Wheat breeder goes into bat for growers

Author: Michael Thomson | Date: 17 Dec 2013

GRDC Northern Panel Member John Sheppard

For wheat breeder John Sheppard there is one question that shapes all his decisions as a Grains Research and Development Corporation (GRDC) northern panelist: “How does this benefit growers?”

Mr Sheppard says delivering benefits to growers is what motivates him to serve on the GRDC northern panel.

“The projects we fund must have a clear and definite pathway to growers and adoption on-farm,” he says.

“This includes a plan that addresses how long it will take to deliver benefits to growers, what it will offer the grains industry and how the benefits will be delivered.

“Ultimately it must answer the question: ‘What positive practice change will this mean for growers?’”

Mr Sheppard is a familiar sight in the farming areas of Queensland and NSW, working as a long-time wheat breeder and conducting field trials every year in growers’ paddocks.

He is well known for his practical knowledge, having come to wheat breeding from a mixed farming operation, and greatly values his working relationships with farmer-collaborators from Kilcummin, Central Queensland, to Blackville in northern NSW.

Mr Sheppard says the Northern Panel has achieved its main purpose during his tenure, that is, providing answers to grower issues and delivering outputs which enable practice change to occur on farm.

“The panel has been able to divide key issues into the time taken to delivery to growers: short-term or one to three-year issues, three to eight-year issues, and longer term of eight years-plus.

“The one to three-year research has been very exciting because we’ve been able to identify issues with growers and get quick answers that they can incorporate into their farming system.

“The eight years-plus category includes pre-emptive research and pre-breeding aimed at providing growers robust protection against cereal rusts and exotic pests such as Russian wheat aphid and Sunn pest."

Mr Sheppard says identifying issues has been very effective under the recent northern panels and he expects this to continue with the recently appointed team.

“In the northern region the GRDC funded Northern Grower Alliance (NGA), Grain Orana Alliance (GOA) and Central Queensland Grower Solutions Group (CQGSG) are working on 1-3 year issues that allow them to ‘ground truth’ research and get it into the hands of farmers as quickly as possible,” he says.

Mr Sheppard cited the GRDC-funded work undertaken by NGA that demonstrated to growers the impact crown rot and nematodes have on grain yield and the devastating effect the two have when found together in a paddock.

Mr Sheppard is always keen to ensure grower investment in their research and development levy is paying dividends.

He says many growers tell him they are getting good value for money from their GRDC levies and he agrees.

“I do believe growers are getting value for money from their levies and this is my main priority, no matter what work we do – benefiting growers whether it’s basic or blue sky research.

“If it doesn’t deliver to growers, it’s not on the agenda.”

He says his role on the new panel will be a continuation of the three-tiered approach and, as always, paying particular attention to gleaning ideas from growers and feeding those back to GRDC.

“I’m keen to see pre-breeding focus on tolerance of exotic pests. The breeding companies can’t afford to put money into selecting for those traits at the moment but it’s something GRDC needs to be aware of.

“We continue to make sure there is a flow of information and communication back and forth between growers and GRDC, that’s most important for us.”

For more information on GRDC-funded research, visit www.grdc.com.au.

Contact details

For interviews

John Sheppard

GRDC Northern Panellist

0418 746 628 


Michael Thomson, Cox Inall Communications

07 4927 0805, 0408 819 666


Photo Caption:

GRDC Northern Panel Member John Sheppard.


Click here to watch a video of GRDC Northern Panel Member John Sheppard.

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