Nuffield experience for WA producers

Countryman

Four WA producers were among a field of 21 from across the nation to be awarded 2014 Nuffield scholarships at the Nuffield Australia National Conference held in Perth last week.

Esperance producers Chris Reichstein and Colin de Grussa will join Bob Nixon from Kalannie and Nick Gillett of Bencubbin for the first part of their Nuffield experience - a six week global focus tour - next March, travelling through Canada, the United States, Mexico, Europe, Brazil and New Zealand.

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

The scholarships were announced at a gala dinner at Crown Casino last Thursday, which was attended by 250 scholars, industry representatives and sponsors.

Five Nuffield scholars, who travelled 40 years ago or more were also recognised; while scholar and long-time supporter Bill Casimaty, from Richmond in Tasmania, was awarded life membership of the organisation.

Nuffield Australia chief executive Jim Geltch said in addition to the announcement of the 2014 scholars, the Perth conference heard from 16 scholars who had just finished their studies into topics ranging from value-adding hay to using smartphone apps and learning about gourmet asparagus production.

"It's just fantastic to hear the enthusiasm with which our returning scholars talk about their experiences travelling the world, ultimately bringing world's-best practice home," he said.

Chris Reichstein

Mr Reichstein, who runs a 4000ha cropping enterprise, will study how best to deliver information to farmers in order to bring about practice change, resulting in improved profitability and sustainability.

His production system is based on best practice using no-till, controlled traffic, integrated weed management, precision agriculture and other modern farming techniques.

He said while a great deal of research and development work was undertaken in Australia, the packaging and delivery of the messages by traditional means provided a poor return on money 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.

To complete his studies, Mr Reichstein would like to include the US and Brazil on his travel schedule. His scholarship, along with Mr Nixon's and Mr Gillett's, is supported by the Grains Research and Development Corporation.

Bob Nixon

Mr Nixon, who is running a 9100ha cropping program with 2000 Merino ewes mated to Merino/Samm rams and a gypsum mining business, in partnership with his family, is keen to investigate techniques and crop rotations to cope with a drying climate.

He believes while the low-rainfall region of WA is receiving a lot of media attention regarding the difficult financial and seasonal conditions, there is a way forward.

"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," he 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 is particularly interested in crop agronomy - especially in adding low-risk diversity to their crop rotation.

While he is having good success growing canola following fallow, he would like to further investigate 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'."

He is also interested in how to conserve moisture and control weeds in fallow areas, as well as blue-sky thinking.

"I'd like to take some time to simply explore what is out there that we are not yet aware of, and may just offer the edge we need to continue to prosper in the low-rainfall zone of the Wheatbelt - you never know what you might come across," he said.

His studies will take him to Canada, the USA, Israel and Argentina.

Nick Gillett

Mr Gillett, who operates a 5600ha wheat and 900ha barley program as well as a sheep enterprise, will study innovative ways of improving crop germination and yield in a drying climate.

With three of his districts' worst winter rainfall years on record occurring in the past 10 years, he is keen to learn how 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," he said.

He has a wide range of research targets, including investigating 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.

To complete his studies, Mr Gillett hopes to visit India, the USA, Mexico and north Africa, among other destinations."I'd also like to visit the Department of Agronomy and Plant Breeding in Iran to discuss germination enhancement, as well as investigate tillage techniques in South Africa," he said.

Colin de Grussa

Mr de Grussa, whose scholarship is supported by CBH and CSBP, will research how farmers across the globe interact with government for the benefit of industry.

He works in a family owned 2100ha farming enterprise, with a 1600ha cropping program. In addition, the operation turns off about 1000 prime lambs a year.

Mr de Grussa, who is Nationals WA State president, wants to study how primary producers in other nations are engaging with policymakers and the role of government in agriculture.

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

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

Mr de Grussa would also like to examine how farmers and agribusinesses interact with consumers.

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

He would like to visit North America, the UK and the EU.

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