Meet your panel

Mark McKay

NEW Northern Panel member and Warren grower Mark McKay speaks for central NSW growers. He believes many growers still haven't adopted the results of existing research supported by the GRDC, and that work needs to continue on the development of wheat varieties for more difficult growing areas like northwest NSW which are adapted to direct sowing.

Winter cereals are the main cropping enterprise on the McKay family's 3,440 ha 'Winnabri', 30 km from Warren, with an established wheat-lucerne rotation. A 612 MI irrigation licence from the Macquarie River under the Tenandra cooperative scheme - of which Mr McKay is president - allows irrigation of 100 ha.

A FORMER Director of the Victorian Institute of Dryland Agriculture and currently working part-time with the Victorian Department of Natural Resources and Environment, Robert Belford spent a decade with the WA Department of Agriculture, including four years as Principal Research Officer, Plant Industry.

A crop physiologist and agronomist, he has 30 years research experience in the UK, USA, Europe and Australia and is President of the Australian Society of Agronomy. Under the revised GRDC structure, Dr Belford is responsible for the Sustainable Farming Systems Program in his first term on the GRDC's Western Regional Panel.

Research priorities in the region include enhancing farming systems projects to incorporate sandplain systems, encouraging practical methods for optimising moisture use at sowing, exploiting new pasture species and soil and plant nutrition. Dr Belford identified the five-year $10 million soil biology initiative as a clear demonstration of the new way of doing business being adopted by the GRDC.

"This initiative will develop practical, cost-effective products based on the improved knowledge we will gain of crop root and soil interactions:' he said.

In the GRDC's 2002-03 prospectus, it was announced that precision agriculture would be developed as a national initiative because the basic causes

of spatial variability were replicated across cropping regions and the skills base needed to implement the initiative was small.

"This is the sort of big picture thinking we need in the Sustainable Farming Systems Program and I applaud the Western Panel for identifying the issue and then having it endorsed for national action," Dr Belford said. Alan Umbers has been re-appointed to the southern regional panel and brings with him a mix of grains industry skills and experience. These include operating a small grain farm at undle in central NSW where cereals, pulses and canola are grown in rotation with lucerne using a minimum-tillage farming system involving, where possible, the retention of stubbles.

Mr Umbers, who holds a Masters degree in Rural Science from the University of New England, sees many farms and talks with many farmers as part of his agricultural consultancy work, which focuses on weed control, tillage systems, crop rotations and disease and crop nutrition management. He has previous experience in R&D management with a major agri-chemical company and was strongly involved in the development of alternative tillage and cropping systems in southern NSW through the 1980s. He continues to carry out some on-farm trials both for his own interest and under contract for other organisations.

Mr Umbers has a great interest in the adoption of conservation farming systems and has taken a key role in this field both in his private capacities and as a member of the GRDC Southern Panel. He sees the farming system as the arena where results from research are tested and implemented - hence, the importanceof systems-based research.

Weeds are another area of concern and involve: R&D investments into better summer weed management in the southern states; continued work on herbicide resistance; and learning how to manage weeds through the farming system.

s well, he has had a close association with GRDC investments in plant breeding technology utilising both molecular and conventional technologies and the development of alternative fumigants for protection of grain in storage.