When it comes to grains research, Tony Swan has an approach that is as straightforward as the down-to-earth farmers he works with: “if you are going to do something, do it well”.
The CSIRO senior experimental scientist, who has spent the past 30 years working on research projects designed to answer critical questions from inside the farm gate, has always felt enormous responsibility to ensure his work is accurate and meaningful.
“Research results I deliver must be right, because farmers are going to implement them on a scale that is at least a hundred times larger than a trial plot and they are going to spend their money and wear all the risk,” Mr Swan said.
It is this commitment to rigorous research that is at the heart of the experienced scientists’ work and one of the key reasons he was chosen as the recipient of the Grains Research and Development Corporation (GRDC) 2020 Recognising and Rewarding Excellence Award.
Mr Swan was presented with the award at the GRDC Grains Research Update in Wagga Wagga today (February 18).
GRDC Northern Panel member Roy Hamilton said the annual award celebrates the grains sector’s most committed researchers and innovators, offering them an international travel bursary, which can be used to extend their professional networks and conduct collaborative research for the benefit of the wider grains industry.
“Tony was selected by the GRDC Northern Panel to receive this award in recognition of his long-standing track record in delivering useful, relevant information to growers and working with fellow scientists and technical staff to develop and manage complex research projects,” Mr Hamilton said.
“Tony has an extraordinary ability to deliver detailed and highly technical information to growers and advisers in a way that is meaningful and has practical application to help improve farming systems.
“He is widely respected as a collaborative, innovative researcher with a passion for his work and for grain and grazing operations in southern and central NSW.”
Mr Hamilton said the well-known CSIRO researcher was also highly regarded for the scale and depth of his knowledge when it came to past and present research trials and results.
“Tony is an accomplished researcher, as well as an effective communicator, and this has been particularly evident in the long-term work he has done,” he said.
“He understands the value of having growers and agronomists involved in projects from the start to ensure the research has practical application and to constantly validate and test the directions of his trials.
“This has also meant Tony has an invaluable, supportive network of growers and agronomists who trust in his results because they’ve seen the outcomes firsthand and are willing and confident to make practice changes based on his research.”
The Canberra-based researcher started his working life post agricultural college as a station-hand in the Hunter Valley working on a mixed farming operation, before stepping into a role as farm manager on another larger mixed farming operation outside Wagga Wagga.
After eleven years in the paddock he changed tactics to work as a technical officer with NSW Department of Primary Industries, completing a degree in Applied Science in Agriculture (First class honours – focusing on pH gradients below and between plants) from Charles Sturt University, at the same time. In 1999 he joined CSIRO based in Canberra in a role that has grown and evolved, much like his knowledge.
His experience has included work in perennial pastures in mixed farming operations and managing subsoil constraints, primer crops, break crops and nitrogen fixation, weed control, inter-cropping, stubble management, pulses and more recently farming systems projects.
“I feel like all the work I have done over the past 30 years has led me to the current farming systems research that really integrates all elements of mixed and cropping farming in a way that enables growers to operate sustainability and profitably,” Mr Swan said.
“Understanding farming at an operational level has been an advantage, but I think personally what has made a difference for me is understanding and respecting farmers.
“They are humble people, they take risk, they manage diverse and large portfolios, and a lot of them are incredibly successful and very smart, but they generously give up their time and share their knowledge with me and it is an incredible privilege to work with them.
“I have worked with some outstanding researchers across many organisations and agribusiness companies as well, and I consider myself very fortunate to be in an industry I enjoy, that I joke gets me out of Canberra, but more importantly keeps me intricately connected with agriculture.
“I feel very humble to receive this prestigious award for work that I really enjoy doing and thank the GRDC for selecting me. It is truly a great honour to be nominated and recognised. So thank you to all concerned.”
Mr Swan said he was unsure how he would use his bursary, but he was committed to continuing research that delivered genuine gains back to industry and made a difference on-farm.