National Science Week is an opportunity to reflect on the role that science plays in agriculture.
The Australian Bureau of Statistics (ABS) reports that the gross value of Australian agriculture increased by $3.1 billion to $56 billion in 2015-2016.
Science is present throughout the production of our food and fibre. From the plant breeders responsible for new crop varieties to soil scientists, agronomists, veterinarians, engineers and hydrologists developing new practices.
Australian farmers are regarded as some of the most efficient, adaptable and innovative in the world and scientific research is at the heart of that. For example, research by the Australian Bureau of Agricultural and Resource Economics and Sciences (ABARES) has shown that despite difficult seasonal conditions wheat yields have improved significantly in the last decade. ABARES has reported that climate adjusted wheat yields increased from 1.8 tonnes per hectare in 2005-2006 to 2.2 tonnes per hectare in 2014-2015 saying that technological progress is offsetting the impact of deteriorating seasonal conditions.
The Australian agricultural sector is facing some challenges though, among them climate variability, increased input costs and competition in global markets. There are broader issues too, it’s estimated that the global population will double by 2100 requiring a 70 per cent increase in food production. Australia has a big role to play in producing food but also in sharing our knowledge and expertise to help less developed counties build their agricultural capacity.
Innovation that’s driven by sound science and built upon producer and industry engagement is the key to meeting those local and global challenges. Graham Centre scientists are working to improve grain storage and processing, and to develop functional foods with benefits for human health.
So as you sit down to a meal this National Science Week consider how science has contributed to making that product and how research, development and innovation can deliver further benefits to our agricultural producers, consumers and our community.
- Dr Marta Hernandez-Jover is the actiing director of the Graham Centre for Agricultural Innovation based in Wagga in southern NSW.