Scientific skillset proves invaluable on GRDC
Author: Natalie Lee | Date: 19 Dec 2013
Mike Ewing has taken on his second term with the Grains Research and Development Corporation (GRDC) western regional panel with a keen focus on research, development and extension (RD&E) initiatives to advance farm profitability.
Drawing on his research background with an extensive career in pasture science and farming systems, Dr Ewing plays a key role on the western regional panel as the group’s deputy chairman.
“The panel works really well when it has a mix of skills, and to have some scientific skills on the panel is helpful particularly in assessing the feasibility of research initiatives to solve real problems.”
Dr Ewing said the western regional panel had made important progress in identifying the key areas critical to farm profitability.
“The panel has been focussed on getting a much greater degree of research and investment focus on the few things that are really important in constraining short, medium and longer-term profitability,” he said.
“It is about getting the focus of the effort in the right direction and not just being satisfied with spreading the investment over all possible opportunities.”
In light of this approach, Dr Ewing said RD&E activities were addressing key production concerns, particularly in relation to wheat.
“We have identified a number of constraints to wheat yield,” he said.
“Frost is an interesting one. While it is clearly a major priority, finding feasible research opportunities to overcome the constraints has been very challenging.
“But I think we have made a very important contribution in getting a focussed portfolio of activities in that area.”
Frost has been identified as a priority area under the GRDC External Investment Plan 2014-15, with funding in this area set to increase from $1.2 to $1.3 million to $3 million per annum over the next five years.
Dr Ewing said the panel had also earmarked drought and drought tolerance as a key area for investment, given the variability of climate.
As the body to feed grower concerns and ideas into the GRDC and identify gaps in RD&E, Dr Ewing said the panel worked closely with the GRDC’s Regional Cropping Solutions Networks (RCSNs) – which fast-track funding for short-term projects.
“RD&E is only useful if the growers are using it, so having a regional bottom-up view of issues is critical, and the RCSNs provide that,” he said.
“They also provide local feedback and have proven to be a really strong credibility check on the issues being proposed.”
Dr Ewing stressed that the strength of the GRDC system lay in the linkage between growers and the GRDC, which ensured that RD&E initiatives had ‘high impact value’ on the key issues facing farming systems.
“I have a particular interest in making sure activities we undertake have a strong chance of being adopted by growers,” he said.
“Many of the issues that we are tackling are the focus of big and focussed initiatives.
”When you look at the potential of these initiatives to contribute to profitability, particularly in the medium term, these profitability advances will more than offset the cost of the levy that growers contribute to the GRDC.”
With a career in agricultural research spanning 40 years, much of which has been with the then Western Australian Department of Agriculture, Dr Ewing has held research and advisory roles in agronomy as well as farming systems.
He has also been involved in three national Co-operative Research Centres including the Future Farm Industries CRC, the CRC for Plant-Based Management of Dryland Salinity and the Centre for Legumes in Mediterranean Agriculture – all based at The University of WA.
During this time he has helped identify crop legumes to suit all zones; bred new pasture legumes to fix nitrogen, provide more forage and better control weeds; broadened the use of perennial plants that can be farmed profitably and still assist in maintaining the environment; and helped to develop the MIDAS model, a key tool for economic analysis on farms.
Dr Ewing has now wound back much of his research to devote time and energy to his deputy chair role with the western regional panel.
Mike Ewing, GRDC western panel deputy chairman
0409 116 750
Natalie Lee, Cox Inall Communications
08 9864 2034, 0427 189 827