NEW Muresk Institute farm supervisor Rob de Gruchy will be known to many Avon Valley and Wheatbelt farming families.
Mr de Gruchy has been onto many of their farms selecting cropping trial areas, preparing sites, sowing trial crops and harvesting them for Department of Agriculture and Food WA (DAFWA) research scientists.
Until he joined Muresk on Monday last week, Mr de Gruchy was a member of DAFWA's Northam technical services team responsible for conducting field trials.
"That was running trials all through the Avon Valley and beyond," he said.
"We'd go to farmers' properties and lease some land for two or three years, like we've got here at Muresk - DAFWA has a paddock of 40 hectares here that they can use for trials research.
"So I had to deal with the farmers, the research officers and WANTFA (West Australian No Tillage Farmers Association).
"Most of the farmers are really good, they're pro-active and want to be in there (enabling research) and are happy to let some land go for a while.
"I had to select the trial site - pick the right soil types for the crops to be grown, right through to putting the crops in, all the chemical treatments, fertiliser treatments, managing the weeds and pests, to harvest.
"Then you would hand them (researchers) the seeds or the results at the end and they would do all the analysing.
"You did it exactly as a farmer would, unless a researcher wanted you to do something different, then you'd pulled all the machines apart to set them up with different tines or different points for whatever was required."
Prior to joining the technical services team in 2008, Mr de Gruchy had worked for DAFWA at its former Avondale Agricultural Research Station at Beverley for 14 years.
"The work there was right across the whole range of farming practices,'' he said.
"We did trials for Boer goats, Awassi sheep, all the Merino wool trials plus pedigree seed for crops - I did all the pedigree seed grading in the shed there, with my CBH background I know all the insects."
Born into a Kondinin sheep and wheat farming family, Mr de Gruchy attended the local schools, went away to Hale School in Perth before returning to the farm, but ended up working for CBH Group at Kondinin for 20 years.
"I was senior operator, pest control officer and receival point operator at harvest time at Kondinin. I also had a school bus run," he said.
He worked as a rural merchandise manager for three years at CRT (Combined Rural Traders) Jerramungup before apply for the position with DAFWA at Avondale.
He and wife Dina also run Murray Grey cattle on a 27ha property at Beverley with their large old farmhouse set up for bed and breakfast accommodation, so he knows farming from a number of angles.
Seconded from DAFWA for 13 months with the option of an extension, Mr de Gruchy hit the ground running last week as supervisor at Muresk's 898ha farm fronting the Avon river 10 kilometres south west of Northam.
Contract sowing of 330ha of crops - Scope barley, Bannister oats, Hyola 404 RR canola and Mace wheat - was completed the day before he started.
"The canola is up already, it's been a really good start," he said.
The Muresk farm runs a flock of 1800 sheep, mostly Merinos but with the addition last year of 200 commercial Dohne ewes donated by the WA Dohne Breeders Association, and conducts sire trials and lambing survival rate studies.
Its Murray Grey herd numbers 97 - 30 cows and calves and 27 weaners.
Horses on the farm broaden veterinary nurse students' experiences working with large animals.
There is also a commercial piggery, run by Agripork Australia Pty Ltd, which students can access.
The Muresk farm is run as a commercial operation to support the curricula of a range of its agriculture and farm-related courses and students are involved in all aspects of animal husbandry.
This is the first year Muresk is following a farm plan, prepared for it by well-known consultant Geoff Fosberry and approved by the institute's recently set up farm advisory committee headed up by local farmer Luke Murray.
Implementing the plan will be part of Mr de Gruchy's role, as will accompanying Mr Murray and students on fortnightly farm walks to inspect crops and animals.
Australia's largest private agriculture research and development company Kalyx runs Practice For Profit trials and herbicide and disease diagnostics trials at Muresk.
Intergrain and Curtin University are also heavily involved with trials there.
At the DAFWA plot an oat breeders' trial is being conducted in conjunction with the South Australian Research and Development Institute, a government-funded research unit under DAFWA's SA equivalent, Primary Industries and Regions SA.
The small trial plot cultivation and harvest equipment provided by Kalyx and other organisations is available to Muresk for training students but, according to Mr de Gruchy, the farm is well equipped in its own right.
Royalties for Regions funds an equipment budget that ran to a new Fendt tractor, upgrading the existing John Deere with GPS technology and a new boom spray on order prior to his arrival.
"I had a 10-metre boom at Avondale and we've got a 30m boom spray coming," Mr de Gruchy said.
"We didn't have big machinery at Avondale because we had small row trial paddocks, but I've driven the big stuff, the broad acre machinery.
"The small stuff like the Kalyx trial plot seeders and harvesters is great for training.
"We can go from a 1.5m header cut up to a 12.5 or 15m cut."
Technology and scale are major changes he has watched develop in more than 40 years involved with agriculture.
"The technology has changed so much since I first started, from dragging a line down and you had to drive straight down that, now it's all autosteer, auto drop - the amount of technology we have on our machines is amazing and has so many applications."
Mr de Gruchy relates a story of when he started at Avondale and asked a researcher about sowing depths for various crops.
The researcher pulled out a match box and listed crops sown to the depths of the height, width and length of a matchbox.
"I still carry a matchbox with me but it's a bit more technical than that these days," he said.
"Going onto farmers' properties we used to stop off a fence line 10m, now we are 40m off into the paddock so the farmer can come around with his big boom and put one spray right around the edge of the paddock and that gives him the opportunity to turn with his big machine."
For Mr de Gruchy, running the Muresk farm is a new challenge and he is confident, well prepared and looking forward to enjoying it.
A life member of the Beverley Tennis Club, in his spare time he is greenkeeper for the club's grass courts.
Beverley and Northam are the only two WA tennis clubs still with grass courts.
pThe Muresk farm will be on display this Saturday at Muresk Institute's annual open day, 9am-3pm. Displays and demonstrations will include low-stress stock handling, sheepdogs, butchery, precision agriculture equipment, cropping trial research updates and farm tours. Governor Kerry Sanderson will formally declare the day open at 11am.