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MLA’s delivery of higher impact RD&A for the red meat industry

16 February 2021
Meat & Livestock Australia

With MLA’s Strategic Plan 2025 a little over 12 months in operation, Mick Crowley, General Manager – Research, Development & Adoption, talks about how MLA’s RD&A program areas, particularly the Investment Call, are evolving to align with MLA’s guiding principles to direct resources into fewer, higher-impact programs of work that will deliver the best outcomes for industry.

Can you explain what the Investment Call is and how it fits within the Regional Consultation model for R&D investment?

MLA’s Investment Call is one part of our broader Regional Consultation model, established in 2015 to better assist in directing research, development and adoption (RD&A) investment for grassfed cattle and sheepmeat levies.

The Regional Consultation process aims to ensure national and regionally-relevant research, development and adoption priorities are identified to deliver optimum value back to grassfed beef and sheepmeat businesses and the red meat industry.

Key to this consultation framework are the three regional Research Councils: North Australia Beef Research Council (NABRC), Southern Australia Livestock Research Council (SALRC) and Western Australia Livestock Research Council (WALRC). Each of the councils have a sub-structure of regional committees ensuring broad representation of the interests of northern, southern and western grassfed cattle, sheep and lamb levy payers.

Today the process specifically empowers grassfed beef and sheepmeat producers to directly influence the on-farm research, development and adoption activities their levies are invested in. The Investment Call forms the most visible part of this – where priorities identified by producers through the regional committees and industry forums are consolidated by NABRC, SALRC and WALRC, then developed into Terms of Reference, and finally submissions are sought for projects that align to the priorities through a public call.

The Red Meat Panel provides strategic oversight of the process, and includes representatives from each of the Research Councils, as well as the peak industry councils Cattle Council of Australia and Sheep Producers Australia. The Investment Call has traditionally been an annual funding call or event.

How is the Investment Call process changing to align with the objectives of the new Strategic Plan?

Under our Strategic Plan, one of MLA’s guiding principles is to direct resources into fewer, high-impact programs of work that will deliver the best outcomes for industry (Fewer, Bigger, Bolder).

Based on this principle, longer-term, collaborative, multi-disciplinary programs have recently been developed to tackle some of industry’s key priorities such as lamb survival, calf survival and associated reproductive performance (as identified through regional consultation) through the formation of strategic partnerships. These partnerships will develop longer term programs of work that directly align to producer priorities and aim to attract new sources of project investment through the MLA Donor Company in addition to the proportional allocation of producer levies. The partnerships also aim to strike an appropriate balance between new R&D and adoption of previously completed research.

As we deliver on the Strategic Plan, all parts of MLA are continuing to change the way we plan and deliver our work, with a goal of achieving the greatest impact for levy-payers – and the research, development and adoption programs are critical to the success of the strategy.

Importantly, MLA’s Investment Call will also reflect this new strategic direction. Practically, this means a shift away from any annual funding call or event – and rather shift to funding of longer-term projects that operate over multiple years with collaborative partners and multiple funding sources.

Last year’s Investment Call process was reflective of this shift in strategic approach – with a focus on longer-term (3-5 year), collaborative and multi-disciplinary programs of work. These larger-scale, longer-term projects are now underway and utilise a significant portion of the research funding for 2022-23. As such, there will not be a call for new R&D projects this year, a process that has traditionally commenced with in February with priority setting.

What does this mean for ongoing R&D?

MLA will continue to work with the Red Meat Panel to ensure that current partnerships are progressed and funded appropriately. Some examples of ongoing projects which have been informed through regional consultation and the Investment Call include the Northern Breeding Business (NB2) to improve northern reproductive performance and calf survival; investments into improving lamb survival through the sheep reproductive strategic partnership; implementing plans to address the spread of pasture dieback; and producing new tools such as the Pasture Trial Network to compare the performance of pasture varieties.

More broadly, MLA’s Regional Consultation model and Investment Call have been extremely successful in identifying and prioritising producer R&D priorities, and there are currently 52 active projects valued at approximately $48 million from MLA’s Investment Call process which will continue to be delivered.

Of course, the very nature and structure of these longer-term projects mean there will be constant reviews within their life – ensuring they are achieving their objectives and meeting the needs and priorities of the industry and producers.

What will be the role of the Red Meat Panel and regional consultation as we move away from an annual process or event?

The Regional Consultation model remains a critical component of research, development and adoption activities at MLA given they provide an integral and essential link between grassroot producer needs and the direction of MLA funding. Importantly, the Red Meat Panel and regional research structures will be important in the delivery of MLA’s long-term strategy, especially the increased focus on adoption and uptake of research. MLA project calls that align to the RMP priorities will continue. However, this will be done in a more targeted, strategic and collaborative way to deliver greater impact from the investment. We will move away from a rigid annual structure and we will continue to review, revise and improve this model to maintain relevance and focus as industry adapts to new challenges.

The producer consultation framework and Red Meat Panel will continue to have input and oversight into the longer-term, multi-disciplinary R&D projects underway – many of which are structured to be able to respond, change and adapt within the life of the projects.

The Red Meat Panel are supportive of this new approach, and are also focused on ensuring that producers are continually consulted to ensure R&D priorities are being addressed and that outcomes remain relevant and impactful for industry. This was identified as critical when the shift towards focussing on larger, longer term programs of work was agreed to.

For example, in previous years, the priority setting process involving regional research councils commenced in February. This year, the Council’s will still be asked to submit regional and provide input on how MLA programs can meet industry targets outlined in Red Meat 2030 and MLA’s Strategic Plan 2025.

This information will also be used to help MLA provide targeted information to regions. The focus will be on engagement and feeding information back, helping producers understand what tools and research outcomes are available already and also what is relevant to them that may be in the pipeline.

As mentioned, MLA’s Strategic Plan includes increased focus on adoption and extension activities – so improving the uptake of research outcomes by producers. Given the direct link the regional consultation frameworks have with grassroots producers, we also want to expand and evolve the way we consult to include a focus on getting impact through adoption and awareness of research outcomes using the established networks.

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