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The next generation: our bridge to the future

Jock Binnie in a crop on one of his family’s farms near Bungeet, Victoria.
Photo: Rob Lacey Photography

As a grain grower, I understand the value of having a team of trusted, skilled, committed people working with me on-farm. It is a business game-changer. In agriculture we need people with the right training and skill sets; it is the same for grains research, development and extension (RD&E).

GRDC has a proud history of investing in the next generation of young PhD and postdoctorate students to build research capacity in the Australian grains industry. In the current edition of GroundCover™ we have a special GroundCover™ Supplement – Grains Research: The Next Generation – featuring 30 of the country’s best and brightest students who have benefited from grower support through GRDC investment.

These students come from different environments and educational backgrounds, and many are already having an impact as early career researchers in the grains sector. There is Heather Pasley, who moved from the US to pursue a career in crop modelling, and Max Bloomfield who is completing his PhD and will be joining Nick Poole’s team at Field Applied Research Australia.

Success in agriculture often hinges on those working in glasshouses and trial plots successfully connecting with those in the paddock. In the current GroundCover™ edition we also showcase some of the up-and-coming young growers, including Jock Binnie, Tom Longmire (son of Phil Longmire, a past GRDC-supported Nuffield scholar) and Rebecca Kelly (daughter of Paul Kelly, past GRDC western region panel member).

Many of these case studies are examples of youthful enthusiasm and knowledge complementing wisdom and experience. As Rebecca Kelly put it, “Returning to the farm with an agribusiness degree meant my training complemented my father’s agronomic experience.”

Investing in the next generation of researchers and grain growers is key to innovation both in RD&E and in terms of practice change on-farm.

Interestingly, more than 50 per cent of Australians surveyed in 2021 to determine community perceptions of Australian agriculture viewed the nation’s rural industries as innovative compared to our global competitors. This survey project has investment from 11 of Australia’s rural research and development corporations, including GRDC, and has collated the views of more than 14,000 people.

The products themselves are like a physical handshake … feeling connected to grain growers through the exchange of a loaf of bread.

The survey also showed 90 per cent of respondents had a moderate to extremely high level of trust in Australian grain growers to act responsibly. This high level of trust is associated with environmental responsibility, responsiveness to community concerns, the importance of products produced by rural industries and distributional fairness (that the benefits of rural industries are shared fairly, especially with regional communities).

Lead survey researcher Kieran Moffat says the more the broader community feels connected to the land, the greater their level of trust in the rural sector. He describes this connection as happening via quality food and fibre products. “The products themselves are like a physical handshake … feeling connected to grain growers through the exchange of a loaf of bread.”

It’s an image that appeals to me. After all, we are part of an industry that has always placed value on the power of a handshake.

All in all, the future of the Australian grains industry is positive and, despite the challenges we face with seasonal conditions and issues such as COVID-19, the next generation are ready and willing to play their part with the support of the broader community. Thank you to our grain growers, through GRDC, in supporting the next crop of talent in the grains industry.

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