Research returns down

In the past 30 years “research intensity”—research investment divided by the value of production—has fallen from about five per cent to a little over three per cent, Phillip Glyde told the

Kondinin Group’s Farming Ahead conference in Sydney on Tuesday.

“That is common around the world,” said Mr Glyde, deputy secretary of the Federal Department of Agriculture, Fisheries and Forestry (DAFF).

“Once the Green Revolution went through, countries decided there were other things to invest in rather than agricultural R&D.”

The commodity price spike of 2008 put agriculture back into the policy spotlight, but with little apparent impact on agricultural R&D. Assessing R&D expenditure is difficult, however, because all countries use different metrics to record spending.

The big question is whether flatlining investment in R&D is hitting agricultural productivity. ABARE—of which Mr Glyde is also executive director—has been examining what is behind the slowing of farm productivity growth since the turn of the century.

“Clearly the drought has had a significant impact,” Mr Glyde said.

“But that alone doesn’t explain the decrease. We think that ABARE has been able to link the decline in productivity to the decline in intensity of R&D expenditure.” A GRDC survey of leading grain farmers pointed to additional reasons for the slowdown.

Adop ion of some key precision agriculture technologies has plateaued, farmers as a whole are growing older and less willing to adopt new innovations, and no breakthrough technologies have appeared for some time.

Mr Glyde said the slowing of productivity growth is happening at a point when farmers are facing big challenges from climate change and unfair competition on an unlevel global playing field, with no help from the Doha round of talks in sight.

None of our major agricultural competitors are visibly bolstering their agricultural R&D spend, either, but all countries have begun to seriously discuss food security. ”That wasn’t really being discussed at all 4-5 years ago,” Mr Glyde said.