respond to climate change, including significant funding for R&D, through the Climate Change Research Program.

FarmReady, within Australia’s Farming Future, supports training for primary produces and Indigenous land managers and enables industry groups, farming groups and natural resource management groups to develop strategies to adapt and respond to the impacts of climate change.

The Community Networks and Capacity Building component of Australia’s Farming Future supports women, young people, Indigenous Australians and people from culturally and linguistically diverse backgrounds to improve their leadership and management skills, increase their participation in industry and more effectively contribute to government and industry decision making.

Rural Skills Training and Research

The former House of Representatives Standing Committee on Agriculture, Fisheries and Forestry released the report of its inquiry into rural skills training and research, titled Skills: Rural Australia’s Needs on 26 February 2007. The report made 29 recommendations relating to rural skills, education and training, the regulatory framework for vocational education and training, the availability and adequacy of research, and the provision of extension and advisory services. The Australian Government’s response to the report was tabled in Parliament on 11 February 2010.

Australian Government Response to House of Representatives Standing Committee on Agriculture, Fisheries and Forestry’s report, Skills: Rural Australia’s Needs PDF Icon PDF [123kb] msword Word [161kb].

Other work relating to agricultural skills has been conducted by the Industries Development Committee Workforce, Skills and Training Working Group. This working group was established in 2008 under the Primary Industries Ministerial Council (PIMC) to identify strategies to facilitate a more coordinated and collaborative approach across government and industry to address the agricultural workforce, skills and training issues.

PIMC endorsed the working group’s report Workforce, Training and Skills Issues in Agriculture on 6 November 2009. A stocktake of government and independent workforce, skills and training initiatives is included at Appendix 5 of the report. The stocktake enables users to identify potential linkages, possible duplication and gaps or opportunities for additional initiatives to improve Australia’s agricultural workforce.

Industries Development Committee Workforce, Skills and Training Working Group final report Workforce, Training and Skills Issues in Agriculture PDF Icon PDF [123kb] msword Word [161kb].

This stocktake is maintained by Agrifood Skills Australia.