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Year in review

By Professor John McVeigh, Hub Director
20 December 2021

It’s been a whirlwind year establishing the Southern Queensland Northern New South Wales Drought Resilience Adoption and Innovation Hub, since the national program was announced by the Australian Government in April. 

The hubs (there are eight across the country) bring together organisations working across research, development, extension, adoption and commercialisation, and get them working together in response to the needs of farmers, agribusiness and communities in their region. 

There’s a wealth of research out there that can help our agricultural industries and our regional communities build their resilience, and it’s the role of our Hub to make sure the best of that knowledge reaches the people who can make the best use of it. The current Hub funding extends until June 2024, and at the end of that time, we’ll know we have succeeded if we have helped make sure that research has been applied on the ground, to benefit industry and community. 

To that end, in May, we started the recruitment process for key staff members, and we now have many onboard and already working to give farmers and rural and regional communities the tools they need to transform their businesses and communities, to be more resilient to our increasingly drier climate. 

Our team members currently include: 

  • Knowledge Broker Dr Ann Starasts 
  • Hub Manager Leia Grimsey 
  • Node Managers Ally Murray (hosted at RAPAD in Longreach), Wim Linstrom (hosted at the Queensland College of Wine Tourism in Stanthorpe), Lu Hogan (at the Dedicated Node at the University of New England, Armidale) and Amanda Scott (hosted at Farming Together Program at the Southern Cross University in Lismore) 
  • Researchers Dr Jennifer Luke (Wellbeing & Employability), Dr Vivekananda Mittahalli Byrareddy (Agribusiness), Dr Thong Nguyen-Huy (Climate/Finance). 

Very soon, we know there will also be Node Managers at Roma (hosted by Southern Queensland Landscapes) and at Narrabri (by the New South Wales Department of Primary Industries and the  Local Land Services). 

Dedicated Armidale Node 

The SQNNSW Hub responded quickly to the Department of Agriculture, Water and the Environment’s request for an expansion of the Hub by including an additional node in Armidale, hosted by the University of New England (UNE). 

Regular meetings with UNE have resulted in an updated, integrated submission to the Department for the additional $2 million to establish the UNE-hosted Armidale Node.  

The result of this is exciting for land managers and communities across the Hub region. The Dedicated Node will demonstrate technologies and adaptations. This will include four demonstration sites in Northern New South Wales, events and case studies. 

Members and Network Partners 

We are also very grateful for the many Members and Network Partners who have joined our Hub, offering a wide range of expertise and resources. These members and partners are helping to apply proven drought-resilience research on the ground, improving innovation and adoption across agriculture, industry and community. 

The Hub’s extensive collaboration contacts includes farming and natural resource management groups, industry organisations, universities, state government, research providers and agribusiness. 

Increasing scope 

On 6 October, Australia’s Minister for Agriculture David Littleproud announced the nation’s drought hubs will broaden their focus, to expand the focus to drive agricultural innovation beyond drought. 

The Australian Government has allocated additional funding for each hub, including the SQNNSW Hub, to develop regionally focused and responsive innovation and adoption strategies and to undertake activities. 

This was a very exciting announcement for our Hub, and for Northern New South Wales and Southern Queensland. 

We have already connected with stakeholders across the region, including our members, partners and supporters, about how we can help build resilient primary industries and communities. 

Now, we can go much further as we enable people to collaborate and deliver regionally targeted productivity gains through further agricultural innovation. 

The additional funding provided by the Future Drought Fund will enhance the work already underway. 

We know the depth of innovation in agriculture and rural and regional communities, and we look forward to working with innovators and creators to build stronger, more resilient regions. 

Science to Practice Forum 

Looking ahead, in 2022 the annual Science to Practice Forum will be held on June 7-9, and as a Hub, we will be participating, as we did in the 2021 event. 

This year’s inaugural event introduced the eight Hubs, and representatives gave engaging presentations on the triple bottom line of drought resilience: increased economic, environmental and social resilience.

Hub Members found the forum an immensely valuable information sharing and networking opportunity. Unfortunately, we were unable to hold the planned physical event in Toowoomba due to the COVID-19 situation, however, with the hybrid model in place for the Forum, we were able to pivot to be online only.

We were overwhelmed with the interest and willingness of our Hub partners to collaborate and contribute to making the Science to Practice Innovation Forum such a success through their presentations and discussions.

A large percentage of attendees identified through participant data collection were from the Southern Queensland and Northern New South Wales region to hear presentations including one from Knowledge Broker Dr Ann Starasts, and the Hub’s introductory video.

Watch the 2021 Science to Practice Forum online

Hearing from you 

Rural and regional residents and community already have a good idea of what they need to thrive in the 21st Century – trustworthy data and decent access to it.

It’s a message heard loud and clear. Our team have completed an initial round of workshops and sessions held both in person and online, to help us plan the Hub’s activities for the next three years, across topics such as data access, wellbeing, emerging environmental markets, decision making and drought preparedness.  

Community and industry are calling the shots on this drought resilience planning. We’ve held workshops across the region and due to COVID-19 four online workshops as well so that our stakeholders could ‘point us in the right direction’, and they weren’t shy. 

Across all of the sessions, data and connectivity were raised again and again. 

Whether it’s on the farm or on the other side of the gate, people want access to solid, reliable data that’s relevant to their local area. They want to be able to make good decisions. 

It doesn’t matter if it’s about insurance, weather forecasting, pasture condition, personal wellbeing, water quality, risk management or nutrition. We’ve heard pretty clearly that people want this data presented in a user-friendly way, that they can integrate into their on-property operations or within their regional businesses.  

And they want trust. They want to be able to a) trust the data is relevant to them, especially if they’re changing their management based on it and b) they want to be able to trust in their data ownership and privacy.

Read more about the workshop outcomes

Collaboration in action 

As a Hub, there were other messages from the co-design process that we’ve taken to heart, and these were reinforced at the first Queensland Red Cross Drought Resilience, Relief and Recovery Forum in Brisbane on 2 December, which our team attended. There were some key messages that reflected what we had been hearing throughout the co-design process: our rural and regional stakeholders expect the Hub (and all those involved in drought resilience) to collaborate locally, work together and work with communities. 

We know that the Northern New South Wales and Southern Queensland region is diverse, and we know its industries are varied, and at the heart of it all, we know the people are the reason we are here.  

The Hub is about helping people find a way to maintain the sustainability of the landscapes, families, businesses and communities (human and natural) of the region. The next few years are going to be exciting, but more importantly, they’re going to be fruitful.