Southern Regional Panel
GRDC Southern Region Panel
Southern Region Characteristics
- - temperate climate;
- - relatively infertile soils;
- - yield depends upon reliable spring rainfall;
- - smaller enterprise size;
- - diverse production patterns and opportunities;
- - large and diverse domestic market;
- - phase farming innovator; and
- - shift in intensive livestock production and demand for feed grains to this
Susan Findlay Tickner
David Shannon -Southern Panel Chair
Kapunda grain grower David Shannon says even more than previously, he’s keen to see the Grains Research and Development Corporation (GRDC) southern panel on the road meeting growers and researchers.
Starting his third term as panel chairman, Mr Shannon is fired with enthusiasm about being a visible front for the GRDC.
“We have a good representation of growers, researchers and people from industry on the new panel, each with a fresh perspective on the task and different networks to bring to the organisation,” Mr Shannon said.
“All of us will be out there over the next two years, meeting more levy payers than ever and visiting the projects being funded.
“We’re the conduit for growers, so we need to be out there talking directly to them about their issues, so we can make sure future research is directed at making the biggest impact possible for them on-farm.
Mr Shannon has a unique perspective, having worked as a professional architect before returning to the family property to become a farmer.
The operation comprises grain production and sheep for wool and meat at Kapunda in South Australia and beef cattle production at Marrawah, north-west Tasmania.
He was awarded a Nuffield Australia Farming Scholarship in 1987, investigating grain legume production in France and the United Kingdom and identifying opportunities for farmers in Australia.
He was also the founding chairman of the Australian Durum Industry Association, and is a former board member of the Kondinin Group
Mr Shannon believes the diversity of experience brings unique problem solving skills, a different way of looking at issues, and the ability to pull people together to deliver good decisions for the industry.
“One of the great things about the panels is that we have this diverse skill set,” he said.
“We do have a majority of growers on the panels, but we also have people from industry and the sciences and they really add value to the whole experience. They bring a completely different perspective to that of growers.
“It also gets you out of your patch and gives you a feel for how other growers are dealing with similar issues in different regions and it puts it all into perspective as a whole of industry approach.”
Mr Shannon says he’s keen to see GRDC put an even greater focus on farm business management and on-farm productivity over coming years.
“Over the past decade or so, the adoption of no-till and stubble retention have proven to be some of the most influential changes in the growing of broadacre crops in Australia.
“It has not only enabled us to get better yields, but it has given us healthier soils and better water use from the rainfall that we have received.
“There is still opportunity to further reduce inputs into cropping, including through the use of no-till techniques.
“We also need to keep working on the hard nuts to crack, like drought tolerance, heat stress and frost, following any new leads in pre-breeding efforts here and overseas,” he said.
David Shannon Q&A - Click here
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Enhancing the performance of irrigated grain crops is a major goal of Shepparton district producer, Peter Schwarz, who is into his second three-year term on the Grains Research and Development Corporation (GRDC) southern panel.
After ten years of drought and low water allocations, Mr Schwarz this year has a full soil moisture profile and had to delay sowing after the summer rain which caused widespread flooding across Victoria.
He’s now planning a resumption of his traditional double cropping program, with winter wheat and probably soybeans in spring to fix nitrogen and provide a disease break.
Mr Schwarz runs a minimum-tillage operation, which sees cultivation strategically used to level irrigation bays, particularly before canola.
“As an irrigator, the availability of water is the single biggest issue which is going to dictate our operation into the future,” Mr Schwarz said.
“This year, we can push the boundaries a bit and strive to achieve additional yield because water is available and affordable for our irrigation in spring.
“The other major issue is weed management and we’ve adopted a varied chemical application system to minimise the risk of herbicide resistance, a major issue for many producers in this area.”
Mr Schwarz says he would like to see GRDC-funded research focus on break crops in both dryland and irrigation areas.
“I think break crops are going to become more critical as the need increases to put nitrogen and other nutrients into the soil.”
Mr Schwarz feels he brings a different perspective to the Southern Panel when it comes to developing research priorities.
“I didn’t come from a family farm but bought into farming 15 years ago so I bring other life experiences to our farming operation and the southern panel and I also bring an irrigator perspective.
“I believe in giving something back to the community and this is a way that I can do it.”
Mr Schwarz has confidence in the GRDC panel system as a way to focus research to specific parts of Australia.
