News in brief

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Professor Michael (Mick) Poole.

PHOTO: Evan Collis

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Wheat and durum-breeding pioneer Professor Tony Rathjen.

Honour for Mick Poole

Former GRDC board member Professor Michael (Mick) Poole was awarded an Order of Australia in this year’s Queen’s Birthday Honours.

The citation was for “significant service to environmental science as a leader, researcher and adviser to government”.

Now in “semi-retirement”, Professor Poole retains a strong interest in cropping systems, bioenergy and biofuels, is an Honorary Professorial Fellow at the University of Western Australia, a CSIRO Research Fellow and immediate past chair of the Swan River Trust. He is noted for his expertise in dryland farming systems and landscape management, having worked with the Department of Agriculture and Food, Western Australia, for 29 years and CSIRO for 15. He was head of the CSIRO Centre for Mediterranean Agricultural Research and a program leader with CSIRO Plant Industry.

Agricultural boards he has chaired include the Australian Plant Industries Committee, the National Pasture Improvement Coordination Committee and the WA Wheat Advisory Committee.

Professor Poole is also a past director of the Future Farm Industries Cooperative Research Centre (CRC), the Plant-Based Management of Dryland Salinity CRC and the Legumes in Mediterranean Agriculture CRC.

Vale Tony Rathjen (1940–2014)

Professor Tony Rathjen, a plant breeder and lecturer whose legacy includes more than 25 wheat varieties and teaching scores of agricultural science graduates, died in June, aged 74, after a battle with cancer.

Following his Bachelor of Agricultural Science at the University of Adelaide in 1962, Professor Rathjen won a scholarship to study genetics at the University of Cambridge. Three years later, armed with his PhD, he returned to South Australia hoping to work as a geneticist, but instead became a wheat breeder at the Waite Research Institute.

With a geneticist’s eye, and in the context of the technological innovation and collaboration occurring at Waite in the late 1960s and 1970s, Professor Rathjen helped to revolutionise Australian wheat breeding.

Some of the innovations that came from the program Professor Rathjen led included resistance to cereal cyst and Pratylenchus nematode pests, boron tolerance, adaptation to alkaline and saline soils, introducing the first durum germplasm into SA, improved quality traits for flour, pasta and biscuit making, and increased yields.

He was keen to work with farmers and would enlist growers as research assistants. As a lecturer, Professor Rathjen was admired for his laid-back yet enthusiastic manner and lateral thinking.

With the royalties from the wheat variety YitpiA, Professor Rathjen set up the Yitpi Foundation to support crop science research, agricultural education, overseas study tours for undergraduates and studies of the linguistics and culture of Indigenous Australians.

Non-wetting soil booklet

The GRDC and the Department of Agriculture and Food, Western Australia (DAFWA), have released a new booklet on non-wetting soils. The 64-page booklet, Combatting non-wetting soils: A tour of on-farm research in Western Australia – 2014, outlines some of the options WA grain growers are using to manage non-wetting soils.

Written by Niki Curtis, of the South East Premium Wheat Growers Association, DAFWA researchers Dr Steve Davies, David Hall and Derk Bakker, and CSIRO researcher Dr Margaret Roper, the booklet was developed to increase grower knowledge of methods of addressing non-wetting soils.