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  • Writer's pictureTayah Ryan

Keeping the wheels turning on R&D during an economic downturn

Retaining focus on science and innovation during an economic downturn is challenging. With a focus on cost reduction, R&D spend is likely to be closely scrutinised. I’ve put together a brief list of ideas that will hopefully get the creative juices flowing as you plan next season’s projects and how to get them over the line.

A consultant assessing kiwifruit

1. External funding: There are a range of grants specifically targeted towards research and innovation projects within the primary industry. Agmardt, Sustainable Farming Fund and Callaghan Innovation are some of the more well-known, long-standing examples. Each fund has its own criteria such as project cost, co-funding requirements and project objectives. There are also some shorter-term initiatives that come up occasionally to stimulate research, often in a specific field or topic. If the project is smaller and grower-led, consider approaching your industry body – many have options to provide some funding to support new innovations and ideas.

2. R&D tax credit. A government initiative to drive R&D growth in private business. The governments goal is to push R&D spend towards 2% of GDP by 2028. You must satisfy a range of criteria including the minimum expenditure threshold of at least $50,000.

3. Collaborations: When set up and managed well, collaborations can be an effective option to get projects moving forward by sharing the funding and resource requirements. This could be a group of like minded growers joining together into a research-led "think group" or approaching one of the crown research institutes (e.g. Plant and Food) to partner with. Cross-industry initiatives are another interesting option and can be a good way for minor crops to get traction on common issues. Collaborations should be well thought through and have a clear set of objectives and expectations defined for each party.

4. Grower-centered projects (applied science): Designing a project where you work with grower(s) on-orchard can be a cost-effective option by lowering setup costs. Engaging with the right growers is key. What do you want to achieve and in what timeframe? What are you going to expect from your growers in terms of participation, outputs, speaking/field days etc. Most crucially, what will they get out of the experience? If the project helps them to meet their own strategic objectives, it is more likely to yield outcomes. This can be a great later-stage research option - products close to market, research validation etc.

The benefits of continuing R&D during tough economic times are significant for the horticultural industry. It ensures we continue to meet the challenge of feeding the world under increasingly difficult economic, social and environmental conditions.

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