“I think the panel has a good balance of both skills and geographic spread.
“An example is people who have had crop breeding experience, as they bring something that I can’t bring. However, I bring other background and insights to the table and that balance is important.
“I see the panel as a good check, so if a project is going to get up, we examine the implications at a farm level.”
Mr Schwarz is impressed with the diverse spread of panel members and the ability of the panel to tap into issues of concern to local producers.
“We’re able to get around to a range of events and we really do hear about the key problem issues affecting growers.”
He also feels there are personal benefits in having an involvement with the panel.
“I feel I’m contributing to make the grains industry sustainable in the long term and I’ve also gained significant knowledge in areas outside of those I’m directly involved in.
“It’s not for everyone but if you want to get involved in the grains industry in a deeper way, then this is certainly another way to be involved which can be very rewarding.”
Peter Schwarz Q&A - Click here
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Dr Chris Blanchard
The health benefits of faba beans, the marketability of export chickpeas and the direction of Australian wheat quality are just some of the special areas of knowledge of Wagga Wagga-based scientist Dr Chris Blanchard.
Dr Blanchard has been on the Grains Research and Development Corporation (GRDC) Southern Panel since July 2008 and mixes his lecturing duties at Charles Sturt University (CSU) with research into the beneficial properties of grains, including his major finding, the strong antioxidant properties of faba beans.
“We’re trying to understand what it is that is good about particular grains so we can promote those health benefits to consumers, which will hopefully improve health outcomes by eating particular grains,” Dr Blanchard said.
“One of the projects we’re working on is looking at the antioxidant properties of faba beans.
“We’ve already found if you are eating a handful of faba beans a day, then you are possibly getting a lot more antioxidants in your diet than you would from eating some of the traditional antioxidants, such as fruit, vegetables and green tea.
“I think that is something a lot of people are unaware of.”
Dr Blanchard and his team are still only about half way through the research into the benefits of faba beans.
“Our team is now trying to find out a little bit about how faba beans may be able to decrease the incidence of cancer.
“We’re taking faba bean extract and, along with our collaborators at CSIRO, adding those to cancer cell lines in tissue culture and seeing if there are any possibilities for anti-cancer effects.”
Another project Dr Blanchard is involved with is gaining a better understanding of what our international consumers think of Australian chickpeas.
“We’re currently negotiating with Indian collaborators to do some sensory evaluation of Australian chickpeas to make sure they are just as good as the chickpeas they are sourcing from their domestic market.
“I even think our chickpeas could be better.”
Dr Blanchard also lectures in grain processing, biotechnology, nutrition and basic biochemistry, and has a real love for his work and involvement in the grains industry.
“I guess I have had a real passion for grains research for most of my life and for me this involvement with the GRDC panel was really an opportunity for me to have some input into the direction of research in Australia.
“I was prompted to take a greater leadership role because I had previously completed the Australian rural leadership program and this motivated me to try and make a difference with research in Australia.
“It’s something I’m thinking about all the time and it is something I’m really interested in. I don’t see it as a job or a commitment — it’s just what I do on a day-to-day basis.”
Dr Blanchard’s employer welcomes his ongoing involvement with the Southern Panel of the GRDC.
“The university is very supportive of me participating in the Southern Panel.
“They have been very flexible with working arrangements. As long as I can meet my teaching commitment, I’m allowed to work my GRDC commitments around that.”
Dr Blanchard also sees a large number of benefits in being involved with the future direction of research and development with the GRDC.
“I guess for me it’s a general feeling of satisfaction that I’m hopefully having a positive impact on rural Australia.
“It’s a real privilege to be able to have input into the direction of research but I guess there are some side benefits. It allows me to meet a lot of exciting researchers around the country.
“I’m also more in contact with growers and the growing community. I can get a really good understanding of what the research priorities are, which helps me in my own research.”
He says CSU also gains major benefits from the connection with the GRDC.
“The great thing about being on the panel is the knowledge I’m gaining. I can take that knowledge and feed it back into the university students.
“It’s not just the undergraduate students but the post-graduate students who are gaining major benefits.”
He’s also confident the GRDC is gaining a lot in having a strong connection with a regionally based university.
“I have hopefully brought a pretty broad scientific knowledge to the panel, certainly in the area of grain quality, and a good understanding of molecular biology and gene technology.
