Scholars to hit the road

29 Sep, 2013 02:00 AM
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The  2014 WA Nuffield Scholars Chris Reichstein, (left), Esperance, Nick Gillett, Bencubbin, Bob Nixon, Kalannie and Colin de Grussa, Esperance.
The 2014 WA Nuffield Scholars Chris Reichstein, (left), Esperance, Nick Gillett, Bencubbin, Bob Nixon, Kalannie and Colin de Grussa, Esperance.

THE latest round of Nuffield scholars were announced last week, paving the way for the next round of agricultural achievers.

Four WA growers, each with a strong determination to overcome the challenges of a dry climate, were named recipients of the illustrious scholarship.

Together with 17 other scholars from around Australia, they will undertake a 16-week program and each receive a $30,000 bursary to realise their dreams.

Initially scholars travel as a group on a six-week tour through some of the world's agricultural powerhouses, including Brazil, India, US, China, Mexico and Europe.

Scholars then spend a further 10 weeks travelling individually, studying a research topic of their choice.

One of the WA scholars Nick Gillett, Bencubbin, said he planned to study new, innovative ways of improving crop germination and yield in a drying climate.

Mr Gillett is the co-owner and principal manager of his family-owned farming operation, cropping more than 5600 hectares of wheat and 900ha of barley annually.

With three of his district's worst winter rainfall years on record occurring in the last 10 years, he said he was determined to improve wheat germination for better plant establishment in marginal conditions.

"I feel most farmers have sharpened up agronomically, but we still need more reliability with crop establishment and yield to mitigate the severe hardship consecutive bad seasons cause," Mr Gillett said.

He plans to investigate soil moisture measuring devices, mechanical intervention to improve the seedbed and hydro-priming of seed pre-planting.

"I'd also like to look at pre-treatment of seeds with salicylic acid or similar to improve the imbibition process, wheat genetics and also soil ameliorants for retaining moisture within the root zone," he said

Using the bursary, Mr Gillet hopes to visit India, the USA, Mexico and north Africa.

"I'd also like to visit the Department of Agronomy and Plant Breeding in Iran to discuss germination enhancement, as well as investigating tillage techniques and row spacing in South Africa," he said.

Kalannie grower Bob Nixon will also undertake the Nuffield journey and plans to study techniques and crop rotations to cope with a drying climate.

Mr Nixon runs a broadacre cropping and livestock property with his family in the low rainfall district of the central Wheatbelt, receiving an annual rainfall of 300mm.

"We can't make it rain and we can't rely on prices to always be high, so the answer must lie in making the most of available research and development, and ensuring we get the best outcome we can from available moisture," Mr Nixon said.

"Our future is in our own hands and we can continue to be successful in the face of reduced winter rainfall and increased seasonal variability."

Mr Nixon said while he was having good success growing canola following fallow, he wanted to look at making low cost canola profitable in the local environment.

"There is already much knowledge on canola, but there is a lack of work on making it fit into eastern Wheatbelt rotations," he said.

"I would like to study a range of options to help make canola a successful low risk alternative, including managing off patent, low cost herbicides for weed control, retaining seed, how to mitigate direct heading seed loss, plant densities and row spacing, as well as the potential for GM traits such as a drought guard gene."

Esperance grower, Chris Reichstein is taking a more human approach to his scholarship and plans to identify how best to deliver information to farmers in order to bring about practice change.

Mr Reichstein crops wheat, barley, canola and field peas over an area of 4000ha north-east of Esperance, in the 400 millimetre rainfall zone.

The business is purely grain production, based on best practice utilising no-till, controlled traffic, integrated weed management, precision agriculture and other modern farming techniques.

Mr Reichstein said while a great deal of research and development work is undertaken in Australia, the packaging and delivery of the messages by traditional means is giving a poor return on dollars invested.

"Like most, farmers are time-poor, so I'd like to investigate the best combination of technology, media, social and scientific means that can be employed to best disseminate this valuable information, and research what role grower groups can play," he said.

"With greater linkages from researcher to end user, all of industry should benefit by better adoption of research and development outcomes and more targeted research."

The final WA winner, Colin de Grussa, also of Esperance, will research how farmers across the globe interact with government for the benefit of industry.

Mr de Grussa manages a 2100ha farming enterprise, with a 1600ha cropping program consisting of wheat, barley, canola.

The operation also turns off around 1000 prime lambs a year.

"The intention is to identify how farmers and agribusiness can build strong, positive connections to ensure informed policy decisions are made by our politicians," Mr de Grussa said.

"Non-agricultural lobby groups are increasingly influencing politicians while farmers appear to have lost their ability to influence policy direction."

Mr de Grussa said he wanted to examine the way farmers and agribusinesses interact with consumers and the general population.

"Agriculture is one of the most fundamental industries in our nation, however there is also a growing disconnect between our more urbanised population and our farmers," he said.

"The challenge for our industry is to be much more cohesive and promote the benefits of a strong and vibrant agricultural industry to our policy makers, consumers and potential investors."

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