Thursday, March 07, 2013

Agricultural Science in Australia – Under Resuscitation?

A big day for Australian agricultural training, research, development, and education – today:  March 6, 2013. 
Maybe,  one of the more important for many years.

Yes, I am an agricultural scientist, suffering from the ignorance of the role we play in agriculture in Australia. Commonly ag scientists have been seen as an easy target for governments over the past 20 years – after all, no votes in the bush.  So, various governments have been radically reducing effort in agriculture with commonly the staff agricultural scientists some of the first to go.  NSW and Queensland have been vivid examples, but SA and Victoria are not far behind.

Yet today, around Australia we see some changes that are coming.  And there are increasingly more jobs available in agriculture.

Prof Mark Adams has been lauding the opening of new facilities, operated in conjunction with several Chinese agricultural science institutions, at Cobbity as part of facilities for Sydney University.  The University of Sydney's $20 million Centre for Carbon, Water and Food, funded by the federal government and the University, will answer this call to develop more scientists, helping to ensure Australia's future sustainability, as well as its potential to act as a regional leader in food production and land management.

In South Australia, probably the largest injection of $$ into agricultural training, staff and new facilities due to $50 million – yes $50 million -  in a total bequest from several donors to boost development at the Waite Institute and related campuses at Roseworthy.   This has been announced on the centenary of the Waite Institute.

Yet, still there is not much happening in north Australia.  Staff have been radically chopped from various facilities and government organisations in Queensland and the NT connected with agriculture and related activities.  Research and Development are suffering most.  Berrimah Farm in the NT, the premier research facility near Darwin is under threat to become a housing estate, as is the AZRI south of Alice Springs, and quite a few facilities in Queensland have been closed as well, including some of particular note with significant facilities and equipment and well reputed staff.  CSIRO agricultural activities continue to retreat to the SE corner of Australia, and staff are leaving.

It is a bit hard to develop much in the north without people to do it, who understand the particular issues based on living and working there.

Yes, Ord Stage 2 in WA is underway, with a Chinese sovereign related company doing the development.  While Australia does need the money to go into agricultural development, do we need to sell off our land to achieve it?  And will there be Australian agricultural scientists working there or Chinese?

Will there be a re-emergence of Agricultural Science in Australia over the next 10 years?............Hopefully.

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