Bid to develop $150m Northern Ag CRC gains momentum

James Nason, 11/03/2014


A bid to secure Federal Government support for a 10 year, $150 million Cooperative Research Centre for Northern Agriculture has received a boost after winning the backing of the Queensland Department of Agriculture (QDAFF).

The bid is being led by the Rural Industries Research and Development Corporation and now has the support of the Western Australian, Northern Territory and Queensland Governments, along with the CSIRO.

A bid to launch another CRC for the Northern Beef industry was also being progressed but its proponents last week made a decision not to proceed with the proposal.

University of Queensland director of Veterinary Research, Professor Michael Holland, told Beef Central that a decision was made last Monday not to proceed with the bid, which had aimed to increase the profitability of the northern beef industry.

Professor Holland said the decision had been taken for several reasons which he was unable to discuss on the record.

“The Northern Agricultural CRC bid is proceeding and I wish them the very best because research focused on the north is strongly needed if things are to improve,” Professor Holland said.

QDAFF could only support one of the two proposals, and it is understood that its recent decision to support the multi-commodity AgNorth CRC bid, in keeping with its own cross-sectoral focus, as opposed to the beef-specific Northern Beef proposal, may have been one of the factors that contributed to the latter not proceeding.

Whether elements of the Northern Beef proposal will be now brought into the AgNorth proposal are not yet clear.

A spokesperson for the Queensland Department of Agriculture, Fisheries and Forestry told Beef Central this week that it will provide $200,000 in funding per year to the new AgNorth CRC, provided its submission is accepted.

The bid is due for submission by July 2014, and if successful, the CRC will commence in the 2014-15 financial year.

Further investment funding is being sought from businesses with substantial current or future business interests in the north.

A document outlining the business case for the AgNorth submission indicates that the CRC expects to manage a $150 million program in cash and in-kind services over 10 years from July 2015.

The QDAFF spokesperson said it is also expected that University partners will join the bid in coming weeks.

The proposal notes that there are many exciting new new agricultural development projects underway or at feasibility stage across Northern Australia. For example the Qld, WA, NT and Commonwealth governments are collaborating in a program of ‘sustainable futures’ regional-scale studies examining the potential for further sustainable agricultural development in the north, including irrigation, and the Commonwealth Government is due to release a white paper on northern development in 2014, with new high-value agricultural production among its aims.

“While these are optimistic developments, many large-scale agricultural development projects have over the years failed to meet expectations and it’s important to understand why,” the proposal document states.

“The often cited climatic and soil constraints, and pest and disease outbreaks are now more manageable with better understanding and improved agronomic technologies and practices.

“The more common reasons for past failures were inadequate management, planning and financing over the development cycle, and the inability to secure market access with supply chain costs that were uncompetitive.

“De-risking and lowering investment thresholds, and strengthening comparative advantage of the North for accessing South-East Asian and domestic markets are crucial to sustainable agricultural development.”

Currently four Programs are proposed with an overall education and training program that may become a fifth program.

The four programs are:

  • Transformative Economic Investment,
  • Sustainable Land & Water Management,
  • Technologies for Agribusiness, and
  • Development Policies and Regional Change.

Some of the broad industry sectors likely to be involved include beef, aquaculture, tropical grains and pulses, biofuels and horticulture.

The CRC is looking at precinct development, new investment attraction, supply chains, infrastructure, soil and water resources as well as production system technology.



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