“I’m passionate about wheat quality because it’s crucial for the long-term sustainability of the grains industry.
“We could just go down the track of producing feed wheat but I don’t think that would support a very sustainable future for the grains industry.
“For us to maintain good export markets we have to produce the best grain in the world and so we must continue to improve our grain quality.”
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South Australian grain grower Richard Konzag compares the Grains Research and Development Corporation (GRDC) to Doctor Who’s Tardis – small on the outside, but enormous within.
“As a farmer you know the GRDC is there and you read Ground Cover when it rolls up but it isn’t until you get involved that you see how massive it is,” Mr Konzag said.
“It does an enormous amount of work; projects that are for the benefit of growers and the grains industry.”
Mr Konzag has been a member of GRDC’s Southern Panel since 2008. Initially he was invited to take part in a grains industry research course – Research Horizons for Future Grain Leaders – without realising at the time that it was a pathway for identifying potential panellists.
Noticing there was a spot for a farmer on the panel Mr Konzag applied, surprising himself by the range of skills he could bring to the position.
“At first I wondered, how am I going to get my head around this?” Mr Konzag said.
“It takes time, but you do develop an understanding of what is going on.”
Grower representation was essential, Mr Konzag said: “I am looking through farmers’ eyes and see how GRDC investments will affect growers.”
Gathering information from growers at the grass roots level was an essential part of the job of a panellist, Mr Konzag said, either through direct contact or through consultations with the Research Advisory Committees (RAC) across the panels’ cropping zones.
This ensured that growers’ research dollars were targeted into the right research areas.
Another essential role for the panellists was to take that research back to growers so they could see where the money was spent.
This did involve a significant workload, with a lot of email traffic and reading to be done, Mr Konzag said.
He’s been on South Australia’s Advisory Board of Agriculture – appointed by the state’s Minister for Agriculture to provide advice on agricultural matters – which has helped provide quick input on burning regional issues.
“I’ve brought a network of contacts who are helpful in communicating issues: I can ring and find out what’s happening in their patch,” he said.
“It’s vital to have a grass roots look at things, from a farmer’s perspective.”
Mr Konzag farms Parkview on the edge of the town of Mallala, in South Australia’s Lower North cropping region.
This year he has around 1800 hectares under crop, devoted to durum wheat and bread wheat, oats for hay, lentils, faba beans and barley, with the largest acreage devoted to bread wheat.
As a panellist, he’s been very involved in looking at the dual streams of new farming methods and new grains.
A key project has been the Co-operative Research Centre for Plant Biosecurity which holds responsibility for the GRDC’s grain storage investments on behalf of farmers and bulk grain handlers.
Mr Konzag said his own farm had benefited from seeing GRDC research up close: he’s hosted his own farm trials using a phosphorus-solubising agent combined with rhizobium bacteria to help nodulation on legume crops.
The agent had been trialled and proven in a GRDC project and Mr Konzag’s own results were in line with those findings, he said.
And with grains storage such a high priority within his own program area, Mr Konzag saw more benefits flowing to his own operation.
“I’m planning to build on-farm storage in the near future: the information I have learned will help me to build a better system,” he said.
Ultimately though, it was panellists’ responsibility to look at the big picture on research priorities, Mr Konzag said, nominating root diseases and pathogens, Integrated Pest Management (IPM) and grains biosecurity as high priority issues.
“Realistically, the GRDC is all about helping Australian grain growers to be more competitive, about making them more profitable,” he said.
“All of this is important; we get to prioritise the research. What’s not important doesn’t get funded,” he said.
Richard Konzag Q&A - Click here
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South Australian farm consultant Bill Long is a man with an appetite for change, but not just for change’s sake.
A farmer, researcher and communicator with 30 years experience in the grains industry, Mr Long sees the use of risk modelling as one of the keys to a sustained lift in farm productivity, in a climate that is constantly changing.
He’s currently studying for a Masters in Agricultural Science on the role of decision support tools in farm business decision-making.
It’s research that should prove integral to Mr Long’s role as a new southern panel member with the Grains Research and Development Corporation (GRDC).
“Modelling has a big role to play in increasing farm profitability because it can be used to challenge conventional thinking that can limit us at times,” Mr Long said.
“Crop models are essentially learning tools that inform the intuitive thought processes from which we develop the ‘rules of thumb’ that we live by.”
