Incremental transformation – success from system synergy

John Kirkegaard

CSIRO Agriculture and Food, Australia,

The global food security challenge has prompted many to propose the need for “transformational change” in food production systems through technological breakthroughs.  These transformative technologies are often distinguished from “incremental” advances which are dismissed as business as usual, and inadequate to achieve the productivity improvements sought.  At face value, it may seem trite to be critical of aspirations to achieve such breakthroughs, but in a world of diminishing expenditure in agricultural research it will be important to target dwindling R&D dollars well.  Proposed transformative changes often focus on one component of a system – a new genetically modified crop; a more effective biological fertiliser; a new satellite-guided planter – often by largely disconnected research disciplines.  In reality, and throughout history, few individual technologies have been singularly transformational either in the scale or the speed with which they have influenced productivity.  Rather, step changes in productivity have come only when combinations of technologies, often a mix of old and new, synergise within a system.  The first agricultural revolution arose from a combination of pre-existing, individual technologies most of which were centuries old, but it was the combination that made them so effective. We need to envisage the necessary synergies among the novel genetic and management strategies currently being pursued, and to structure ourselves and our R&D processes more effectively to capture them on farm.  Recent examples of “incremental transformation” emerging from agronomic efforts to improve whole-farm productivity in Australia will be considered which “do more with less” by using more of the season and more of the soil.


The Australian Society of Agronomy is the professional body for agronomists in Australia. It has approximately 500 active members drawn from government, universities, research organisations and the private sector.

Photo Credits

David Marland Photography Southern Farming Systems Agriculture Victoria

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