Archive for November, 2008

Primary industries discuss innovation strategies

November 25th, 2008

bessantthomasAn international authority on innovation says the challenge for industry posed by the global economic crisis is to “look ahead” and not “batten down the hatches”.

John Bessant, Professor of Innovation and Technology Management in the Tanaka Business School at Imperial College London, is the keynote speaker at an international symposium on primary industry innovation being held at the University of New England this week.

In the short term, however, there would necessarily be a shift of emphasis in innovation to “saving money by stripping out the waste”, Professor Bessant said. “Innovation isn’t always about rocket science,” he explained, “or about needing more money.”

The symposium, titled “New Pathways to Adoption and Diffusion of Primary Industries Innovations”, began at UNE yesterday and is continuing today. Bringing together more than 100 delegates from around Australia and from New Zealand, it is supported by the Primary Industries Innovation Centre (a joint venture of UNE and the NSW Department of Primary Industries), the Cooperative Research Centre (CRC) for Sheep Industry Innovation, the CRC for Beef Genetic Technologies, Meat and Livestock Australia, the Australian Centre for International Agricultural Research, and Australian Wool Innovation Ltd. The participants are researchers, farmers, and agricultural advisers and investors, as well as representatives of industry organisations, government and non-government agencies, and agribusiness.

Professor Bessant (pictured here, left) emphasised the vital role of users in the innovation process, advocating the “democratisation” of innovation by “bringing users into the process at the front end”.

“The problem is not knowledge production, but knowledge connections – ensuring that innovations are accessible to businesses and applicable to their needs,” he said.

The convener of the symposium, Dr Philip Thomas from UNE’s School of Business, Economics and Public Policy, said the aim of the event was to identify impediments to innovation adoption, and potential solutions to them. Dr Thomas (pictured here, right) said the symposium would “provide insight into real-life innovation success, highlighting the key reasons for failure to achieve innovation and how these might be overcome in the future”.

In officially opening the symposium, the Chair of the Cooperative Research Centre for Sheep Industry Innovation, Dr John Keniry, said the current low rate of innovation adoption in many primary industries was “a fundamental challenge”.

The official opening function, at which the Speaker of the NSW Legislative Assembly and Member for Northern Tablelands, Richard Torbay, acted as MC, included the launch of a book  Mustering Moisture: the Practice of No-till Farming in Australia which tells the stories of 12 farming families who have overcome the challenges of no-tillage and conservation farming to transform their farming operations and lifestyles.

Pam Welsh, the north-west Regional Director for Department of Primary Industries (DPI) Relations, launched Mustering Moisture. Three of the farmers featured in the book – Anne Williams from “Magomadine” (Coonamble), Bede Burke from “Glendon” (Tamworth) and Gavin Hombsch from “Hyfield” (Tamworth) – were present at the launch.

Mustering Moisture, published by the Primary Industries Innovation Centre (PIIC), was produced with funds raised through a no-tillage conference that PIIC convened in Tamworth in March 2006.

THE PHOTOGRAPH of Professor John Bessant (left) and Dr Philip Thomas displayed here was taken during this week’s symposium at UNE.

Report explains why water markets are bogged down

November 4th, 2008

irrigation A team of researchers from the University of New England has produced a report explaining why the benefits expected from Australia’s National Water Initiative are not being fully realised.

The Intergovernmental Agreement on a National Water Initiative, signed at a Council of Australian Governments meeting in 2004, committed governments across Australia to a more cohesive national approach to water management.

“The National Water Initiative was designed to achieve environmental and economic goals by freeing up markets for water,” explained Professor Paul Martin, who led the UNE team that included Dr Jacqueline Williams and Christopher Stone. “We spent two years investigating why these benefits are not yet being fully realised.”

Professor Martin, Director of the UNE-based Australian Centre for Agriculture and Law, said the study showed that, “unless water reform is integrated with broader environmental reform and institutional reform, the benefits aren’t likely”.

“With regard to water trading,” he said, “it was expected that the water would go to the most efficient users, or the ones who could produce most value from that water. In Sydney, however, political competition and overlapping planning and environmental laws have meant that the scope for a market to operate has been negligible. And in rural southern Queensland the market hasn’t worked because overlapping requirements and excessive complexity of administration have meant that trading opportunities have not been seized.”

“Many of the farmers who helped us with our research want to demonstrate that they can be excellent environmental stewards, and are frustrated that they can’t get on with things that will achieve that,” said Dr Williams, who conducted the majority of the research.

The results of the study, which was funded by the Cooperative Research Centre for Irrigation Futures, are presented in a report titled “Transaction costs and water reform: the devils hiding in the details”, and available at:

“The study demonstrates that, whether our focus is environmental, agricultural or social matters, institutional reform is absolutely essential if we’re to get what we want out of our irrigation systems,” Professor Martin said.

He said that, as a result of the study, he and his team were already working with local, State and Commonwealth government agencies, irrigators, and industry and environmental bodies in pursuit of institutional reform in peri-urban and rural regions. “There’s been a lot of interest in our findings and our proposals for the way forward,” he said.