Mr Long says crop models are used to fast-track experience that would otherwise take years to accumulate, and to give confidence when making both simple and complex farm decisions.
He cites APSIM, the CSIRO’s agricultural production simulation model, as one tool that can give farmers the edge.
APSIM is a key plank in the groundbreaking BCG Yield Prophet program run nationally by the Birchip Cropping Group. It’s aimed at improving the capacity of advisors and ultimately farmers to make better crop management decisions by ‘experiencing’ a complete range of production outcomes at any stage throughout the season.
For the past four years Mr Long has been a member of the Yield Prophet committee of advisors, scientists and researchers developing the system as a decision support tool.
Working as part of a collaborative team to set research goals, run trials and deliver information is nothing new for Mr Long.
In 2005 he and research colleague Michael Richards set up Ag Excellence Alliance, a network of grower managed production groups in South Australia that aims to deliver on-ground change to influence more than 3000 producers and 80 farm advisors.
In partnership with his wife, Jeanette, Mr Long had already launched Ag Consulting Co, an advisory, training and agricultural research business based at Ardrossan on the Yorke Peninsula.
Ag Consulting Co works primarily with farming families on the Peninsula and in the lower and mid north regions of SA, some of whom Mr Long has been working with for more than 20 years.
It is helping farm businesses grow and develop through good agronomy and management principles that he is most passionate about.
“Working with farmers who are faced with a range of challenging production and management issues on a daily basis allows rapid identification of research priorities,” Mr Long said.
Ag Consulting Co initially conducted trials on behalf of clients and through Mr Long’s work with the Yorke Peninsula Alkaline Soils Group continued to address local production issues like snail management, the use of honeybees for crop pollination, best practice farming in alkaline soils, and controlled traffic systems, and made the results of the research available to the farming community in general.
Mr Long’s interest in pollination practices of the native honeybee won him a Churchill Fellowship in 2009, and he travelled to the UK, Europe and the United States to gain a better understanding of the impact of Varroa mite on honeybee numbers and its subsequent effects on crop pollination.
“We need to understand the role of alternative species of pollinators to the European honeybee so that we’re ready when the Varroa mite decimates our feral honeybee population that does so much of our pollination for free,” Mr Long said.
“And we need to think more carefully about insecticide use and its impact on all insects which improve pollination in pulse and oilseed crops.”
Trials in bean crops at several sites over several years showed improved pollination practices in the early flowering stages could lift yields by 400kg/ha, which is as much as 50 per cent, in a poor year.
In 2007 Mr Long and his research colleagues set up another business to continue research into hive management techniques to improve pollination of pulse and oilseed crops in dryland farming systems, and also to operate as a successful commercial pollination and honey production business.
With Jeanette, he has spent a lifetime building and managing a cropping, livestock and viticultural operation at Ardrossan and Undalya in the mid north region of SA. Together, they have purchased, leased and sharefarmed properties across the region.
In 2004, Mr Long initiated a machinery syndication group, Piccadilly Partners, with his neighbours to buy the latest seeding systems and implement the use of no-till equipment with high accuracy guidance.
It was a rewarding arrangement with the group sharing resources and overcoming skills, labour shortages and financial limitations that each business had previously faced alone.
Mr Long’s career in research, extension and business has given him a sense of one thing that’s missing in agriculture – enough qualified people.
“We need 2000 university graduates to meet the research and development needs of industry but we only have 700, because we are competing against mining and not selling agriculture well enough,” Mr Long said.
He’s committed to improving the quality of advice to industry, something he believes the GRDC could assist with.
“Fifty per cent of farmers on 80 per cent of Australia’s arable land employ fee-for-service consultants or advisors, so we have to make sure the skills of those advisors are world class,” Mr Long said.
Bill Long Q&A - Click here
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Straight talking Condobolin grain grower Chris Jones describes himself as a real ‘opportunity farmer’ and says it was flexibility that helped him to survive the drought.
Being open to opportunity has given Mr Jones a wealth of experience to bring to the position of new southern panel member for the Grains Research and Development Corporation (GRDC).
Mr Jones has held leadership positions in the national Grain & Graze program as the regional chairperson and the local Central West Farming Systems and Mid Lachlan Water Users groups, as well as designing, patenting and marketing a no till conservation drill manufactured in the US.
