UWA professor honoured with prestigious position

Haidee VandenbergheCountryman

With 30 years in agricultural research and teaching under his belt and five years as the head of the University of WA's (UWA) Institute of Agriculture, Winthrop Professor Kadambot Siddique has been named as the prestigious UWA Hackett Professor of Agriculture Chair.

He takes over from previous Chair Professor Alan Robson and joins hallowed names such as Sir John Winthrop Hackett, Sir George Currie and Dr Eric Underwood, who all held the position during their time at UWA.

It's the latest in a string of accolades for the scientist and academic, who last year was made a Member of the Order of Australia in the Queen's Birthday Honours List, but Professor Siddique remains humble about his achievements.

In 1984, he completed the first PhD in Australia on chickpeas, and although he is modest about his contribution, Professor Siddique's pioneering research helped to grow the industry to its current $300 million a year value.

The following year he joined the Department of Agriculture and worked on cereal breeding, before taking over the pulse improvement program and then heading up the Centre for Legumes in Mediterranean Agriculture.

Then in 2007 when UWA decided to re-establish its Institute of Agriculture, Professor Siddique took over the reins to help co-ordinate agricultural teaching at UWA with the external world.

Five years on and the Institute of Agriculture has projects in conjunction with the Faculty of Medicine, Computer Science and the Business School, to name but a few.

Professor Siddique said he was humbled and honoured to be named UWA Hackett Professor of Agriculture Chair, but for now his focus remains on the future of the agricultural sector and the role that the next crop of students plays in that.

"I believe that the challenges we face (in agriculture) are not going to be sorted by one discipline," he said.

"The major and continued challenges are improving the productivity in real terms because the input cost is escalating for farmers and … climate change and variability.

"We need a better prediction tool so that the farmers can minimise the impact of those."

But one of the biggest challenges is attracting more young and talented people to the sector.

"The traditional agricultural science students come from people with a farm background," he said.

"There are only 4500 broadacre farmers in WA and their average age is 55-plus.

"We need to educate city kids from primary, secondary and high school age about the importance of agriculture and the food production system.

"We need to project our image, show the job opportunities as a farm manager as much as a scientist at international level."

Professor Siddique said it was an exciting time for agriculture and he was simply happy to be part of it.

"From Australia's perspective we have got enormous opportunity and the science is advancing rapidly," he said. "I've been lucky enough to do some very good science and at the same time I've been able to work with the industry and farmers.

"I do my bit but I've got a lot of talented people around the place and I am lucky to work with them."

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