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Funding dip forces GWRDC to take a ‘different’ tack to boost R&D extension to growers

The Grape and Wine Research and Development Corporation (GWRDC) has appointed Dr Mark Krstic, of Victoria’s Department of Primary Industries – Mildura, to enhance the transfer of viticultural research to growers throughout the Australian wine industry.

John Harvey, executive director of the GWRDC, announced Krstic’s appointment during his report to the recent annual meeting of the Winemakers’ Federation of Australia in Adelaide.

He said Krstic’s appointment was aimed at ensuring that growers were getting value from their investment in R&D programs, particularly in the face of two consecutive years of reduced funding following the diminished 2006–07 vintage and the likely smaller harvest in the upcoming vintage.

The GWRDC funds R&D programs through levies it collects on the annual grape harvest from approximately 7000 grapegrowers and more than 1800 wineries. Winemakers currently pay a levy of $5/t, while grapegrowers contribute $2/t. These levies are matched by funding from the Australian Government.

John Harvey said that with the 2006–07 harvest down by an average of 30%, monies collected by the GWRDC dropped by $5–5.5m. He said the GWRDC needed 1.2–1.3 million tonnes of grapes to “come through the door this season to break even”, which was at the upper end of estimates for the 2007–08 vintage. Although this financial scenario excluded any additional support that might be secured from other Government sources, he warned that these sources would likely be heavily subscribed by all Research & Development Corporations which were also suffering depletions in funding as a result of the drought.

Harvey said that although the delivery of research to winemakers was “pretty good”, primarily thanks to the extension services of the Australian Wine Research Institute, he admitted that over the past five years or so the GWRDC had not taken enough responsibility for the way in which research was delivered to growers and had been prompted by the reduction in funding “to do something a bit different”.

He explained Krstic’s role was to translate the outcomes from the various research and development programs into knowledge that growers could use to innovate or, in other words, “save a dollar or make a dollar”, thereby maximising the value growers receive from what scarce funding was available.

“I am confident that with Mark’s knowledge of science and practice, this challenge will be met. Involvement of people from all sectors of the industry, however, will be essential. Researchers, for example, will be drawn more closely into dialogue with practitioners to consider how they may help find solutions or create opportunities. Wine company personnel, agri-businesses, consultants and State Government advisers and extension staff , will join with producer representatives in a national extension network to assist in the dissemination of information and regional adoption of research results,” Harvey said in his presentation at the WFA meeting.

Harvey said this knowledge would be distributed through an ‘Innovators’ Network’ which would include “anyone who provides information or opinion to growers who pay levies”, such as grower liaison officers or viticultural consultants.

“The composition of this network will recognise that each region and each grapegrower and winemaker will have their own most effective and favoured channels of advice and communication.

“Mark will use this network not only as a means of extending information and assisting change but also as a structure through which grapegrowers and winemakers can express their views and outline priorities,” Harvey said.

Krstic officially takes up his role in December.

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