GRDC research updates: Wheat geneticist Greg Rebetzke wins prestigious Seed of Light award

Headshot of Cally Dupe
Cally DupeCountryman
Greg Rebetzke is the 2022 Seed of Light Award winner.
Camera IconGreg Rebetzke is the 2022 Seed of Light Award winner. Credit: Cally Dupe/Countryman

A research geneticist who “genuinely and passionately” loves talking to farmers and can hold a crowd even during beer o’clock at sundowners has received this year’s Seed of Light award.

Dr Greg Rebetzke, one of Australia’s leading research geneticists in wheat breeding, received the Grains Research and Development Corporation 2023 western region accolade on Tuesday.

The highly coveted annual award recognises outstanding communication of GRDC supported research outcomes and was presented at the Grains Research Updates at Crown Perth.

Dr Rebetzke said for someone who loved communicating, he was “lost for words” but felt overwhelmed and grateful.

“I have so many people to thank … but I want to highlight the WA grains industry for being so patient with a grains scientist out of Canberra,” he said.

“My focus is on the seed and early growth … the seed is the germ of the ideas.

“I have been so reliant on the innovation of WA growers. They are the best of learners, they take you and lead you, they ask the right questions… and we as researchers can deliver and develop new ideas.”

GRDC western region panel chair Darrin Lee told a humorous anecdote of how Dr Rebetzke could hold a crowd “during beer o’clock” at farmer sundowners and how the wheat geneticist “genuinely enjoyed” talking to farmers.

“Greg is an excellent communicator, helping growers understand the benefits in novel and new genetics, most recently long coleoptile, short season and high vigour varietal traits,” Mr Lee said.

“He communicates in a way that builds trust with growers, inspiring them to take up new technologies and approaches in their farming systems.

“Greg has dedicated time to communicating his wheat genetic research across regions, which has led to important incremental change to yield and profit for Australian grain growers.

“His impact in WA has been immense and we recognise Greg today for his outstanding contribution by awarding him the GRDC Seed of Light award.”

Originally from Brisbane, Dr Rebetzke credits his undergraduate degree at Queensland Agricultural College with instilling in him an appreciation for practical and applied knowledge.

He refined his research skills through a Masters in Agricultural Science at the University of Queensland before completing a PhD in Breeding and Genetics at North Carolina State University in the US.

Dr Rebetzke has worked with Australia’s national science agency CSIRO since 1995 and became a chief research scientist at CSIRO Agriculture and Food in 2017.

He is also an adjunct professor at Charles Sturt University, Wagga Wagga and UWA.

Dr Greg Rebetzke says moving out of the office into the field was a milestone in his career.
Camera IconDr Greg Rebetzke says moving out of the office into the field was a milestone in his career. Credit: GRDC/GRDC

Dr Rebetzke said the opportunity to talk to growers had been instrumental in leading to scientific breakthroughs in wheat genetics.

“In my experience, grain growers are incredibly observant and insightful; they are true innovators leading you along a path of discovery,” he said.

“Describing observations and questioning what those observations mean — these often lead to real breakthroughs.”

Dr Rebetzke said stepping away from the lab and glasshouse and moving almost entirely into the field to work closely with growers on their farms was a milestone moment in his career.

“It changed the way I see and understand the challenges with farming in a rain-driven cropping system,” he said.

“This often meant driving long distances away from home and family, but the return on investment in talking to growers and researchers in regional areas has truly opened my mind.

“It’s the growers that have inspired me to listen, talk and learn. It’s a true collaboration. Sitting in an office doesn’t give you the insight into what growers need and doesn’t allow you to tap directly into grower’s knowledge.”

Dr Rebetzke is a former member of the GRDC western region panel and regularly contributed to national and international grower and scientific advisory committees. He is currently editor of the Journal of Experimental Botany and The Plant Cell.

He credited several key grain industry leaders and researchers in contributing to his success, including NSW Department of Primary Industries researcher the late Neil Fettell and former and current GRDC western panel chairs Peter Roberts and Darrin Lee.

“I’m so very grateful to CSIRO and colleagues for their continued support and encouragement in my research over the past 30 years,” he said.

“The Seed of Light award represents a commitment to research outcomes in the grains industry and how invested it is in engagement and delivering quality science, particularly in improving grower profitability.

“If we didn’t have a committed industry that was so keen to learn and deliver the best to growers, then you wouldn’t get the best out of scientists. I’m so grateful to be part of such a special team.”

Get the latest news from thewest.com.au in your inbox.

Sign up for our emails