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09 September 2020
By DEAN LAWSON
Regional development advocates believe Horsham is the perfect Victorian base for one of eight agricultural innovation hubs planned for regional Australia.
They are confident the Wimmera centre and broader grain belt already have operational and planning templates that fit neatly into an $86-million Federal Government push to establish research and adoption centres.
They made the declaration in response to Federal Agriculture Minister David Littleproud announcing government plans to establish the national hubs through a Future Drought Fund.
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He said the hubs would be in regional areas reflecting key agricultural and climatic zones across the country.
One of the hubs was earmarked for regional Victoria.
“Drought Resilience Adoption and Innovation Hubs will support networks of researchers, farmers, agricultural businesses and community groups to enhance drought resilience practice, tools and technology,” Mr Littleproud said.
“The hubs will also break down ‘silos’ and provide a physical location where researchers and the community can come together to develop ideas that build drought resilience.
“The end result will see a range of enduring institutions that cement partnerships among key organisations.”
Community leaders identified opportunities stemming from an agriculture-industry hub in Horsham while attending a Regional Development Victoria Regional Partnership program launch four years ago.
Wimmera Southern Mallee Regional Partnership conceived a Victorian Networked Grains Centre of Excellence, which has since evolved into a structured Victorian Grains Innovation Hub project.
Wimmera partnership deputy chair Cathy Tischler said considerable research, analysis and business-case development dating back to 2016 had established Horsham as an ideal centre for a state agricultural hub.
“Horsham has a lot of natural synergy – we have a lot of the foundations here already,” she said.
“We already have major innovation projects underway at Grains Innovation Park and Longerenong College and of course Horsham is also the primary centre of one of the richest grain-growing areas in southeast Australia.
“The Federal Government has only one hub earmarked for Victoria and the Wimmera-southern Mallee is the obvious area this should happen.
“Much of what the government requires to make this successful is already here.”
Ms Tischler said product value-adding was a key aspect of the hub-development concept.
“We already have the public and private infrastructure and investment here or in development and we can strongly deliver on the government’s requirements,” she said.
“Much of the groundwork has been done and it wouldn’t take us long to scale up.
“Industry hubs are a great idea. They provide opportunities for organisations to come together and allow for economies of scale, greater collaboration and innovation.
“It will naturally help consolidate agricultural development, progress and critically, resilience.
“The Wimmera already has strong connectivity but this has the potential to take it to a higher level.
“We’re confident we already have a growing model in place that meets all the needs presented by the Federal Government proposal. We want the Victorian hub here.”
The Federal Government expects a competitive process to establish hub sites and a regional university to lead the program to open next month.
Mr Littleproud has also announced a new Digital Foundations for Agriculture Strategy to ‘set the foundations for widespread uptake of digital technology across agriculture, forestry and fisheries industries’.
“We know that digital technologies and agtech will drive the next wave of growth for the sector,” he said.
“In fact, the Australian Farm Institute estimates full adoption of digital tools by the agriculture sector could boost productivity by about $20.3-billion each year.
“We will also develop a National Agricultural Innovation Policy Statement to position the sector to reap the benefits of innovation.”
Longerenong College is already busy developing its $2.54-million AgTIDE Demonstration of Agricultural Technology Applications, DATA, Farm project.
Member for Mallee Anne Webster welcomed the funding for hubs to drive research and innovation into drought and agriculture.
“The Wimmera-Mallee is well placed to provide leadership in the way Australia manages and responds to drought, with world-leading research into dryland farming happening on the ground already,” she said.
“We have a perfect region to establish an adoption and innovation hub to further drive agricultural research.”
Regions targeted for the hubs are: Southern New South Wales; southern Queensland-northern NSW; southwest Western Australia; northern Australia-NT-WA; tropical North Queensland; South Australia; Tasmania.
The entire September 9, 2020 edition of The Weekly Advertiser is available online. READ IT HERE!