Welcome to another edition of eChook! In this edition, I would like to talk about the delicate balance between discovery of new knowledge and the industry relevance of that new knowledge. It is often difficult to assess the impact of research outcomes on industry, despite attempts to link research outcomes to economic measures.
For applied nutrition research, the credibility of the result hinges on its relevance to practice. This was a key point of discussion recently at a nutrition workshop organised jointly by Australian Egg Corporation Limited (AECL) and the Rural Industries R&D Corporation.
The workshop, held at the University of Sydney’s Camden campus, was open to all of the young researchers engaged in poultry science. With a focus on ingredient evaluation and feed formulation, the workshop combined years of practical experience with current knowledge of poultry nutrition. The presenters, key industry experts Drs David Creswell, Ron MacAlpine and Tim Walker, gave overviews of various sectors of the poultry industry pitched at the right level for the audience. “The workshop was expertly conducted, in-depth and highly relevant”, commented Dr Mark Geier of SARDI. “Researchers really need to have industry input into the design of our experiments from time to time. This workshop was just great and I am sure everyone appreciated the time and effort put in by our industry colleagues”, said Dr Xiuhua Li of the University of Queensland.
One of the discussion points was that some production-related research papers published in journals and conference proceedings, such as in the areas of nutrition, feed processing and feed additives, report results considerably below commercial performance standards expected for major poultry breeds. This is odd because under the clean, relatively disease-free research environment, bird performance is expected to be slightly better than industry best practice. Unfortunately such papers further widen the gap between industry and academia, owing to industry concerns about the relevance of such work, potentially leading to disengagement of industry from academic and research institutions.
Whilst we should not discourage curiosity driven research, which is the basis of many of the most significant discoveries, it is important for applied researchers to understand where our research outcome is to be applied and whether it can be applied. In my opinion, the argument that relative gains in efficiency compared with a control group does not need to meet commercial performance standards is flawed. Industry may doubt that the same relative differences can be achieved when the birds are required to perform at commercial standards.
Food security remains a top priority for the world. Therefore, those of us who carry out applied animal nutrition research have a significant role to play in producing “more from less” in an innovative and sustainable manner. This makes it incumbent upon us to convincingly demonstrate to industry that our gains in the laboratory can be replicated in the field. Otherwise, industry will be unwilling to trial our research outcomes, and there will be no need to measure their impact on industry.