He is currently taking part in a pilot program to harvest mallee trees for energy on his property Brotherony, near Condobolin in central west NSW.
“I don’t believe in belonging to any group too long but you learn a hell of a lot and you get to have your two bob’s worth at meetings, instead of walking away and wishing you’d said something afterwards,” Mr Jones said.
When Mr Jones first bought the 4700ha Brotherony in 1984 he grew irrigated crops and ran beef cattle. In 1996 when government subsidies were available for laser levelling, he opted instead to put in a lateral irrigator, anticipating the need for water conservation into the future.
Irrigation was no longer an option in 2004 and he ran out of cattle feed, so offloaded his herd and turned Brotherony into a dryland wheat and sheep operation, running 2000 Dohne ewes and turning off lambs.
He finds it puzzling that livestock have languished in the current farming climate and wonders why they’re not given more priority.
“You don’t see people driving old tractors on farms but many are content to run old shearing sheds and infrastructure,” Mr Jones said.
While he survived the drought by chasing opportunities, he admits they were ordinary years. In 2007 his entire harvest was 11 bags of wheat and 14 tons of barley.
One positive factor was his design of a single disc drill for use in conservation farming, a breakthrough Mr Jones attributes to spending too many hours on a tractor with too much time to think.
He patented the design and in 2007 licenced it to the US company Amity Technology LLC, which manufactures the single disc drill in Fargo, North Dakota. Recently Amity completed a joint venture with AGCO enlarging distribution opportunities worldwide. Mr Jones remains the Australian distributor.
A proponent of conservation farming since the early 1980s, Mr Jones was inspired by a US research trip where he met some of the original members of the North Dakota Manitoba No Till group, headed by the renowned ‘No Hoe’ Joe Breker. These farmers have been practicing no-till farming for more than 30 years and are leaders in their field.
He returned the favour recently when six past presidents of the group visited Australia and attended the conservation field day at Trangie, in the central west.
While he acknowledges that the Americans have been conservation farming for longer, Mr Jones says Australian farmers are more efficient because they’ve had to adapt to a lack of government support, a shortage of staff, and a variable climate.
He has a keen interest in development and research and is currently taking part in a pilot program through Greenline Biomass that aims to provide carbon neutral energy from mallee plantations to replace coal usage.
More than two million native mallee trees will be grown in the central west and harvested and processed into renewable fuel pellets that can be readily substituted for coal in the existing base-load coal fired power station.
When asked what he sees as the key issue confronting agriculture, Mr Jones only half-jokingly says, “The bureaucrat with the ballpoint pen”.
He’s also worried about the perception of farmers in the city and thinks it’s an issue that should be addressed.
“We don’t sell ourselves well and the reality is most farmers are greener than city people because we want to be able to hand something on to our kids,” he said.
“I would like to see the GRDC consider an education program because what urban people know and don’t know or understand about farming is scary.”
Mr Jones is also keen to ensure industry and government maintain funding for independent research, believing it is critical to taking farming into the future.
He believes farming systems like Grain & Graze offer the best chance of research success by involving all sectors, from retired scientists, private industry and Department of Primary Industry extension officers to leading farmers and graziers who are long term natural innovators.
“It costs money to install latest technology and farmers are inherently very conservative, but if you pick a leading individual other farmers will learn from his success,” Mr Jones said.
Chris Jones Q&A - Click here
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The world of agricultural research has changed markedly since 1970 when Neil Fettell graduated from the University of Sydney with first class honours in Ag Science.
Dr Fettell has spent the past 36 years as a senior research agronomist at the Agricultural Research Station at Condobolin in the central west of NSW, and brings his expertise to the role of new southern panel member for the Grains Research and Development Corporation (GRDC).
Research is not just a job to Dr Fettell, it’s his passion, and he’s happy with the way it’s evolved to be more inclusive of stakeholders.
“Over the past 10 to 15 years the move to include farmers in research and have them more involved in setting goals and sitting on committees for organisations like the GRDC has ensured better targeted research,” Dr Fettell said.
“People doing more lab-based work need these interactions to recognise what’s happening at the farm level.”
Dr Fettell wound back his research work this year to take on the GRDC panel position and lecture part time in grain production for the School of Environmental and Rural Science at the University of New England (UNE).
That’s in addition to working his 260ha irrigation farm, Myuna, 30km from Condobolin.
