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Stored grain expert calls time on much-admired career

After a quarter of a century in stored grain research and extension, Philip Burrill is retiring
Photo: Supplied

Key points

  • Stored grain stalwart Philip Burrill is retiring
  • He has been the interface between researchers and growers for more than two decades, helping northern growers optimise returns from on-farm storage
  • This had included work to minimise insect resistance to fumigants, while maximising Australia’s competitive edge

After participating in 74 GRDC Grains Research Updates, hosting 300 on-farm workshops and producing more than 21 GRDC publications – all while conducting on-farm research, fielding calls from growers and agronomists and detouring to an unknown number of on-farm silos – stored grain stalwart Philip Burrill is retiring.

The 2018 Seed of Light award recipient has been an integral part of the Queensland Department of Agriculture and Fisheries (DAF) post-harvest grain research team since he started in the role more than 25 years ago. And he will be sorely missed.

GRDC grower relations manager Graeme Sandral says grain growers, and the national and local teams Philip has been an essential part of, will deeply miss his knowledge, expertise, and warm engaging manner.

GRDC national grain storage extension project team leader Chris Warrick says Philip, a senior DAF development agronomist, has been a critical connection between research and on-farm outcomes. “He is dedicated to helping growers improve their on-farm grain storage,” he says.

“He was also a vital link in assisting researchers to identify and design trials that were relevant to grower needs. With GRDC investment support, the work done by Philip and the grain storage extension team has had a dramatic positive impact on grower bottom lines as well as industry sustainability.”

On a broader level, this has helped ensure insect resistance to fumigants is minimised and Australia’s competitive edge maximised.

Stored grain history

John Cameron, founding director of the agronomy and communications business Independent Consultants Australia Network (ICAN), has worked with Philip for more than 25 years delivering both GRDC Updates and researching and extending stored grain information. He says that growers in the northern region have always been among the most self-reliant, particularly when it comes to on-farm storage. “Back in the early 2000s, northern grain growers already had more on-farm storage per tonne produced than their southern and western counterparts. They recognised the value of such investments and were increasing their investment in on-farm storage and grain handling systems.”

In a fortuitous move for these growers, associated researchers and the industry, Philip took on an extension role in stored grain with the then Queensland Department of Primary Industries (DPI).

He had just moved with his family to Warwick, following a few years at DPI’s Dalby information centre and DPI Inglewood. It was the start of his long stint at the Hermitage Research Facility.

This move coincided with an increased grower, researcher and GRDC interest in the work being done by former entomologist Dr Pat Collins and the post-harvest research team at DPI in Indooroopilly, Brisbane.

Philip says there was more and more interest in on-farm grain storage for both marketing and logistical reasons. “GRDC could see that and wanted to get best-practice information to growers. I must credit GRDC for recognising that and making something happen.

“I also felt that growers, who put in a lot of effort producing the crop, plus take on many risks, should reap the lion’s share of the benefits. So, I supported those who wanted more flexibility at harvest time and the option to directly market their own grain – it was a time of change and on-farm grain storage was a prerequisite for that.”

National Grain Storage Extension Project

Soon the National Grain Storage Extension Project was launched, on which John recalls working with Philip.

“It was set up by GRDC in the early 2000s, originally to put some stewardship around phosphine – both technically and in terms of improving grower practice,” John says.

The aim was to educate growers on best practices while maintaining phosphine’s efficacy. “We needed to manage that because the risk of insect resistance was there. We wanted to be able to have processes in place, so it was used correctly and not in leaky storages.”

In time, this led to work on grain drying and early harvesting, testing the hypothesis that grain quality would be better if harvested early and ambient aeration or drying used. It worked, reducing levels of grain weathering. “Phil was a substantial part of that project.”

Competitive access

Overriding all of Philip’s extension work has been market access and keeping the Australian grains industry competitive.

DAF post-harvest commodity protection unit team leader Dr Manoj Nayak says this is the “big picture”.

“All of Philip’s work helps facilitate this trade. Australia must compete with the big players, and we do this through quality. If we fail on this, if growers are not maintaining quality via storage, then the industry suffers,” he says.

Manoj says Philip’s extension work has effectively taken scientific messages and given them to growers in language and formats they understand and can relate to.

“All the data we scientists create is a waste if it does not end up in the hands of end-users. Likewise, Philip has been a conduit to bring growers’ questions and challenges back to the laboratory as well as conducting field trials to find answers. And although his work area has been the northern region, he has had a huge influence beyond that. Philip created practice change.”

Manoj likens the countless workshop barbecues that Philip regularly hosted to going to church and spreading the gospel. “Questions can be asked in a relaxed way. Philip always brings all his equipment with him so growers can touch it and see how it works. He then goes and checks out silos so everyone can get first-hand experience with them. It is so important in the value chain and his extension has played a major role.”


It was Philip’s love of applied science and the outdoors, much of that fuelled by visiting his uncle’s farm in the Adelaide Hills, that led to a career in agronomy and extension.

That has included two years on an organic farm, three years on a cotton and grain farm, work as a DPI agronomist in Inglewood on Queensland’s Western Downs, and seven years in Dalby with GrainCorp – a move he credits with giving him a feel for bulk handling.

A career spent outside has not dimmed Philip’s love of the outdoors and, with more time on his hands, he hopes to do more orienteering with his wife Marion. This might include his growing brood of grandchildren, soon to be six.

For those in the grains industry, his legacy remains passion, generosity and attention to detail.

Manoj says Philip’s commitment has been unwavering. “Philip goes out of his way to see people and help. He is peerless and I will miss him.”

Chris Warrick says Philip never demanded respect. “However, his drive for growers makes him hugely respected.”

For ICAN’s John Cameron and colleague Erica McKay, who have worked with Philip on many Updates, it is his passion that will be remembered.

“He really is a super-effective extension interface,” John says. “He has spoken at 32 Updates and not only works with researchers, but he also understands growers’ needs. He knows how research helps in grower decision-making, monitoring and management of grain. Phil has always kept it as simple as he could. He didn’t simplify it, but he kept it simple.

“He is a speaker in very high demand. He’s always one of the last people to leave and is always there talking to growers and growers are always there talking to him.”

Erica says Philip always has time to talk to someone or walk through their system. “He’s a lovely person and always makes the extra effort.”

GRDC’s Graeme Sandral says the GRDC family wishes Philip well. “We all sincerely thank Phil for his contribution and wish him well in his new life chapter.”

More information: Stored Grain Information Hub or call your nearest grain storage specialist on 1800 WEEVIL (1800 933 845); Chris Warrick,; Alex Conway, 0487 277 766,; Brock Dembowski, 0467 819 592,

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