Legislative Council: Wednesday, March 22, 2023


Struan Research Centre

The Hon. N.J. CENTOFANTI (Leader of the Opposition) (16:21): I move:

That this council—

1. Notes that the Struan Research Centre, located 16 kilometres south of Naracoorte, is a world-class research and development centre, providing an important part of our state’s historical and current research and development into agriculture as well as being a hub for agricultural technology;

2. Notes that on 4 November 2022, a fire ripped through the offices and laboratories of the Struan Research Centre causing significant damage;

3. Acknowledges that the fires, while devastating, provide an opportunity to renew and reinvigorate the centre; and

4. Calls on the Malinauskas Labor government to use this opportunity to provide funding to expand the functions of the centre to include training and education, to better benefit agriculture in our state.

The Struan Research Centre is a state-of-the-art agricultural facility located 370 kilometres south-east of Adelaide. The site has a long history in the growth and advancement of primary industries in not only this state but beyond our borders. Built originally by the Robertson family, who created a wildly successful mixed farming business in the South-East during the late 1800s, the estate was acquired by the state government in the 1930s for the purposes of establishing a farm school for boys and as an agricultural research hub.

The site consists of 250 hectares of sandy high-country soils, over 800 hectares of flood plains soils, and 300 hectares of red gum soils. There is a feedlot accommodating 200 cattle, extensive irrigation networks and pasturing. The centre's current research portfolio includes revegetation, crop agronomy, cattle and sheep genetics, grazing management, animal wellbeing, livestock nutrition, and meat production and quality.

In November last year, a significant fire damaged the centre and adjacent research laboratory. Its capabilities are currently, albeit temporarily, reduced, with damages running into an estimated $5 million. My motion implores this council to acknowledge the importance of the Struan Research Centre and note the current opportunity to not only repair but improve the facilities. It would be a missed opportunity if the Malinauskas government dismissed the chance to inject targeted funding into local agricultural research.

The Struan Research Centre forms an important part of our state's historical and current research and development into agriculture, as well as being a hub for agricultural technology. Research and development underpin agricultural productivity now and into the future and, consequently, agriculture's contribution to our state's economy. However, over the years its capacity has reduced as resources have been cut from not just the site but from the budget.

Investing in our state's agricultural research is crucial for several reasons. Firstly, it is crucial for feeding the growing local and global population. The world's population is expected to reach nearly 10 billion people by 2050 and we will need to produce 70 per cent more food to feed everyone. South Australia is an important player in this puzzle. We are a key producer of wheat, beef, lamb, dairy products, pork, nuts, fruit and vegetables. Agricultural research can help increase food production by developing new crop varieties, improving plant and animal genetics and enhancing farming practices.

It is critical for improving food quality and safety. South Australia already has an unmatched reputation for producing and exporting high quality, safe and sustainable foods. Agricultural research can develop new techniques for pest and disease control, reduce the use of harmful chemicals and develop more economically efficient farming practices.

Agricultural research is also a vital piece for enhancing sustainability. It can help farmers adopt more sustainable practices, such as reducing water usage and improving soil health. These practices can help protect natural resources and the environment whilst ensuring long-term food security. Apparently, sustainability is something the current government is keen on—in words at least. The Struan Research Centre has been a key player in developing sustainable and efficient farming practices since the 1930s.

Last, but certainly not least, it is important for supporting economic development. Under the former Marshall Liberal government, PIRSA reported that agriculture generated $14.4 billion for the then South Australian economy in 2019-20. It supported more than 70,000 jobs across the state and we were on track to see that growth continue to $23 billion by 2030 under the former government. To not sustain an investment is to sell our state short.

Investing to increase agricultural productivity, diversity, job creation and boost regional economies helps us all. Overall, investing in agricultural research, without doubt, has significant benefits for South Australia. I would like to take this opportunity to reiterate my previously publicised belief that this centre has even greater potential than everything I have already mentioned. There are other opportunities, such as training and education, which can sit alongside this research facility.

I challenge the government and Minister Scriven to think beyond what has been lost in the November fire. I believe the centre could be a hub for teaching excellence, not just research alone. There is a chronic workforce shortage across our regions. We know there is limited course availability and a lack of local places to further agricultural-based education in country South Australia.

With new investment, the Struan Research Centre could once again become an agricultural teaching institute alongside a research hub, as it was when first opened in the 1930s. This would surely go some way to addressing the lack of training in our regions and improve agricultural graduate numbers. Having students work so closely to a research hub would also encourage further research and education opportunities.

Now is the time to ensure that the new facility is fit for purpose, and we must be courageous in our vision for what the future for agricultural research and training can and should be. I encourage all members in this chamber to applaud our agricultural researchers and to stand by this motion and to stand by South Australian farmers both now and in the future. I commend the motion to the house.

Debate adjourned on motion of Hon. I.K. Hunter.