The farm has a 1000ML licence from the Lachlan River and when there’s water, grows wheat, millet and lucerne.
For the past five or six dry years Dr Fettell has run sheep for prime lamb production and grown oats, and says farming and working in a rural area gives him a different perspective.
His ability to translate research results into best practice for farmers was acknowledged by the GRDC when it presented Dr Fettell with the 2002 Seed of Light award for excellence in extension and communication.
The award noted Dr Fettell was ‘a phenomenon in his region, respected by scientists and farmers alike, which makes him particularly valuable as a communicator of ideas’.
His communication record shows Dr Fettell’s strong commitment to delivering research results direct to farmers.
In the past 10 years he has been invited to speak at approximately 50 field days, 40 farmer and advisor meetings and more than 29 GRDC updates and has done 11 radio interviews.
“There’s no one way to communicate because farmers all respond differently to information, but personally I find the on-ground touch of talking with the scientist is the quickest way to get research out and get instant feedback,” Dr Fettell said.
He’s currently delivering the UNE’s Sustainable Grain Production course by distance education, sharing the job with two other lecturers in Armidale, NSW and Bendigo, Victoria.
The course has been successfully run in the northern GRDC region for some time and allows farmers, advisors and others to up-skill without leaving their farms or workplaces.
Dr Fettell has relished the opportunity to network extensively with industry and scientists through his work on many collaborative projects, including the Southern Barley Agronomy Project covering three states, the Low Rainfall Collaboration Group and the Water Use Efficiency Project, which also involved the CSIRO and the South Australian Research and Development Institute.
“I’ve made a conscious effort to work with other groups because it keeps me intellectually stimulated and up to date, and you benefit from instant feedback in the two-way conversation,” Dr Fettell said.
Asked about his research priorities as a GRDC panel member, he remarks on the need to continue the productivity gains that have so far kept farmers ahead.
“We’ve seen big breakthroughs like the use of GM technology to combat insect and weed problems in cotton, but it’s also important to keep making the small incremental gains like fine tuning the efficiency of phosphorus fertiliser,” he said.
“Of course it’s also about getting the best value from the research dollar, being smart and lean.”
He has concerns about the impact of any drop in funding for rural research in the wake of last year’s draft Productivity Commission report, which suggested that the Federal Government reduce their matching of the research levy paid by farmers.
Dr Fettell says that funding is also critical to ensure the continued training of agronomists and to maintain groups of skilled researchers.
“There is a limit to researchers going from one grant to another and if you want good staff you have to invest in them, because research has a joint benefit - it’s for the public good,” he said.
“We need to encourage good people by showing them a rewarding career path in agricultural research, as we’re competing with other industries for skilled people,” he said.
Dr Neil Fettell Q&A - Click here
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His Barmedman farm might look fantastic after receiving almost its annual rainfall in the past six months, but John Minogue is under no illusions that the full impact of the drought is still to be felt.
“While the country has recovered, drought areas will continue to feel the mental and financial effects for the next five or six years,” Mr Minogue said.
“It was a defining event and we’re yet to see it played out, because a lot of farmers are still carrying big levels of debt.”
The drought taught him to never take good years for granted, and the key to survival was remaining optimistic, containing costs and maintaining motivation. Lose any of those three, he said, and there’s a huge impact.
The fact that farmers are in a fragile position both financially and emotionally will influence Mr Minogue’s work as a new southern panel member for the Grains Research and Development Corporation (GRDC).
“It makes it essential that the GRDC levies are invested where they’ll give the best possible return in terms of new research and improved viability for farmers,” Mr Minogue said.
“There’s work that shows every dollar borrowed in drought takes three years to pay back and we were in drought for six years, so it’s important to make every cent count.”
A fifth generation farmer, consultant and financial counsellor, Mr Minogue, his wife Lisa and two young sons produce crops and livestock on the 2000ha Wilga, in the Barmedman area of central western NSW.
They also run a farm consultancy, Ag and General Consulting, which services farmers on the southwest slopes of NSW.
With one son at boarding school and another to go next year, Mr Minogue thought the time was ripe to apply for a position on the GRDC panel. He’s keen to maximise every dollar contributed by government to research, but says funding is not keeping pace with what’s required.
“I think that governments see agricultural research as less of a priority now because they’re comfortable with the amount of food security here in Australia, and they’re happy to import whatever we need as well,” Mr Minogue said.
