WA homecoming brings new opportunities
Author: Natalie Lee | Date: 27 Nov 2014
Gemma Walker has returned to Western Australia to take on two new challenges – managing her family farm and serving as a Grains Research and Development Corporation (GRDC) western regional panellist.
As well as hands-on farming experience, Ms Walker has worked for many years managing farming systems groups, alongside a range of stakeholders, to deliver development and extension activities.
Her most recent role has been managing Mallee Sustainable Farming, which delivers research and extension development (RD&E) services to the Mallee cropping regions of New South Wales, Victoria and South Australia.
Ms Walker and her fiancé, Dean Wormald, will next year take over management of her family’s 4000ha Munglinup farm from her parents, Tom and Jenne.
The property in WA’s South Coast region produces wheat, barley and canola, as well as running a self-replacing Merino flock and producing prime lambs.
Ms Walker was keen to apply for one of two casual vacancies on the GRDC western regional panel when the positions arose, saying the role played by the panel and its representatives was really important.
“I decided to apply for the position because I enjoy working with farmers and helping them to build their capacity to be economically, environmentally and socially sustainable, with the aim of producing really high quality grain for our domestic and export markets,” she said.
“The GRDC regional panels allow local grains RD&E issues to be identified, and then taken to a regional then national level.
“The panel system enables us to look at how we can improve our farming systems and how we’re producing our grain, for the betterment of the industry.”
Ms Walker said it was important for panels to have a good combination of skills and experience from farmers, researchers and other industry representatives.
"The skills and experience I can bring to the western panel include communication skills, my hands-on knowledge of farming systems in WA as well as the eastern states, and my logical thinking and strategic planning skills," she said.
"So from my point of view, I’m really keen to be involved because I can bring a different element to the panel with my skills and expertise in running farming systems groups across Australia."
As a new panellist, Ms Walker said one issue she was particularly interested in was RD&E into more profitable legumes, including break crops and pastures.
"I believe that is one of the key areas we can work on as a panel - looking at ways of better incorporating legumes into farming systems and developing a greater understanding of not only the agronomic issues, but the marketing issues," she said.
Ms Walker said her family grew Margurita French Serradella for the first time on their Munglinup farm last year in a bid to introduce a profitable legume into the system, provide a weed and disease break and improve paddocks.
She said another key issue her family faced on the farm was management of its sandy soils, which were prone to water repellency and erosion.
"To look after these soils, livestock aren’t run on some of our paddocks and we use seeding discs to minimise soil disturbance," Ms Walker said.
"Our family has used a no-tillage system for many years."
Before working with Mallee Sustainable Farming, Ms Walker was executive officer of WA grower group South East Premium Wheat Growers Association (SEPWA) for five years.
She previously worked for Landmark as its State marketing coordinator, and the then Avon Catchment Council (Wheatbelt Natural Resource Management) as its marketing manager.
Ms Walker's other experience includes being an executive committee member of the South Australian-based Ag Excellence Alliance, and participating in the Northern Mallee Leaders Program.
She is the national vice chairwoman of the GRDC-supported Partners in Grain initiative, which she also chaired for two years.
Ms Walker holds a Bachelor of Agribusiness (Hons) from Curtin University (Muresk campus).
The GRDC western regional panel incorporates a cross-section of grain growers, scientists and industry representatives who feed regional priorities into the organisation and assess funding proposals.
In addition to Ms Walker, other GRDC western panellists include growers Peter Roberts (chairman), John Even, Shauna Stone, Paul Kelly and Darrin Lee, scientist Mike Ewing (deputy chairman), consultant Chris Wilkins, research extension specialist Susan Hall and Agricultural Produce Commission chairman Bill Ryan. GRDC research programs executive manager Brondwen MacLean is on the panel in an executive role.
The GRDC plans and invests in RD&E for the Australian grains industry. Its primary objective is to support effective competition by Australian grain growers in global grain markets, through enhanced profitability and sustainability.
0428 751 095
Natalie Lee, Cox Inall Communications
08 9864 2034, 0427 189 827