Consumers to the front as R&D leads the way for Australia’s rural industries


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AgriFutures Australia, General Manager, Research & Innovation, Michael Beer

Agricultural research, development and extension (RD&E) is going from strength to strength as Australian rural industries are investing more in understanding and meeting the needs of their consumers and delivering research outcomes that have a real impact.

By Michael Beer, General Manager, Research and Innovation, AgriFutures Australia

Building on a strong tradition of valuable agricultural research and development (R&D) one thing we have observed recently is a positive trend towards better understanding of consumer decision making and what is most important to the people who buy our agricultural produce, be they supermarket consumers, international markets or other farmers. Within AgriFutures Australia’s own levied rural industries we’ve seen a new recognition that understanding the consumer is of paramount importance and can add real value, especially in helping industries to grow and be more competitive.

One example of this is the tea tree oil industry, which has grown from a cottage industry to export powerhouse over the past 25 years thanks to consistent investment in R&D that is directed towards improving the quality of the product for consumers. Of critical importance to the industry’s success was a $6 million breeding program which delivered efficiencies in productivity that have made Pure Australian Tea Tree Oil an iconic product sold throughout the world. This is set to continue with increased RD&E investment as the industry has now moved to levy funding.

Similarly, the Australian ginger industry is benefiting from increased investment in research that is focused on delivering a great consumer product. In its latest RD&E Plan (2017 – 2022), which sets the direction for future investment, the ginger industry has focused on market research to boost consumer demand and identify new profitable channels, improving farm productivity to compete with imports, and ensuring uptake of research outputs.

Another example of consumer-focused research is around the increasingly popular topic of gut health, which has led the Australian honey bee industry to a new research project examining the medicinal properties – including antimicrobial, anti-inflammatory and prebiotic – of eucalyptus honey. Knowing that consumers are willing to pay more for honey with proven health benefits, the outcomes of this research have the potential to aid further expansion of our honey bee industry.

What’s also clear from the above examples is that investment in agricultural R&D has been steadily increasing in recent years. At AgriFutures Australia, in response to renewed RD&E plans for our levied rural industries, we have been pleased to see not only fresh research priorities that will bring even more benefits to producers and consumers but also growth in investment that is very promising for the future.

The Australian export fodder industry for example has increased its RD&E investment that is focused on meeting the needs of its buyers. They have recently announced their largest ever research investment, a $2.2 million national oaten hay agronomy project to increase productivity, improve quality and reduce production risk which will assist the industry’s expansion.

As well as increased investment and more research to meet consumers’ needs, AgriFutures Australia has been focused on boosting diversity, particularly on our nine industry advisory panels. We’re pleased to say that currently 30 per cent of AgriFutures Australia Advisory Panel members are women and we have pledged with the National Farmers’ Federation and 10 other leading bodies to further support women in agriculture to develop their leadership skills.

What has flowed from further enhancing diversity in our rural industries – in terms of gender, age and skills – is that new perspectives on industry priorities are influencing our RD&E. Building on the work already done by researchers and industry advisors, future R&D is more focused than ever on delivering added value to both producers and consumers and pursuing long-term positive outcomes for industries.

At the same time as the rural industries themselves are diversifying, the research industry is also evolving to meet the demands of today’s agricultural sector. We’ve seen researchers continuing to strive for the most effective ways to communicate their outcomes and deliver meaningful insights. Increased awareness of the importance of communicating – with producers, investors, government and consumers – in order to enact change is boosting the power of RD&E.

With increased investment and a focus on helping industries to meet the needs of international and domestic consumers, Australian agricultural RD&E success is set to continue. Agriculture research is stronger than ever and in a great position to effectively deliver increased profitability and ensure the long-term sustainability of our rural industries, and just as importantly the rural communities and Australian economy that depend on them.

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