“But the sleeping giant is the global food shortage, and if politicians don’t have a broader understanding and a big picture perspective of what needs to be done to ensure we keep increasing our productivity, we’re in trouble.”
He won’t be bringing a research agenda to the GRDC table, although he’s concerned at the speed at which stripe rust is overtaking new varieties, and feels that we’ve only seen the ‘tip of the iceberg’ in terms of what genetic modification can provide.
“As advisors we need to be adaptable,” Mr Minogue said.
“Two years ago the main focus was on increasing our water use efficiency, and now the drought’s broken, it’s finding a way to control mice and locusts.”
One area of interest that has also emerged in recent years for the Minogues is the increase in corporate farming and foreign investment in their district.
They are the last family-owned farm left on their road, from the six that existed when John Minogue was a boy.
“The corporate farms use a lot of contract labour that’s not always local and doesn’t live on the farm, so we’re still trying to understand the implications of that for the local community,” Mr Minogue said.
The 2008 Central West Conservation Farmer of the Year runs a unique operation in that cattle and sheep are integrated into his no-till farming system.
While many no-till proponents believe livestock should be excluded, the Minogues run a crossbred herd of Hereford-black Angus cattle and Merino sheep on the farm.
They’ve managed to include the livestock through the use of selective grazing and exclusive grazing methods, and Mr Minogue says it’s important not to become too obsessed with having a straight conservation farming operation.
“Integrating livestock into our no till system diversified the operation from a long-term climatic and income point of view, and it is really paying dividends now that the drought has broken,” Mr Minogue said.
“No-till zealots believe nothing should compact the soil but there is evidence to suggest the damage is done with the mouth, not the hoofs, and I think as long as your ground cover targets are met, then the operation is successful.”
And he’s quick to suggest that other agricultural producer groups would do well to copy the grains industry’s research arm.
“The GRDC system of regional advisory committees reporting to the panel who communicate with the decision makers is one of the best models I’ve seen in any organisation to get grass roots direction to policy makers,” Mr Minogue said.
John Minogue Q&A - Click here
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There’s enormous potential for the grains industry in Tasmania and northern Midlands farmer Keith Pengilley intends to bring back all the best ideas he sees in his duties on the Grains Research and Development Corporation (GRDC) southern panel.
Newly appointed, and the only Tasmanian representative for some years, Mr Pengilley will have regular contact with other farmers, researchers and industry representatives on the panel as well as travelling regularly throughout the GRDC’s southern region.
“Much of Tasmania is in the High Rainfall Zone and our issues are very similar to those in parts of Victoria, including disease issues and waterlogging; our opportunities for high yield are also similar,” Mr Pengilley said.
“While local farmers are keen to take up the practices of the mainland like GPS and weed-seeker technology, there’s often not the backup available here because of our small market base.
“I’m certainly going to do my best to scope out the pros and cons of what’s happening on the mainland and see how it could be adapted for Tasmania.”
Mr Pengilley is no stranger to passing on knowledge to others, as a senior consultant with fee-for-service agricultural advisors Pengilley Consulting Pty. Ltd. and a co-founder and Managing Director of Tasmanian Agricultural Producers Pty. Ltd. (TAP).
He is also General Manager for the family’s farming operation I.M. MacKinnon & Co near Campbell Town with his wife and father-in-law, a combined holding of around 8500 hectares over four properties.
Of this 800 hectares of centre pivot irrigation is used to grow poppies and cereals; mainly malting barley for Tasmania’s brewing companies. Another 800 hectares of dryland cropping is put to poppies and barley, as well as canola which is largely sold to Japan through TAP.
The company also runs 300 breeding Angus cows and 17000 Merino ewes, half joined to Poll Dorsets for the prime lamb market and the other half to Merinos to create a self-replacing flock.
“We’ve had two exceptional years as far as rain is concerned, so there’s a very positive outlook and in particular for mixed farmers, livestock prices are exceptional.
“Tasmania is a net importer of grain of upwards of 150,000 tonnes in a normal year. This provides Tasmanian farmers with a significant opportunity. Given the current investment by the state and federal governments in irrigation systems across the key cropping areas providing more reliable access to water in the drier areas of the state, we should be able to start to capture some of this market,” Mr Pengilley said.
“Tasmania’s a bit isolated – we’re not part of the National Variety Trials (NVT) funded by the GRDC, for instance, although there are moves in that direction.
