Iconoclast, pre-eminent agricultural scientist, helpful colleague and living treasure are apt and diverse descriptions for 2009 Grains Research and Development Corporation (GRDC) Western Region Seed of Light award recipient, Dr Bill Bowden of the Department of Agriculture and Food WA (DAFWA).
Perth-based Dr Bowden received the award yesterday at the GRDC-supported 2009 WA Agribusiness Crop Updates, an annual event organised by DAFWA for researchers and agribusiness at Burswood.
Dr Bowden began his career as a cadet with DAFWA in 1961.
GRDC Western Panel Chairman and Kojonup grower, Neil Young, said Dr Bowden had significantly contributed to the development of agriculture, to the philosophy of agricultural science and the professional development of three generations of agricultural scientists.
"A measure of Bill's reputation is that he takes a critical approach and challenges existing dogma and simplistic solutions," Mr Young said.
"He has never accepted simple packages or slogans that ignore the wide range of farming situations and has sought to instil the same level of critical thinking in students and young scientists he mentors.
"A tangible legacy of Bill's career are the well-known modelling tools he developed, which extended the results of his research beyond the site, season and management practices under which they were collected.
"Farmers, advisers, agribusiness, researchers and students have used the tools to assist decision making and evaluate management options."
Dr Bowden’s career began with research on phosphorus nutrition of crops and pastures and was extended in his PhD by developing models for ion adsorption in crops and pastures.
Dr Bowden graduated with a PhD in soil chemistry from the University of Western Australia (UWA) in 1973.
This research contributed to the development of 'Decide' – the first fertiliser decision support system (DSS) used in Australia, which remains the basis for recommendations for profitable fertiliser applications to crops and pastures.
"Other DSS developed by Bill, collaboratively or individually, include Woolmodel, NPDecide, SPLAT, the TopCrop Nitrogen Calculator, WA Wheat and commercial fertiliser recommendation systems," Mr Young said.
He is a key contributor to four major inter-institutional and national GRDC research initiatives: Subsoil Constraints, Precision Agriculture, Nutrient Management and Soil Biology.
Dr Bowden's work has impacted in WA, nationally and internationally.
In 1972 he toured Argentina and the former Soviet Union to study agrichemical services.
In 1980 he received a Reserve Bank Fellowship and worked on fertiliser dissolution, placement and effectiveness while on study leave at the New England University, NSW.
During the 1980s he consulted to the Department of Primary Industry, Canberra, on soil improvement in China.
He helped establish the Cooperative Research Centre for Legumes in Mediterranean Agriculture (CLIMA) at UWA and was a Sub-program leader there from 1992-1997.
In 2006, he was awarded the Donald Medal for his impact on the science and practice of agriculture in Australia.
Dr Bowden has supervised numerous Honours and PhD students during his long career.
Mr Young said Dr Bowden will be fondly recalled by many grain growers as the straight talking soil commentator standing in a soil pit wearing his trademark blue crocheted hat at grower group field days.