Tireless advocate for grower-driven R&D
GroundCover™ Issue: 107 | Author: Rebecca Jennings
Relaxing at his 150-year-old Kapunda homestead, David Shannon, the outgoing chair of the GRDC’s Southern Panel, is reflective when he considers his 15 years as a grower representative. His tireless enthusiasm for the role mirrors a deep passion for agricultural research and a commitment that is far from dimming.
A new role with the South Australian Grain Industry Trust (SAGIT) will continue to keep him close to research and its adoption by growers.
David has always been an advocate for the role of research in driving progress in farming. It was something to which he could fully apply himself after he returned to the family farm in 1981 following a period studying architecture in Perth and Adelaide.
In 1987, David spent time researching legume rotations in the UK as part of a Nuffield Scholarship.
David and his wife Susan’s Barossa Valley farm ‘Illawarra’ has been in the family since the 1850s and the property has hosted many university, state and CSIRO cropping trials over the years.
It was this passion for agricultural research that saw David take up a four-year GRDC Southern Panel position in 1991. He rejoined the panel in 2002 and was chairman until June this year when he formally stepped down.
Just as technology and management innovations have transformed his own farm, David has seen many changes to the industry during his involvement with the GRDC.
“Some of the early research challenges were root diseases in cereals, especially Rhizoctonia in wheat, which severely limited productivity,” he says.
“But thanks to incredible efforts in the R&D space, with new varieties, better understanding of diseases and targeted management through tillage and fungicide, the effects of root diseases on crop productivity have diminished.”
David lists water use efficiency as another key advance achieved through R&D. Not only have WUE practices, including stubble retention and weed control, delivered higher yields to regions such as the Wimmera and Mallee, but even in the relatively consistent seasons at Kapunda, David has seen WUE double.
However, the biggest dividends to the grains industry delivered by R&D, David believes, have come from technological advances.
“There has been a huge swing towards precision agriculture, with growers embracing innovations such as auto-steering and variable-rate technology. The GRDC has invested in this space to improve productivity, help management and reduce costs.”
The increase of technology in pure research areas has also delivered huge benefits: “The GRDC’s initial involvement in molecular marker technology was very high-risk, blue-sky research. Initially, the industry was sceptical, but over the past two decades research has advanced plant-breeding technologies and growers can now access a range of high-yielding, robust varieties supported by yield data.”
In his time with the GRDC, David has seen the funding and direction of the organisation change and the roles of the panels evolve.
“The panels are now more active in setting the the GRDC’s strategic direction. They have a good geographical spread and represent networks across the industry’s producing, processing and research sectors. It’s encouraging to see growers become more proactive in seeking information and contributing their perspective to help identify priority research areas which will meet real needs and fill knowledge gaps, to improve productivity.”
Looking ahead, David believes market share remains an issue. He describes innovative growers who look for opportunities such as niche markets as the leaders in this field, and he flags the promotion of grain as a healthy food choice as essential.
“Increasing efficiencies in the face of drying seasons will be another key challenge. The opportunity lies in better climate tools, especially short-term forecasting, so growers have support tools to plan, manage and market with more surety.”
David says his proudest time during his work with the GRDC was engaging with other growers, and he encourages others to consider applying for a seat on a regional panel.
More information:David Shannon,
GRDC Regional Panels,
Region South, Overseas