R&D has a new face

Published Forestry Bulletin – 24 June 2014

The Introduction of a commodity levy means the way the forest growing industry funds research has changed.

This has coincided with changes to the way research is managed.

 Expect better communications and wider consultation with growers, both from those who are overseeing the research and from the scientists who are being funded to get results.

The Forest Growers Levy Trust has allocated about half the levy funds that will be raised in 2014 to research and development. Based on the recommendations of the industry’s Forest Research Committee (FRC), the FOA and FFA, six research programmes are being funded: bio-protection, emerging species, fire, foliar diseases, phytophthora and sustainable intensification.

The people in charge of the new regime are FRC chair David Balfour and FOA research manager Russell Dale (see profile p8). Balfour has overseen the establishment of the FRC as well as the technical subcommittees that handle the detail of the research projects.

Other FRC members are deputy chair Grant Dodson (City Forests), Patrick Milne (FFA), Glen Murphy (Waiariki Institute of Technology), Ian Hinton (Timberlands), Philip Elworthy (Matariki Forests) and Dave Lowry (Hancock). Scion CEO Warren Parker is not a member, but he attends all committee meetings.

“Committee members have been appointed as industry experts and not as representatives of their employing organisation. This is an important distinction,” says Balfour.

“Our main focus is to ensure our research programme delivers benefits to both current and future levy payers. This means achieving the outcomes targeted in the industry’s Science and Innovation Plan.”

With the committee and subcommittees working smoothly, his focus is now on putting milestones in place against which payments are made to Scion and other research providers.

The industry has a tradition of voluntarily funding research by coalitions of the willing. This will continue alongside research that is co-funded by government, levy payers through the Forest Growers Levy Trust, Scion and others.

Current examples are research into radiata breeding and genomics, weed control and steep slope harvesting. These did not make the cut for levy funding, because of a lack of funds, but the programmes are continuing with the support of consortiums of forest owners, government and Scion.

The steep slope programme, funded by the Primary Growth Partnership, Scion and Future Forests Research (FFR) is now being managed on contract by the FOA through the R&D manager. The intellectual property (IP) from this research will continue to be held by the FFR consortium.

The weed research is funded by the Sustainable Farming Fund, Scion and a consortium of forest owners. It also is being managed on contract by the FOA through the R&D manager.

The Radiata Pine Breeding Company’s research programme will remain independent, but Balfour says the two organisations will keep in close contact so that research effort is not duplicated.

“If groups of companies wish to voluntarily fund research that is line with the S&I Plan but not funded by the Levy Trust, the committee is willing to oversee that research. This will ensure it dovetails into research that is co-funded by levies. But I don’t see the committee raising additional funds from industry for research.”

Balfour says getting clarity about the ownership of IP is important and setting up systems to manage access to past and future IP is a priority.

“The default position is that previous research papers will be made available to levy payers. The only exception at this stage is the germplasm of Radiata, Douglas-fir and other species, which is restricted to those who funded past research,” he says.  

Research Overview

Levy-funded research is managed by four technical sub-committees made up of representatives from the Forest Research Committee, the FOA and FFA.

The technical sub-committees and their convenors are:

  • Forest biosecurity: Dave Lowry
  • Emerging species: Patrick Milne
  • Fire: Murray Dudfield, NRFA
  • Sustainable intensification: Ian Hinton