Ground Cover West : Ground Cover 066 January-February 2007 - West
BALANCING ECONOMICS AND THE ENVIRONMENT NO EASY ANSWERS, BUT VALUABLE LESSONS JANUARY -- FEBRUARY 2007 GROUND COVER 31 GRDC profiles Continuing a series, Ground Cover profiles members of GRDC's regional panels, the people from various sectors within the grains industry who act as 'local' representatives and advise GRDC on research priorities for their regions BY EMMA LEONARD n Southern Panel member Affiliate Professor Andy Barr is used to being at the sharp end, and not just when competitively sailing his ‘Sharpie’. For 30 years of his career Andy was a plant breeder, but just when many would be thinking about gearing down, he took on a new challenge, the running of the family farm. Coming from a farm at Pinery, SA, Andy has always been passionate about growing and breeding crops. After graduating in agricultural science, he worked as an oat breeder, developing 12 varieties including Echidna, Wallaroo and Marloo; many growers will have referred to the book on making oat hay that he jointly authored. From 1994 to 2003 Andy’s focus was on barley breeding, receiving the Chair of Plant Breeding at Adelaide University in 1999. Growers in the Southern Region have Andy Barr and his team at the university to thank for varieties such as Keel, Barque, FlagshipA, MaritimeA, CapstanA and Sloop SAA. Andy was very proactive in developing improved malting varieties and barley suited to the Japanese spirit shochu. His interest in the relationship between barley varieties and end-uses led him to nominate as a grower director of ABB Grain Ltd, a position he took up in 2006. TAKING ON THE CHALLENGE OF EXCITING TIMESHe is enjoying the challenge of applying his knowledge of the grains industry in a business and marketing arena. In 2006, Andy resigned from his part-time position as a wheat breeder to dedicate his time to the farm, his board/panel positions and his garden that he takes great pleasure in with his wife Helen. Andy also coaches Australian Rules football at Under-17 level. Andy believes the grains industry is entering a very exciting time, as the impact of the ‘genomic era’ is only starting to filter through to varieties in the paddock. As a panel member he is involved with the GRDC Varieties line of business and the wheat and barley portfolio. He is looking forward to some excellent new wheat varieties, after the hiatus caused by major changes to rusts, and to Australia again producing world-class malting barley. He closely follows the GM debate and reports that Spain has approved production of a GM corn and that France, Germany and the UK are all investing heavily in plant breeding using GM technology. He believes the practical issues such as market segregation, changes to farming systems and impact on neighbouring farms need to be addressed before GM crops are introduced to Australia. More information: Andy Barr, 0428 277 085, firstname.lastname@example.org BY BERNIE REPPEL n When Di Bentley applied for membership of the GRDC’s Northern Panel in 2001, she suggested she could contribute most actively in the fields of management and natural resource conservation. “The interdependence of research, sustainable production systems and natural resource management is becoming increasingly important,” she said at the time. More than five years later, she feels graingrowers – and the farming community generally – have come to grips with a lot of the sustainability issues that once might have been regarded as a bit too ‘green’. Di Bentley has moved on a bit, too. On top of her work for the Northern Panel, of which she is deputy chair, she is also a director of the Cotton Catchment Communities Cooperative Research Centre and Land and Water Australia. Between those responsibilities she is lucky to see much of hometown Gunnedah, apart from weekends. Di and her husband Ross chose the capital of the Liverpool Plains – “a good diverse agricultural area” – to found their business, Gunnedah Management Consultants, after 13 years working in agriculture in South-East Asia. “I majored in genetics for my degree in agricultural science at the University of Sydney, did whatever was necessary during our time in South-East Asia and ended up in what you might call natural resource issues on the Liverpool Plains – but more by default than design,” she says. “I was executive officer and acting chair of the Liverpool Plains Land Management Committee – a sort of interface between production and sustainability – when I joined the Northern Panel.” While she has seen considerable change in the farm community’s thinking, Di says the challenge for Australian agriculture is to find the appropriate balance between economics and the environment without swaying too far one way or the other. She reminds people that there can be no long-term sustainability without productivity and says that conservation farming, with its minimum tillage and controlled traffic systems, is a good example of this interdependence. “Growers might have adopted these technologies primarily for economic reasons, but there’s no doubt they are also delivering environmental and social benefits.” More information: Di Bentley, 02 8227 4323, 0428 429 256, email@example.com,au BY REBECCA THYER n Kojonup grain and woolgrower Neil Young is looking forward to using lessons learnt in flexibility in his new role as chair of the GRDC Western Panel. Neil, who has farmed for about 30 years, the past 20 at Kojonup, is interested in sustainability and the social side of farming, and says the two tend to go hand in hand. “It is important to work out what motivates people to better target adoption strategies,” he says. “People are motivated by different things at different times and a lot of extension is very broad-brushed. “In five to 10 years the industry will be different and it is important that the GRDC acknowledges this when creating adoption strategies. Is the way that adoption is tackled now still a realistic option for the future?” He cites his own experience of no-till cropping as an example of how on-farm strategies can change, with the best of intentions. Neil’s passion for no-till conservation cropping has led to appointments as WANTFA president and as a member of the State Salinity Council and CLIMA’s industry advisory group. Yet his decision, made several years ago, to extend the no-till concept further by selling his 10,000 Merinos, taking out all internal fences and filling in kilometres of contour drains, has since been changed again. Neil, who farms 1200 hectares in a 450 to 500-millimetre rainfall zone east of Kojonup, says the reality that cannot be shaken off is the impact of falling grain prices and weeds. Good intentions cannot make up for the fact that farming is a business that is ruled, like any other, by a spreadsheet, and the cost/price squeeze is worsening through the combined pressures of poor prices and escalating fuel, fertiliser and herbicide costs. Essentially, he says he now has a small flock of sheep for weed control and cut export hay on his farm. It was a tactical measure rather than a long-term plan. “Even so, it’s been a hard decision ... a lot of grief and heartache, but a valuable lesson in flexibility,” he says. Neil says the pressure growers are under is an important lesson. “The fact there are no easy answers around the corner is starting to sharpen everyone’s thinking. “That’s why I sought to join the GRDC Western Panel, because R&D is absolutely critical to our future.” More information: Neil Young, 08 9821 0026, 0428 918 766, firstname.lastname@example.org Di Bentley Andy Barr Neil Young: "People are motivated by different things at different times, and a lot of extension is very broad-brushed."
Ground Cover 065 November-December 2006 - West
Ground Cover 067 March-April 2007 - West