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Scrutiny Reveals Flaws in System

Horticulture Innovation, Meat and Livestock Australia, Australian Wool Innovation, Grains Research Development Corporation and Cotton Research Development Corporation collected $522 million revenue in 2016-17.
 

The nation’s agricultural think tank chief believes weakness surrounding oversight and transparency of levy management is diminishing the strength of the country’s rural Research and Development Corporations.

The structures that underpin Australia’s agricultural levy system are known to be complex, convoluted and at times, in some industries, lack accountability.

The complexities of the systems have been evident at every stage of Fairfax Agriculture Media’s questioning surrounding the collection of levy rates, investment decision-making, extension and return, and representation and oversight.

Australian Farm Institute executive director Mick Keogh said the levy model for agricultural research, which had been in existence for over a quarter of a century, no longer produced the benefits it had in the past and change was needed to take advantage of accelerating global food demand.

He said the two major areas of concern related to informing levy payers of investments, and the accountability enforced by industry groups’ oversight bodies. 

“It is fair to say say the standard of information going back to levy payers from the RDCs is patchy and not always in a form that makes a great deal of sense to levy payers,” Mr Keogh said.

“Ultimately it comes to the point where growers essentially are asked to make judgement about whether the levels of levy they are paying is appropriate or not.

“I’m not sure they have always had meaningful information available to be able to make those decisions.

“There is room to greatly simplify the information provided and to quantify it a lot more.”

A report by AFI stated every one per cent productivity gain is worth $500 million a year to the Australian agriculture sector, or $4200 a year for the average farm.

Mr Keogh said levy’s return on investment must be based on robust economics, which detail the returns generated from R and D investments, and innovations developed, commercialised and adopted, in simple terms. More