‘Research mad’ grower reflects on progress

In the early 1980s, Western Australian farmer John Hutchinson moved to South Mingenew in WA’s northern wheatbelt, attracted by the possibility of growing lupins and clover in rotation with wheat.

“One of the first rotation trials we had on the farm, soon after we moved up, was continuous cropping with a lupin/wheat rotation,” he says. “Continuous cropping was never heard of before lupins and canola came in.”

But lupins back then had problems with brownspot and root rots, and in the first issue of Ground Cover Mr Hutchinson expressed his hope they would improve.  

“A lot of those problems were substantially solved by plant breeding,” he says, adding “the machinery and technology for planting into stubbles has improved substantially and placement of the seed has improved.”

In a long career in farming – Mr Hutchinson began farming aged just 14 in Wyalkatchem in 1946 – he has observed a greater interaction between the scientists and the farmer in the field, enhanced by the formation of many farmer groups.

“Farmer research was by trial-and-error research. It was very, very slow and quite costly. The scientists came in and put theory to a lot of that.”

He says that when he first started farming “a 10-bag crop was a great crop – that is two tonnes to the hectare. Now if you don't grow three tonnes, in a reasonable season, you have stuffed up somewhere.”

Mr Hutchinson says the biggest change he has seen is the introduction of chemicals, including fertilisers. “When Spray.Seed® first arrived and direct drilling, it was a dramatic change in the thinking. Chemicals have just exploded. The GRDC was the catalyst that put in place a lot of that research.”

Mr Hutchinson became deeply involved in agricultural research, serving on the WA Farmers Federation research committee.

Now retired at Port Denison, he reflects, “I was absolutely research-mad when I was a youngster.” Asked if it paid off, he answers with a chuckle, “I think so.”

Region West