Lessons in research from Australia
Australia excels at turning research into practice.
It's no coincidence that Australia's wine production and exports have skyrocketed in the last ten years. The accomplishment is a result of a 30-year strategic plan that involves focused research, development, and education, says the head of one of the country's cooperative research centers.
All involved with U.S. agricultural research-from those funding private and public research programs to those carrying out the projects-could learn how to make research more effective and responsive by examining the research model used in a wide array of business sectors in Australia.
The Aussie wine industry has shown stunning growth since 1994, with wine production tripling from about 500 million liters to nearly 1.5 billion liters after the 2006 crush. That's a number equivalent to nearly 500 million gallons, more than enough to supply every person in the United States, Canada, and Mexico with a gallon of wine and still have plenty to spare. Since 1997, the sales of their wine exports have posted even more impressive gains, going from Aus.$500 million to Aus.$2.8 billion.
Dr. Jim Hardie, chief executive officer of the Cooperative Research Centre for Viticulture, shared specifics about Australia's grape and wine research and extension with Washington State's wine industry during the annual meeting of the Washington Association of Wine Grape Growers.
At the heart of Australia's research model, envied by many around the world, are cooperative research centers, of which there are 70 dealing with six business sectors-agriculture and rural manufacturing, mining and energy, medical and science technology, information and communication technology, and manufacturing. The cooperative centers are joint ventures between industry, government, and research organizations, and were launched in 1992 as part of a federal research program.
Each cooperative center serves as a virtual organization by utilizing existing research facilities and maximizing research dollars as well as outcomes. Formal, seven-year agreements between all parties guide the centers.
"What we're really all about in Australia is turning research into practice," Hardie said. "It's meeting the challenges that lead to export growth. With the centers, we get cross-pollination of ideas between research, academic, and commercial disciplines," he said, adding that the model encourages teamwork.
Hardie's viticulture center will receive a total of Aus.$80 million during the seven years, with annual contributions of about 22 percent, or $2.6 million, coming from government, $3.2 million (27 percent) from growers and wineries, and 51 percent or $5.7 million from in-kind contributions from research and from education organizations.
Each dollar raised by wine growers is matched by the government and invested by the Grape and Wine Research and Development Corporation. Through the corporation and other industry organizations, growers are core participants of the cooperative center for viticulture.
Wine grape growers will contribute about $11 million during the seven-year term, he said, adding that growers pay a levy of $2 per ton for the cooperative research center projects, while wineries pay $5 per ton.
He explained that the cooperative research concept allows the government to focus on specific business sectors, turning research and development on and off to stimulate various sectors. Government can be responsive to national economic, social, and environmental priorities.
There are 15 agricultural cooperative centers, ranging from cotton and sheep to tropical plant protection, though none are for tree fruit.
Hardie cited numerous advantages to the stakeholders, researchers, and government from the research system. A benefit to stakeholders is that industry can more fully utilize the resources that are out there to meet its technological needs. The model allows industry to share in ownership of intellectual property and helps provide new opportunities for businesses in the industry's supply and service sector.
For the research community, scientists receive additional resources with a seven-year guarantee. "They don't have to write grant proposals and seek funding every year," he said. Researchers also benefit from enhanced professional links between organizations, national recognition, and a share of ownership of intellectual property.
Hardie added that in the cooperative centers' 15-year history, the Australian government has evaluated the model for its research, development, and education value.