Ralph's honour to be a hero

30 Jan, 2002 10:00 PM
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Many people consider Ralph Maurice Burnett a hero.

And this Australia Day it became official when his name was added to the prestigious Order of Australia Honours List.

Officially recognised for his service to agriculture through independent research, he was awarded an "AM" - Member of the Order of Australia.

He is a renowned an innovator, educator and a pioneer.

But he is probably best known for sifting out the truth about farm chemicals and spreading that information to cocky's to save them a penny or two.

Mr Burnett admitted he has not always been a favourite with chemical companies, often producing information that undermined the profit-driven agenda of the big guns.

But that is precisely why he has gained the respect of his colleagues, who nominated him for the award.

And after 30 years of pushing the proverbial barrow up hill, Mr Burnett truly embodies the spirit of the Aussie battler, making him a deserving winner of the country's highest honour.

First attending agricultural college at age 14, he went onto Brisbane University to study Agricultural Science, majoring in plant pathology.

After six years in New Guinea as a tropical agriculturalist he headed to WA to work as a researcher for Bayer.

But it was not long before Mr Burnett began to look beyond the limits of the establishment.

First becoming a private research consultant in the late 1970's, he began to make significant breakthroughs that would, in time, change the face of farming.

He was granted the country's first private research funding for a Lupin project, before receiving many more similar grants for other projects.

But the gap between the research results and those "on the ground", motivated Mr Burnett to set up educational on-farm groups to further trial and test the latest developments.

"My calling has been to rationalise chemical use, time its use better, and improve equipment.

"It has been a slow burn, nothing radical, just a case of improvement, improvement, improvement," he said.

But those small increments of change have led to higher yields, significant cost savings and the development of information networks that fast-tracked farm developments.

Now Mr Burnett acts as an on-farm consultant to one in three wheatbelt growers, and he has more than a sneaking suspicion the others are "looking over the fence".

He has pioneered techniques to improve sprayer capacity, operating efficiency and work safety through the joint development of the WA Commercial Groudspray Operators' course and Chemcert courses.

He conceived and developed the use of off-patent chemicals, new mixtures, novel timings and has been a leader in farmer education through filed days and seminars.

Today's generation has embraced Mr Burnett's vision for WA farming, where information is shared and developed by the real experts - the growers.

"For me, this award is real recognition of what has been a long hard slog for me," he said.

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