[ASC-media] Media Release: Food Productivity Declining with Research

Australasian Science science at control.com.au
Tue Mar 31 23:34:29 CEST 2009

For immediate release

Food Productivity Declining with Research

The impact of reduced investment in research and development (R&D) in  
past decades on agricultural productivity may be only just becoming  
apparent, warns one of Australia’s most experienced agricultural  
scientists. Dr John Mullen says Australia should “increase investment  
in R&D if this is to have any impact on emerging climate change and  
food security problems in coming decades” in the April issue of  
Australasian Science magazine, published today.

Dr Mullen is an Adjunct Professor with the School of Business at  
Charles Sturt University, Orange, a Distinguished Fellow of the  
Australian Agricultural and Resource Economics Society and is just  
retiring as a Principal Research Scientist with the NSW Department of  
Primary Industries.

Dr Mullen records a significant decline in productivity for Australian  
broadacre agriculture, which had grown at a rate of about 2.5% per  
year from 1953 to the mid-1990s but has fallen to under 1.5% per year  
across Australia (and much slower in some states, since the mid-1990s.  
“The causes of this slower growth include climate variability and  
climate change, and reduced investment in agricultural research,” he  

“With climate change advancing and three billion more people to feed  
by 2050, it is no wonder concerns about food security are re-emerging,  
particularly in poor countries relying on rich countries to develop  
new technology,” he says. “According to the International Food Policy  
Research Institute, the tripling in the price of staple grains from  
late 2005 to mid-2008 preceding the global financial crisis meant that  
the number of undernourished people increased from 848 to 923 million.

“The good news is that most empirical international studies, including  
those in Australia, suggest that the returns to investment in R&D  
remain high.” However, Dr Mullen contrasts this with “a severe  
contraction” in support for agricultural R&D in Commonwealth and state  
research institutions. “Relative to the size of the agricultural  
sector, public investment in research has fallen from about 4.5% in  
the 1980s to less than 3% now… Australia shares these downward trends  
in agricultural productivity and in public investment in research with  
other developed countries such as the USA and the UK.”

Dr Mullen concludes: “Australian farmers need technologies that allow  
them to adapt to and mitigate the impacts of climate change profitably  
with improved environmental outcomes. Investment in research has many  
of the features of investment in long-lived infrastructure. It takes  
several years before any benefits flow from the investment but they  
may persist for 50 years.”

Summaries and quotations of selected passages for reporting or review  
are permissible provided AUSTRALASIAN SCIENCE MAGAZINE is credited as  
the source of this story.

Dr John Mullen on (02) 6361 8615 or 0428 618 613
For a full copy or for permission to reproduce this article (partially  
or completely) or a photo of Dr Mullen call Editor, Guy Nolch, on (03)  
9500 0015 or Senior Correspondent, Peter Pockley, on (02) 9660 6363.

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