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Fund cut: financial blow for research

SA GRAIN producers have lamented a state government decision to cut funding to a world-leadingAdelaide plant genomics research centre.
Nanjing Night Net

CASH SLASH: The Australian Centre for Plant Functional Genomics will lose 10pc of funding, prompting fears of job losses and reduced grain industry research.

The Australian Centre for Plant Functional Genomics, based at the University of Adelaide’s Waite campus, will lose $1 million inannual funding in the upcoming state budget. The contribution made up 10 per cent of the centre’s total funding.

ACPFG chief executive David Mitchell said the centre, which conducts pre-breeding research on yield and yield stability in cereal crops, may be forced to cut 30 jobs from its 80 staff.

Grain Producers SA chief executive Darren Arney said the funding cut was “unexpected”and “disappointing”, particularly given the investment from SA growers into research and development.

“Growers fund research and government projects through their contributions to GRDC and the SA GrainIndustry Trust,” he said.

“The state government’s contribution to agricultural research, development and extension has declined significantlyand that slack has been put back on growers.”

Mr Arney and Dr Mitchell urgedthe government to continue its support while the centre transitions to an institute, which would provideresearch that hadbetter translation to industry.

“Grains areSA’slargest export and the government should have a role in ensuring we continue to be at the cutting edge of crop innovation,”Mr Arney said.

Dr Mitchell fearedthe centre’s transition would be stalled and the program’s focuswould revert back to producing scientific papers.

“Wheat is more important to SA than any other state in Australia in terms of economy so we have got the most to lose.Pre-breeding research is fundamentally important,” he said.

Agriculture minister Leon Bignell said the government had not intended to fund the centre “indefinitely”and would help find new commercial partners.

“SA should not be expected to be the only state to provide ongoing funds for the national research undertaken at the centre,” he said.

Opposition Agriculture spokesperson David Ridgway said the funding cutwas “short-sighted”and contradicted the state government’s commitment to agriculture, food and wine.

“The research conducted by the ACPFG iscrucial for the long-term sustainability and growth of this industry,” he said.“Agriculture has been our biggest industry for the best part of 200 years in SA, but it needs support.”

The recent outbreak of Russian wheat aphid in SA crops is an example of an industry dilemma which could go unfettered without agricultural research and development funding, according to grain industry leaders.

Mr Arney said the pest would incur a significant pesticide cost on the industry and was an issue a fully-functional Australian Centre for Plant Functional Genomics could help tackle.

“There is a public benefit in the state government putting money into research and development because we’ve got this recent outbreak of RWA,” he said.

“There are lines of tolerance andresistance out there and the genomics centre would be able to help fast-track the development of resistant plants to reduce chemical use and reduce expenses to farmers.

“RWA is not just a pest of cereal cropsso it affects pasture grasses and grasses on government landtoo.”

ACPFG chief executive David Mitchell said the centre would have had the potential to breed wheat varieties for RWA resistance.

“Having people readyand having technology and resources so you can jump on a problem quickly –that’s what research brings you,”he said.

Dr Mitchell said the ACPFGalso had programs to combatimpacts ofheat, drought and frost on yield and theresearch could be applied to disease resistance.

“We’ve also justordered a new gene sequencing machine that will be devoted almost entirely to agricultural purposes, and in particular the wheat genome,”he said.

This story Administrator ready to work first appeared on Nanjing Night Net.

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