FROM picking rocks and driving farm machinery, to gaining a PhD in agronomy and working as a researcher, Darren Hughes has a wide range of experience in the grains industry to bring to the GRDC table.
Dr Hughes is another of the new members to the Grains Research and Development Corporation's (GRDC) western regional panel.
Based in Perth, he is the research and development manager for Adveco Fertilisers and is responsible for managing the company's research program in Australia and New Zealand.
Dr Hughes applied to be on the GRDC western panel to be involved in the future direction of the grains industry and to have a say in how GRDC funding, sourced from grower levies and the Federal Government, was spent.
"We have a tremendous challenge to feed the world by 2050 when the world's population is expected to reach nine billion," he said.
"To achieve this we must continue to deliver, across the board, real productivity gains but do it while having greater consideration for the environment.
"Real productivity gains are only going to come from targeted, well resourced research and development."
Dr Hughes began his affiliation with agriculture when he completed a Bachelor of Agribusiness at Curtin University's Muresk Institute of Agriculture.
After obtaining his degree he was employed as a contract harvester in the United States for 12 months, harvesting crops from Texas to North Dakota.
Dr Hughes gained further hands-on farm experience working on a property at Moora.
He was then a research agronomist for three years before studying for his PhD, where he investigated the effects of cultivars, environment and nutrition management on wheat yield and quality.
"My former PhD supervisor at Muresk, Professor Robert Belford is a past member of the GRDC western panel and I became interested in joining the panel through him," he said.
Dr Hughes said the regional panels were an excellent intermediary between growers and the GRDC.
"You need that outside interface to provide advice about where research and development money is spent," he said.
"I can be an intermediary between what growers want and the blue sky dreams of researchers who need to deliver research outcomes."
Dr Hughes said through his work in agricultural R&D he had worked primarily in the field of plant nutrition.
"But I am also aware of the need to continually improve plant cultivars, the need to overcome local constraints to production, for example acidic or saline subsoils and the continuing need to improve biosecurity and market access," he said.
But it was the advances in modern day agriculture that made him really enthusiastic about his new role.
"There are a number of important advances being made in western agriculture at the moment," he said.
"Perhaps the most important work for WA grain growers is the advance in drought tolerance and the western panel has an important role to play in these advances.
"The panel listens to the concerns of WA growers and directs investment accordingly.
"The real key to the panel system is the balance it brings to allocating RD&E investment."
Dr Hughes said the important thing was the western panel placed equal emphasis on all components of R&D, whether it was basic or applied research and the GRDC's strong focus on communication had also helped western panel members to get out into rural areas to speak with growers.
"Young people are the future of the grains industry," Dr Hughes said.
"I encourage any young person working in the grains industry to follow their dreams.
"There are many exciting opportunities for young people and as an industry we need to foster the passion young people can bring.
"We must never lose sight of the big picture and what it is the grains industry actually does, which is grow food."