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U.S. Researcher Moves Down Under

Dr. James Kennedy leaves Oregon State to manage Australian research

by Peter Mitham
Dr James Kennedy phenolics research
Dr. James Kennedy hopes to complete his move to Adelaide, Australia by January 2009.
Corvallis, Ore. -- The current research page for Oregon State University's Department of Food Science and Technology displays a photo of associate professor Dr. James Kennedy in the midst of teaching, apparently sharing his findings regarding winegrape phenolics with a class of budding viticulturists. But although the University of California, Davis, alumnus has been one of the luminaries of OSU's faculty, Kennedy will soon be heading to Adelaide, Australia to become a research manager with the Australian Wine Research Institute, attracted by a level of support that he said just isn't available in the United States.

Kennedy's department at OSU touts a $1.9-million research program, so it's not a mere question of cash that's prompting Kennedy to make his move; rather, it's the planning that structures the funding.

While research funds in the U.S. are typically allocated on a year-to-year basis, the Australian industry enjoys government support that usually runs on a seven-year cycle. It's the sort of framework that allows for long-term research projects, the type Kennedy hopes to pursue as a research manager in Adelaide.

"I've been well-funded by the industry here," he told Wines & Vines "(But) the funding mechanism is very much different than it is in Australia."

The industry needs long-term research projects, Kennedy said, something that allows researchers to develop the well-rounded projects that have benefited Australia's wine industry. Without these, researchers must work within a shorter timeframe, reflecting the risk that funding may disappear.

"It's very difficult to establish long-term research projects when every year you're being evaluated," he said. "It tends to make the projects more short-term."

Pierce's disease is one example he cited as an issue that could benefit from long-term funding, giving researchers the support needed for comprehensive, in-depth investigations. The relatively new National Grape and Wine Initiative (NGWI) is helping to address research issues, Kennedy said, but he noted--as NGWI spokespeople do--that the critical element is funding. "It's really about: How do we get more research money into this machine?" he said.

NGWI chair Mary Wagner was unavailable for comment prior to deadline, but the NGWI estimates that researchers in Australia enjoy approximately $35 million per year in funding. Government is a major contributor, while in the U.S., industry bears the brunt of funding viticulture and enology research.

Indeed, federal funding represents a significant slice of the AU$23.4 million being spent to develop the new 70,000-square-foot building for Australia's Wine Innovation Cluster at Adelaide University's Waite Campus, where Kennedy will be working.

Kennedy hopes to be in Adelaide by January 2009. While the prospect of collaborating with 100-plus scientists excites him, he regrets having to go to Australia for the opportunities. Though he held a post-doctoral fellowship at Adelaide University in 2000-2001, Kennedy has enjoyed participating in the U.S. wine industry.

"It's an exciting industry here," he said. "But it's tough. I wish I had the resources to do what I would really like to do here. I love phenolic research; it's got a tremendously important role in wine quality and I love doing research like that, but what I want to do requires so much more in terms of resources than what I have currently."

Kennedy is the latest U.S. researcher to plan a move overseas. Among the most prominent of the recent departures was that of Dr. Thomas Henick-Kling, who left New York's Cornell University last year to become director of the National Wine and Grape Industry Centre at Charles Stuart University in Australia.
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