Face-to-face in the shed

Photo of John Harvey

John Harvey, managing director, Grains Research and Development Corporation

Editorial

Harvest is well underway around much of the country and it is with a mix of hope and cautious optimism that we will see some improvement for growers in Western Australia’s eastern wheatbelt.

That part of WA has had some very tough seasons, culminating earlier this year in several crisis meetings and the state government stepping in with assistance packages. It is hard to watch otherwise successful, professional grain growers hit by climatic circumstances beyond anyone’s control. For the GRDC it heightens very acutely our sense of responsibility to ensure the right research projects are in place to give growers in this situation every possible chance to maximise whatever production a given season allows.

This was the rationale for our creation of the Regional Cropping Solutions Networks (RCSN) in the western and southern regions and the appointment of autonomous local research facilitators with the capacity to respond rapidly to local needs.

In October, I travelled to WA’s eastern wheatbelt with western grower services manager Darren Hughes, who oversees the RCSN in WA, and Western Region Panel chair, Peter Roberts, who farms near Ravensthorpe.

We had eight ‘shed meetings’ at Hyden, Muntadgin, Merredin, Mukinbudin, Bencubbin, Cadoux, Wongan Hills and Toodyay.

We called them shed meetings, but there were also a couple of kitchens and town halls. The purpose was to be able to discuss local production issues with small groups of growers in settings that allowed a free and frank discussion about people’s immediate and longer-term research, development and extension needs.

In total, we met more than 50 growers, who in the main indicated our current research priorities are on the right track and that the RCSN model is gaining strong support. There are five RCSNs across the western region and they comprise a mix of more than 70 respected growers and industry professionals who meet twice a year to discuss local research priorities.

This prioritisation not only allows the GRDC to deploy appropriate research and extension resources to address local issues, but the knowledge gained or lessons learnt in taking on local and regional challenges also feed into the national GRDC structure for use or adaptation by growers with similar needs elsewhere.

The priority issues articulated by the WA growers we met included weeds management, frost, more decision-support tools that combine economic, physical and technical data, non-wetting soils, more rotation options, soil acidity and water use efficiency (www.grdc.com.au/RCSN-Report-WA).

All of these challenges are shared, to varying degrees, by growers everywhere so advances in technology and practices that we can achieve in one region will invariably have wider application.

The WA shed meetings were valuable and instructive, not only for our engagement with WA’s eastern wheatbelt community, but also for our interaction with all grain-growing communities. I intend to continue to have meetings like this every year in all three GRDC regions – western, southern and northern.

In this issue of Ground Cover we welcome the GRDC’s new chair, NSW grower Richard Clark, an experienced grower and company director. Since his appointment, Richard and I have been meeting with the heads of all of the major state agricultural departments and other research partners – to introduce Richard, but importantly (as with the WA meetings) to sustain the vital dialogue between the GRDC and industry stakeholders.

All of these recent meetings have been an opportunity to reaffirm the GRDC’s commitment to servicing the industry from an informed position; a necessary factor in ensuring research priorities are correctly focused and research outcomes can be readily and effectively adopted.

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