Growers mark researcher's place in history

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Portrait of grower Darryl Harper and Dr James Hunt

FarmLink chair and NSW grower Darryl Harper (left) with La Trobe University senior lecturer Dr James Hunt at FarmLink’s Temora Agricultural Innovation Centre.

PHOTO: Nicole Baxter

Members of the grower group FarmLink gathered at Temora in southern New South Wales to thank former CSIRO senior researcher Dr James Hunt (JH) for his work with them and to wish him well in his new role as a senior lecturer at La Trobe University. Ground Cover’s Nicole Baxter (NB) caught up with Dr Hunt and FarmLink chair and grain grower Darryl Harper (DH) for a quick Q&A

Dr James Hunt

NB: After moving from Victoria to work in Canberra for CSIRO about a decade ago, what struck you about southern New South Wales?
JH: Dr John Kirkegaard took me to look at some of the trial sites. I was impressed by the region’s beauty.

What will you remember from your collaboration with FarmLink?
JH: Discussing our collaborative research with members of the FarmLink water use efficiency (WUE) steering committee. Everybody was engaged in trying to improve WUE. I learnt a lot from the growers and consultants involved. A highlight was the interest of our trial hosts including Peter, Lynn and Jason Coleman and Bernard and Robert Hart.

NB: What led you to a research career?
JH: After finishing my PhD on the weed ecology of common heliotrope I wasn’t very inspired to do research. But joining Birchip Cropping Group and working on Yield Prophet® enabled me to connect with growers and consultants. There was an excitement and enthusiasm about farming and research.

NB: What has been a highlight of your career so far?
JH: The shift to early sowing. I am pleased that so many growers have been interested in what our data has shown.

NB: What do you see as agriculture’s
biggest challenge?
JH: Changing climate. Events such as
we had in early October last year with temperatures in the high 30s and hot north winds will only become more common. Southern NSW was lucky, but north-west Victoria wasn’t so lucky.  

NB: What will growers need to focus on?
JH: In north-west Victoria it will be tough because growing-season rainfall has gone from 230 to just 180 millimetres averaged over the past 17 years. Growers will need to focus on a lot of things, particularly business structure. Agronomy and new genetics will assist a little, but the price of grain relative to inputs will determine what is possible.

NB: What stands out about grower achievements in the past decade?
JH: The yields growers are achieving now compared with when I started working with CSIRO are much closer to water-limited yield potential. Many growers have improved their summer weed control, are sowing earlier and employing better nitrogen management. Also, break crops are being used for weed and disease management. It all adds up. There’s clear evidence that even though we’ve had declining growing-season rainfall in many locations, growers have been able to maintain, and in many cases increase yields because they’ve improved crop WUE.

Darryl Harper

NB: Where do you farm?
DH: In the Barmedman-Ariah Park district, where the mean annual rainfall is about 490mm and growing season rainfall is 200 to 240mm.

How have you applied James’s research?
DH: His research on early sowing has delivered big benefits to our business. After seeing the results, we started growing EGA Wedgetail again after tossing it out a couple of years before.

NB: What has been the benefit of early sowing?
DH: It has added about 10 per cent to our yields. We’re sowing early and main season wheat seven to 10 days earlier, if a seasonal break allows. We aim to start sowing EGA Wedgetail from late-March and finish sowing our main-season wheats by mid to late May. If we’re not finished, then we know we’re looking at a yield penalty. Early sowing means grain fill occurs earlier, when the heat stress risk is lower. The frost risk is manageable, to a degree, with longer-season wheats sown earlier. Frost damage at flowering has to be balanced against the certainty of heat stress at grain fill. Sowing later doesn’t mean our crops will escape a late frost.

NB: What will you miss about James?

DH: His presentation style. It’s rare to find a scientist who is an entertaining communicator.


More information:

Dr James Hunt,
03 9032 7425,,


Darryl Harper,
0428 741 334,,


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Awards for dedication

GRDC Project Code CSP00178, CSP00160

Region North