OPINION: SARDI historic trend shows worrying trend

Following the handing down of the 2023-24 State Budget, I told media the South Australian Research and Development Institute (SARDI) was receiving “death by a thousand cuts”. It was pointed out to me that there are no “cuts” to the SARDI budget, just projects coming to an end that either haven’t been renewed or are complete.

Frame a reduction in funding any which way you want but, ultimately, it’s not good news and highlights what is and isn’t a priority.

The grains sector is coming off a record harvest where we contributed $4.6 billion to the state’s economy and a large part of that success comes down to past RD&E from SARDI.

SARDI is described as the research arm of the Department of Primary Industries and Regions and a “world science leader”. SARDI’s 2023-24 Budget will be $18.75 million.

Delving into previous State Budget papers, I was able to get a very clear picture of the history of SARDI funding.

In 2003-04, SARDI spent $27.11 million for its annual budget and this slowly increased, reaching $34.1 million spent in 2008-09. Then in 2010-11 this increased to $36.13 million – almost double what it is in 2023-24.

In 2015-16, the SARDI annual spend dropped to $17.46 million but rose again to almost $30 million in 2017-18, before dropping to $21 million (18-19), $22 million (19-20) and $16.52 million (20-21).

Every year, externally funded projects are finalized and come to an end in SARDI and unless this important research arm attracts new projects and has support to do so, SARDI’s annual spend will continue on a downward trajectory.

As grain producers continue to adapt to a changing climate, scientific research is the key to helping growers adapt to produce better, more sustainable crops and increase profitability.

SARDI’s annual budget spend has halved since 2010-11. There’s no adjustment for inflation built into SARDI budgets, so effectively operation costs rise but budgets go down. It’s time to the reverse the trend and ensure SARDI has a secure and long-term future ahead of it for the sake of the grains industry and agriculture as a whole.

This opinion piece was first published in the Stock Journal on 22 June 2023.