“One message I’ll be taking to the southern panel is the need for more varieties suited to local farming systems. We need more reliable and profitable options for rotations, short term pastures and dual cropping.
“Herbicide resistance is an emerging problem here to, and that’s another area where I’m keen to bring back the benefits of experience from the mainland.”
Mr Pengilley grew up in the Liverpool Plains, went to the University of New England in Armidale, and then worked in an extension role in central western New South Wales, before moving to Tasmania so he understands different farming systems.
“It was a GRDC funded project that I was working for in the cropping area surrounding Condobolin, which gave me some inside knowledge of how the organisation works.
“I think the GRDC delivers very well for growers, with real, tangible, on-farm benefits through varieties, practices and crop protection, and I’m looking forward to contributing and moving the organisation forward to providing these benefits to stakeholders,” Mr Pengilley said.
Keith Pengilley Q&A -Click here
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Susan Findlay Tickner
Climate variability and the effect it will have on future farming techniques and strategies is just one research priority identified by Susan Findlay Tickner, in her role as a new southern panel member for the Grains Research and Development Corporation (GRDC).
Maintaining the development of new grain varieties that adapt to the changing climate while continuing to lift productivity is another.
Mrs Findlay Tickner has a strong agricultural background, a Masters degree in communications, a diploma in corporate governance and is a Climate Champion for the Federal Government’s Managing Climate Variability R&D Program, making her well equipped to assist the research efforts of the GRDC.
The 35 Climate Champions were selected from a range of industries to help communicate new technologies and practices for dealing with climate variability and climate change to other farmers.
“The program uses peer to peer communication and has been amazingly successful,” Mrs Findlay Tickner said.
“GRDC also supports world-class research with direct benefit to growers, but it’s about engagement and communicating the content and value of that research to the growers.”
Involvement in the climate initiative led to an invitation to speak at this year’s ABARES conference in Canberra, where she shared her family’s experience in managing the risk of climate variability on their farms in the Wimmera region of western Victoria.
Mrs Findlay Tickner, her husband Simon and their two children live in Horsham and operate a 3500ha grain farm based to the north of Horsham.
Their company, YellowGrain, is a large and innovative dryland cropping enterprise that produces cereals, pulses and oilseeds, and actively pursues value-adding opportunities with exporters and end users.
Mrs Findlay Tickner admits the flat, big-sky landscape of the Wimmera took some adapting to for a girl from a dairy farm on Victoria’s Mornington Peninsula, but she’s firmly committed to the grains industry and her new home.
Her commitment to industry was rewarded in 2008 when she was sponsored by the GRDC to participate in the Australian Rural Leadership Program, which delivered 60 days training over 18 months and culminated in a study trip to India.
She is also a graduate of the regionally based Wimmera Leadership Program in 2006. The program aims to foster and encourage local leadership, through two programs run over seven municipalities.
Four years after graduation, she was approached to take on the role of Chairman of the board of Leadership Wimmera, and accepted.
“I have a strong commitment to regional leadership programs. The accessibility of locally delivered programs results in higher participation for rural Australians which builds capacity and resilience into regional communities,” Mrs Findlay Tickner said.
There are now 300 graduates of the program living and working in the region.
With a background in Communications, Mrs Findlay Tickner worked for the Burnet Institute in Melbourne before moving to the Wimmera. The Burnet is Australia's largest virology and communicable disease research institute, and her experience in the field of medical research piqued her interest in the research and development sector.
Mrs Findlay Tickner also works part time as communications manager for the Future Farming Systems Research Division of the Victorian Department of Primary Industries.
She oversees communications strategies across three key project areas of the division: Responding to Climate Challenges, Sustainable Agriculture and Increasing Farming Systems Productivity.
She’s quick to acknowledge the positives of the ‘umbrella view’ provided by her position, and how it will benefit her work with the GRDC.
“As a grower I have an understanding of the practical ramifications of issues facing the grains industry, and working in research and development with the DPI gives me an insight into the whole of industry approach to managing these issues,” Mrs Findlay Tickner said.
“I believe the grains industry is an innovative and exciting industry to be a part of now and into the future. As growers we have unprecedented access to technology and markets that allows us to increase the productivity and profitability of our enterprise.”
Susan Findlay Tickner Q&A - Click here
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