Money trees grow from research seeds

Research in new crops and pastures boosts the whole economy


Opinion
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Government dollars put into crop and pasture research and development is proven to pay off in the long term through more resilient farm businesses.

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The long term benefits of plant breeding programs were highlighted twice at this week’s NSW Farm Writers’ lunch.

Held on Monday at Parliament House in Sydney, it was also the setting for the announcement of the NSW Farmer of the Year presentation.

Primary Industries Minister Niall Blair used the occasion to not only remind guests of the success of the NSW Department of Primary Industries in research, but also of how the need for such an organisation emerged.

That, of course, was the dire need for wheat varieties suited to Australian conditions in the early days of the NSW colony.

The rest, as they say, is history, with the cereal not just feeding our own population, significantly contributing to our global trade.

The ground work laid by those breeding pioneers, and the departmental structures that aided the establishment of the new varieties, demonstrate the importance of public sector research and development. 

Likewise, the 2017 NSW Farmer of the Year also had a message about the importance of new plant varieties.

At Mike and Velia O’Hare’s property, “Greendale”, at Beckom, the use of the hard seeded legume, biserrula, became integral to their operation after having seen the plant in research trials with Charles Sturt University.

This is just one of the many new varieties or entirely new crops to improve productivity. Serradella, tropical grasses, canola are just a few others that come to mind which have brought massive economic and agronomic benefit.

Policy changes by the current government that has allowed poppies and industrial hemp to be established in NSW, providing new crop rotation options for producers.

However, the rate of development of new crop and pasture options is limited.

Investing in this area should be a much bigger priority. The more productive and versatile the plant base of our agricultural systems, the more resilient our regional economies have proven to be.

This alone is reason why our governments – also including at a federal level in bodies like the CSIRO – should be investing more into ramping up research in this area.

A long term view to research in agriculture – especially crop and pasture development – is proven to pay back and is a way governments can boost rural economies from the roots up.

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