By Bernie Reppel
Bob Henzell (left) brought a laugh at the AgForce Grains Dinner during the Brisbane Show in August when he drolly suggested that after more than 40 years in the business he was more "the grandfather" of Australian sorghum breeding, than its "father".
Principal plant breeder with Queensland"s Department of Primary Industries and Fisheries (QDPI&F) and co-leader of the GRDC national sorghum breeding program, Dr Henzell had just been awarded the AgForce/ Graincorp Research and Development Award for 2004.
Ever since his PhD in the early 1970s at the Texas A&M University, one of the world"s leading sorghum research centres, Dr Henzell has been a driving force behind sorghum development in Australia.
He says his career as a plant breeder has been a rewarding one: "When you are successful it"s an area where you really do make a difference to farming, and to the environment."
He regards the development of midge resistance and the new "stay green" trait as being career highlights. He believes stay-green - delayed leaf ageing,which helps the sorghum plant continue filling its grain in water-limited situations - will emerge as an extremely significant development.
"But really I get a buzz every time I drive through the countryside and see the sorghum crops and know our breeding program has made a contribution to these crops," he says. Dr Henzell moved straight into sorghum breeding after graduating from the University of Queensland, with a posting to the Hermitage Research Station, outside Warwick, under breeder Ron Moore.
After a spell at the Biloela Research Station, in Cental Queensland, Dr Henzell went to the Texas A&M University. He made contacts there that continue to deliver collaborative benefits to the Australian breeding program, which develops germplasm lines of sorghum that are licensed to seed companies for incorporation in commercial hybrids.