When a significant mouse plague hit many of Australia’s grain growing regions during 2021, impacting rural communities, businesses and grain crops, growers were guided and assured by the knowledge and advice of researcher and mouse expert at Australia’s national science agency, CSIRO, Mr Steve Henry.
Mr Henry’s long-term research, aimed at improving mouse control methods and reducing significant impacts from plagues, is well known to Australian grain growers particularly across the Northern region. He has also become something of a household name as mainstream media relied on his expertise to explain the impact to regional communities during the most recent mouse plague.
Today, Mr Henry’s research and tireless commitment to helping growers improve their management practices was formally recognised, as he was awarded the coveted Grains Research and Development Corporation (GRDC) northern region 2022 Seed of Light Award at the GRDC Grains Research Update in Wagga Wagga.
The Seed of Light Award was established in 1999 and has been presented annually to an individual who has made a significant contribution to communicating the importance and relevance of research outcomes to the wider grains industry.
GRDC Northern Panel Chair, John Minogue, said Mr Henry’s research has had a positive impact on the grains industry for years but his leadership, knowledge and the dedication he has for communicating updates to growers during stressful periods like a mouse plague made him the obvious choice for the 2022 northern Seed of Light Award.
“Steve has cemented himself as a trusted, informed member of the grains industry, who communicates in a way that everybody can understand,” he said.
“Not only has he worked tirelessly to continue developing high class research outcomes aimed at reducing the negative impacts mice have on our industry, but he goes out of his way to ensure key stakeholders have access to the information that can help them.
“During the most recent mouse plague, Steve spent numerous hours on the phone to radio journalists, speaking at field days and developing communication pieces that highlighted management strategies growers could put in place to reduce mouse numbers.
“Steve consistently goes over and above for the industry he supports and the northern grains sector is incredibly fortunate to have the backing of such a knowledgeable, experienced professional who’s made such an impression on the performance of our production.”
Mr Henry has worked as a CSIRO Research Officer for just under 30 years and has always been interested in minimising the impact of introduced pest species on the grains industry.
In 2012, Mr Henry played a pivotal role in reinvigorating mouse surveillance efforts across Australia’s grain growing regions and worked to solve the research gap in control methods when Australian grain growers moved from cultivation to no-till farming.
“It was clear that the farming system had changed significantly since past research had been conducted on mice in conventional cropping systems,” Mr Henry said.
“Over time, CSIRO endeavoured to fill the gap in research and since then, we’ve made some pretty significant discoveries regarding bait efficacy and how mice interact with cropping systems.
“As we build on this information, it’s allowed us to become more strategic in the way we undertake mouse management.”
As a former farmer himself, Mr Henry has acquired the ability to communicate often complex research in a way that growers can relate to. Over time, this communication became a core part of his role.
“My role at the interface between science and industry has been extremely rewarding as I’ve been able to play a part in communicating what we are doing to improve management strategies but also in shaping the direction of the research we take,” he said.
“Listening to growers has helped identify problems and develop solutions for a range of issues that farmers have had to deal with throughout the recent mouse plague.,” he said.
Mr Henry said receiving the Seed of Light Award was a huge honour and encouraged him to continue doing his part to inform growers, advisers and rural communities on how to proactively manage and prevent mouse outbreaks.
“This is such wonderful recognition, I was truly blown away and feel so motivated to continue doing this work for rural communities,” he said.
Mr Henry said CSIRO’s future research would continue to look at improving mouse management strategies and will also try to understand the impacts high numbers have on small country towns and other elements of the productive system, such as fodder storage.
GRDC has invested in a number of CSIRO’s mouse management research projects, which he said has played a key role in delivering outcomes for growers.
“This work is essential for the grains industry, so having support from organisations like GRDC, who give us the resources and capacity to conduct our research, is so important,” he said.