The death of agricultural research

By Country News

I must agree with Barry Croke (my fellow student at University of Melbourne) in his letter about research staff numbers being cut when he pointed to Australians being world leaders in agricultural research.

In particular this applies to tropical agriculture, with Australia being the only developed country with a significant amount of its farming in the tropics.

The terminations raise a fundamental issue beyond workers’ rights.

What responsibility does the government have in agricultural research — be actively conducting it or leave it to others?

Somebody has to do the basic research around plant and animal production processes, and agribusiness is usually reluctant to do this since the commercial pay-offs may not be apparent or come in a relative short time frame.

There also is always a need for independent research that is not ‘tainted’ by vested money-making interests.

Surely that is where state agencies fit in the overall picture.

With bushfires, drought and other cataclysmic events impacting on agriculture, there is an even greater need for research.

Climate change and climate-resilient agriculture seems an obvious area for research, and just perhaps the results might emerge to put before the deniers and get them on board.

Then the policies that are so sorely needed just might begin to be crafted — also as a result of research.

The news articles on cutbacks noted that some staff facing retrenchment have worked for the ‘Department of Agriculture’ for around three decades.

It is ironic that the news seems to have broken in the same week that Federal Treasurer Josh Frydenberg was making his pitch to keep people in the workforce who are ‘senior citizens'.

He is absolutely right in recognising that experience counts for a lot, often more than post-graduate degrees that so many younger people feel are an absolute necessity for employment. And many employers have the same distorted view.

Anybody want to give me a job?

Norman Welsh