A new international benchmarking study has revealed Australia’s long-term investment in grains research, development and extension (RD&E), led by the Grains Research and Development Corporation (GRDC), has delivered world-leading gains for Australian growers.
The ACIL Allen Grains International Benchmarking Study was commissioned by GRDC and compared up to 30 years of data from major grain-producing nations. Despite Australia’s public investment in grains RD&E being lower than the USA, India, Brazil and Canada, the study showed Australian grain growers enjoyed much higher total factor productivity (TFP) growth than any other country in the survey.
The researchers found Australian wheat TFP grew by an average of 2.75 per cent per year over the 30-year period of GRDC investments. In comparison Argentina, the next-best performing country, experienced average annual wheat TFP growth of 0.98 per cent per year.
Rather than measuring simple yield tonnage or value, TFP compares total gross output with total land, labour, capital and material inputs. A growing TFP indicates total output is growing faster than total inputs.
GRDC Managing Director Nigel Hart says TFP was a valuable indication of grower profitability – the core objective of GRDC RD&E investments.
“Although economies of scale and increasing farm size will improve TFP, the metric is mainly driven by enhanced farming practices such as more efficient input use, improved crop protection, higher yielding cultivars and better soil management,” Mr Hart says.
The study also found Australia’s yield growth over the past 10 years was remarkably consistent, while other countries experienced considerable yield volatility from season to season. Australia led the world in yield growth for wheat and barley over the decade, and ranked second for canola, oats and lupins. Chickpea yield growth ranked fourth, and lentil yield growth was fifth. This was despite Australia recording the lowest overall rainfall and considerable rainfall variability – including several periods of drought.
The study authors observed that the sustained growth was attributable to a long-term investment in RD&E delivering steady incremental improvements and found significant merit in Australia’s levy-based funding system.
Despite having a smaller overall budget, Australia’s grains RD&E priorities (as a proportion of total investment) were found to be similar to those of the other countries in the survey.
Australia spent a greater proportion on crop protection (24 per cent) and automation (nine per cent) than any of those countries and spent the second-highest proportion of RD&E funds in genetic improvements (44 per cent) and crop nutrition (5 per cent) behind the USA (51 per cent and 11 per cent respectively).
While sharing many priorities with other national grains research bodies, the GRDC also dedicated nearly $26 million for climate-related research and $18 million toward biosecurity between 2018 and 2023.
Mr Hart says the differences reflected the important challenges and opportunities of climate, crop types, growing constraints and market access between countries.
GRDC’s new RD&E 2023-28 Plan, which will be officially launched next week, will reflect the increasing importance of strategic and innovative investments for the long-term future of Australian grains industry.
“GRDC is firmly committed to improving the profitability of Australian grain growers through RD&E that addresses local challenges and market drivers,” Mr Hart says.
Read the ACIL Allen benchmarking report.