Agricultural research in decline: CSU expert

1 JANUARY 2003

Agricultural productivity is slowing down as is agricultural research and Australian governments and agricultural industries should be concerned, according to an award winning agricultural economist and researcher with CSU.

ILWS adjunct professor Dr John MullenAgricultural productivity is slowing down as is agricultural research and Australian governments and agricultural industries should be concerned, according to an award winning agricultural economist and researcher with Charles Sturt University (CSU).
 
“Agricultural productivity and public investment in agricultural research and development (R&D) has slowed down in Australia and in some other developed countries which are a source of new technologies for less developed countries. This is a real worry when we have to contend with the growing effects of climate change as well as three billion more people to feed in the next 30 years,” says Dr John Mullen, an adjunct professor with CSU’s Institute for Land, Water and Society and a former senior economist with the former NSW Department of Primary Industry.
 
“Australia has had a run of droughts and that explains some of the decline in productivity, but research I have done with colleagues at the Australian Bureau of Agricultural and Resource Economics (ABARE) suggests that some of the slow down can only be explained by a stagnation in government investment in R&D in recent decades.
 
“The lag between research and increases in agricultural production is up to 35 years, which is why it has taken so long for us to see evidence of this decline in R&D funding through falling productivity. It’s only now starting to bite us.”
 
Dr Mullen has found Investment in R&D is a good investment. “I found returns of 15 to 40 per cent on public funds invested in R&D.”
 
Since the 1990s, Dr Mullen has gathered data on R&D spending by CSIRO, State departments and universities dating back to 1953, many years before the Australian Bureau of Statistics began collecting this data.
 
“I needed a long dataset to study the long lags between research and the adoption of new agricultural technology.. This is the only research available that studies the relationship between agricultural productivity growth and R & D in Australia, Dr Mullen said.
 
“With colleagues at ABARE I have revised this original analysis but our findings still stand: Agricultural R&D is a good use of public funds. The revised analysis should be of interest to  the current Productivity Commission enquiry into the Australian government’s research and development corporation model.”

Dr Mullen is a former principal research scientist and research leader in economics research with the NSW Department of Primary Industries. He is a Distinguished Fellow of the Australian Agricultural and Resource Economics Society, has extensive experience in regional Australia and has studied and worked on projects overseas including China.

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