Ludwig defends commitment to rural research, development

AAP, with a staff reporter

Agriculture Minister Joe Ludwig has defended the federal government's commitment to rural research and development (R&D) following farmers' calls for more funding to boost productivity.

The minister outlined the Labor government's future plans for the agriculture sector, ranging from strategies for trade access to drought, food security and product labelling.

It was "fantastic" to see some of the government's priorities reflected in the National Farmers Federation's (NFF) blueprint for the industry, released just a few weeks ago, he said.

But while Senator Ludwig lauded the government's ongoing contributions matching private investment in rural R&D, the NFF blueprint warned the funding had "stagnated" since the 1970s.

More government and private investment was needed to meet future challenges, such as climate change, and to increase productivity and efficiency, the NFF said.

In its latest quarterly statement, the Australian Bureau of Agricultural and Resource Economics and Sciences (ABARES) offers less than rosy projections for the farm sector, warning productivity needs to rise from current levels.

Senator Ludwig said he wasn't aware of the NFF making a specific claim for a boost in R&D, adding that the government and farmers recognised the "critical importance" of innovation.

"I think you'll find there's been a significant improvement in research and development from this government," he told reporters after addressing the ABARES annual conference in Canberra on Tuesday.

The government in 2011 knocked back a Productivity Commission recommendation to cut public funding of rural research and development corporations because the government recognised innovative R&D would boost profitability and productivity in the sector, Senator Ludwig said.

He said past governments had underfunded the sector and pointed to the government's $1.7 billion Land Sector Package which aims to improve R&D by adapting land use to climate change.

The farm sector's productivity had started to plateau, but compared with other large industries like manufacturing it "fights well above its weight", he added.

In his address to the ABARES conference, Senator Ludwig said the government would continue to "stand shoulder to shoulder" with rural communities affected by the recent floods and fires, and would keep working with the states to develop a national drought strategy.

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