ACFA Chairman Don Murday stated today that the Australian Sugar Industry is at a crucial decision point for the future of its Research Development and Extension (RD&E).
‘BSES, our valued RD&E organisation is in limbo while the Australian Sugar Industry Alliance (ASA) asserts its belief that a change to a centralised model will overcome the industries R&D challenges.’
On 28 October 2011 the Australian Sugar Milling Council (ASMC) and the Queensland Canegrowers Organisation (QCGO) jointly announce a plan to restructure RD&E in the name of efficiency.
But the plan risks demising our RD&E structures and it fails to adequately address the future RD&E requirements of the industry.
Mr Murday said that the proposal is designed to fit RD&E to a pre-determined budget which is short-sighted and sub-optimal, falling far short of industry needs.
‘ASA appears to be viewing RD&E as a cost rather than an investment in the highest quantity and quality of raw material for sugar mills.
‘There is a return on investment here that is not being considered.
‘What we urgently need is in an investment in RD&E that will take the industry forward.
‘In a time of high sugar prices we have a tremendous opportunity to rebuild sugarcane production and productivity to peak levels.
‘This is not the time to distract the industry with high risk experiments.’
The proposal recommends merging BSES, SRDC and milling research into a proposed Sugar Research Australia (SRA). It recommends separating farm-based extension from R&D, relying on agribusiness and consultants to provide the service.
ACFA believed that the proposed severance of the researcher–farmer –researcher linkage which informs R&D will not serve the best interest of the industry. The linkage works best when maintained within a discreet entity such as BSES. When the linkage is ‘farmed-out’, the system becomes totally reliant on personalities and relationships or otherwise it is ‘flying blind’. This is not an optimal solution for building an industry.
‘The proposal has already had a major negative effect on the morale of BSES staff. This issue is another major and divisive one which must be resolved quickly for confidence to be restored in our RD&E facilities.’
Mr Murday cautioned that once lost to the industry, research and extension staff would not return.
‘ACFA would like to know why ASA isn’t focusing on maximising profit in the value chain, rather than focusing on cost-cutting and whether ASA is aware of the total cost of merging three entities to the satisfaction of the Australian Government.’
Mr Murday urged stakeholders to fully consider the impacts of the proposal.
‘Once we lose valuable research and extension staff, they will be forever lost to the industry.
‘Much of the problem with funding RD&E is its unit cost. ASA’s attempt to seek efficiencies is fair enough. However, if there was an equal emphasis on production and productivity we might better address our unit cost issues by focusing on getting the industry up to an average production of 35 million tonnes, rather than accepting decline and forcing RD&E to fit.
‘We need an intact BSES to provide integrated services to farmers and to provide training and career paths for researchers and extension officers.’
Mr Murday said that ASA has seriously misread the mood and needs of canefarmers who view industry-owned and delivered extension as essential to lead the sugarcane sector.
‘The industry has invested in RD&E for over 100 years in a model that is the envy of the world. What is being proposed is not supported.’
ACFA Chairman Don Murday is available for interviews on 0418 77 44 99
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