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Technology in Australia 1788-1988Australian Academy of Technological Sciences and Engineering
Table of Contents

Chapter 1

I Groping In A Strange Environment: 1788-1851

II Farmers Take The Initiative: 1851-1888

III Enter Education And Science: 1888-1927

IV Agricultural Science Pays Dividends: 1927-1987
ii Returns from agricultural research
iii Research funding

V Examples Of Research And Development 1928-1988

VI International Aspects Of Agricultural Research

VII Future Prospects

VIII Acknowledgements



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Research funding (continued)

Thus, when the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) released their Examiners' Report on Science and Technology in Australia in 1974 they pointed out that:

The early growth of Australian research was mainly to meet the needs of primary industry, then the dominant part of the economy, and in particular, in support of agriculture. Agriculture has remained a very important part of the total research effort of the nation, perhaps too large a proportion for today's conditions. This is not to say we suggest a reduction, but rather compensatory reinforcement of other sectors.

During the 30 years after the Second World War agricultural research costs and activities increased rapidly. The population of research scientists and the costs per scientist both grew approximately 50 fold. When the Industries Assistance Commission reported on the Financing of Rural Research (1976) it estimated that more than $140 million was being spent annually on rural research. Almost half of this sum came from the Commonwealth Government, 35 per cent from State governments, 8 per cent from farmers, through a network of Rural Industry Research Funds (RIRFs), and the remainder was derived from 'other sources'. By this time the influence of RIRFs on the policies and programs of research agencies was considerable and was probably greater than the size of their financial contributions.

Virtually all the products sold from Australian farms (including wool, wheat, red meats, eggs, poultry meat, pigs, tobacco, dried fruits, dairy produce, barley, wine and honey) were levied on a unit of output or value of production basis, with producer contributions being matched by the Commonwealth Government, usually on a dollar for dollar basis. By the mid-1970s a total of some $30 million was being allocated annually on the recommendations of farmer dominated RIRF committees. Because these funds were allocated on a competitive and contractual basis, and because the committees formulated their recommendations on criteria which combined industry priorities with technical excellence, cost in relation to potential benefits, and the availability of staff and facilities, this was recognised on the whole to be an efficient and effective mechanism for encouraging research that was best calculated to assist the industry.

In more recent times (1986) the constitution of the RIRFs has been amended by Acts of Parliament which have established research corporations in their place. Although the membership of the corporations, and the procedures for nominating members, is somewhat different from that of the RIRF committees, the principles of industry support for, and influence in, the agricultural research system have been preserved.

Although the combined level of research and development (R & D) of all types in Australia, as a proportion of gross domestic product, is unusually low when compared with that of other medium-sized developed countries with similar social and political structures, the intensity of agricultural R & D is one of the highest in the world, at 0.35 per cent of domestic output.

Another characteristic of agricultural research in Australia is that almost all of it is undertaken by the public sector (e.g. Commonwealth and State agencies, universities and institutes of technology). For example, a survey conducted by the Industries Assistance Commission in 1976 found that some 87 per cent of agricultural research funds was spent by governments (48 per cent Commonwealth and 39 per cent States), 6 per cent by institutions of higher education, 2 per cent by non-profit organizations, and only 5 per cent by business enterprises.

Organisations in Australian Science at Work - Rural Industry Research Funds

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© 1988 Print Edition pages 28 - 29, Online Edition 2000
Published by Australian Science and Technology Heritage Centre, using the Web Academic Resource Publisher