Australia has a unique system of funding agricultural research and development that involves the establishment of Corporations to collect and manage statutory industry levies that are matched by public investment. The reasons for delivering public R&D investment to agriculture through such a model are numerous, and were carefully considered when the model was being established in the late 1980s. Over time, questions have arisen as to the level of public benefits generated by the Rural Research & Development Corporations (RDCs) and whether these levels are appropriate given the level of public investment provided to them. The focus recently has been on the number and size of benefits that are environmental and social in nature. However, as public investment in agricultural R&D can be justified on many grounds, determining the returns to such investment, and the appropriate levels to continue to invest, needs wider consideration. Such considerations include how the portfolio as a whole meets the other justifications for public investment including the strategic mix, supporting research infrastructure, encouraging private investment, and ensuring the socially optimal level of research is being undertaken. This article considers the historical development and reasons for funding agricultural research using the RDC model, and develops some tools that can be used to classify benefits, beneficiaries, source of investment and portfolio characteristics to demonstrate that the goals of public investment are being fulfilled. These tools can also be used as management tools in priority setting and strategic planning at the portfolio and program level – but importantly are best applied as partial inputs under a more comprehensive evaluation or priority setting approach
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