Primary industries discuss innovation strategies

Published 25 November 2008

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An international authority on innovation says the challenge for industry posed by the global economic crisis is to “look ahead” and not “batten down the hatches”.

John Bessant, Professor of Innovation and Technology Management in the Tanaka Business School at Imperial College London, is the keynote speaker at an international symposium on primary industry innovation being held at the University of New England this week.

In the short term, however, there would necessarily be a shift of emphasis in innovation to “saving money by stripping out the waste”, Professor Bessant said. “Innovation isn’t always about rocket science,” he explained, “or about needing more money.”

The symposium, titled “New Pathways to Adoption and Diffusion of Primary Industries Innovations”, began at UNE yesterday and is continuing today. Bringing together more than 100 delegates from around Australia and from New Zealand, it is supported by the Primary Industries Innovation Centre (a joint venture of UNE and the NSW Department of Primary Industries), the Cooperative Research Centre (CRC) for Sheep Industry Innovation, the CRC for Beef Genetic Technologies, Meat and Livestock Australia, the Australian Centre for International Agricultural Research, and Australian Wool Innovation Ltd. The participants are researchers, farmers, and agricultural advisers and investors, as well as representatives of industry organisations, government and non-government agencies, and agribusiness.

Professor Bessant (pictured here, left) emphasised the vital role of users in the innovation process, advocating the “democratisation” of innovation by “bringing users into the process at the front end”.

“The problem is not knowledge production, but knowledge connections – ensuring that innovations are accessible to businesses and applicable to their needs,” he said.

The convener of the symposium, Dr Philip Thomas from UNE’s School of Business, Economics and Public Policy, said the aim of the event was to identify impediments to innovation adoption, and potential solutions to them. Dr Thomas (pictured here, right) said the symposium would “provide insight into real-life innovation success, highlighting the key reasons for failure to achieve innovation and how these might be overcome in the future”.

In officially opening the symposium, the Chair of the Cooperative Research Centre for Sheep Industry Innovation, Dr John Keniry, said the current low rate of innovation adoption in many primary industries was “a fundamental challenge”.

The official opening function, at which the Speaker of the NSW Legislative Assembly and Member for Northern Tablelands, Richard Torbay, acted as MC, included the launch of a book – Mustering Moisture: the Practice of No-till Farming in Australia – which tells the stories of 12 farming families who have overcome the challenges of no-tillage and conservation farming to transform their farming operations and lifestyles.

Pam Welsh, the north-west Regional Director for Department of Primary Industries (DPI) Relations, launched Mustering Moisture. Three of the farmers featured in the book – Anne Williams from “Magomadine” (Coonamble), Bede Burke from “Glendon” (Tamworth) and Gavin Hombsch from “Hyfield” (Tamworth) – were present at the launch.

Mustering Moisture, published by the Primary Industries Innovation Centre (PIIC), was produced with funds raised through a no-tillage conference that PIIC convened in Tamworth in March 2006.

THE PHOTOGRAPH of Professor John Bessant (left) and Dr Philip Thomas displayed here was taken during this week’s symposium at UNE.