Rewards aplenty await grain growers across the nation thanks to a unique opportunity on offer through the Grains Research and Development Corporation’s support of the Nuffield Australia Scholarship program.
Growers are being urged to apply for the four GRDC-sponsored Nuffield Scholarships available in 2020.
Each of the GRDC-supported scholarships provides a $30,000 bursary to the successful applicant to study a topic relevant to their business and the broader grains industry. Applications close on June 14 this year.
GRDC Head of Corporate Affairs, Kylie Dunstan, says benefits such as personal and professional development, enriching travel and networking experiences and a chance to contribute to the advancement of the grains industry beckon those growers who are granted scholarships.
Ms Dunstan says the GRDC’s long-standing support of the Nuffield Scholarship program is an important investment in industry leadership, skills and capacity.
“Our grain-growing leaders are fundamental to a strong grains industry,” Ms Dunstan said. “They play an important role in championing policies that directly affect not only growers’ profitability, but also the increasingly important need for social licence.
“Ensuring the grains industry has a pool of skilled leaders is vital for its enduring profitability and success, and the GRDC’s support of the Nuffield Scholarship program is a very effective mechanism for achieving that end.
“Many graduates of this program will go on to add further value to the grains industry through their participation in GRDC regional panels, cropping networks, grower representative organisations and boards,” Ms Dunstan said.
Nuffield Scholars each year embark on a global study program over an 18-month period, delving into their chosen topic.
The GRDC-supported scholars will communicate their learnings back to other growers through traditional and social media, as well as directly through their participation in and attendance at various GRDC Updates and events.
Since the year 2000, the GRDC has supported 64 Nuffield Scholars, all of whom espouse the value of the program and its positive impact on their lives and livelihoods.
Among the cohort of Nuffield Scholars undertaking studies this year is GRDC-sponsored grower Andrew Sargent, of Crystal Brook in South Australia.
Mr Sargent is investigating how farm sensors and the Internet of Things (IoT) can improve the efficiency and profitability of cropping and mixed farming enterprises.
A fifth-generation farmer with an eye on the future, Mr Sargent runs a continuous cropping grain enterprise comprising wheat, barley, lentils, canola and oaten hay production across 2000 hectares of owned and leased land about 200 kilometres north of Adelaide.
As someone who cares for and manages the land, Mr Sargent is particularly focused on how new sensor technologies can allow for better weather observations and inform the decision-making process when it comes to climate variability, as well as reduce staff costs and monitoring times.
“To increase the scale of our operation, we’ll need to utilise new technologies to bolster current practices. There’s a lot of interest from Australian farmers in sensor technology, but we’re lacking the knowledge and confidence to implement it successfully on farm,” he said.
Mr Sargent plans to travel to the Netherlands, which is leading the way in the free roll out of IoT networks currently used for smart city and environmental monitoring, as well as leading research institutions in Europe and agtech start-ups in the United States.
“Sensor technology opens up a host of benefits for the food and fibre supply chain, from grains right through to livestock and viticulture. I look forward to presenting my findings to industry, which I hope will provide insights that farmers can use to collect more regular and accurate data to inform decision-making.”
Canowindra (New South Wales) grower Stuart McDonald used his 2018 GRDC-sponsored Nuffield Scholarship to research how continuous cropping with livestock integration can improve high rainfall cropping profitability.
Mr McDonald operates a mixed farming business comprising sheep, cattle and cropping that has become increasingly demarcated in relation to the allocation of land where these enterprises are run. He is looking to find ways to benefit his overall business performance by integrating livestock into a more diverse continuous cash cropping rotation.
Mr McDonald sees continuous cropping with livestock integration as an opportunity to decrease financial risk, and enhance whole-farm profitability by broadening the ability to harvest profit from a cropping sequence, increase biological activity, cycle nutrients, utilise rainfall and extend pasture productivity.
“The Nuffield Scholarship has provided an opportunity to address the current knowledge gaps around continuous cropping and livestock integration in high rainfall areas, and to apply these learnings on-farm, to grow a more profitable and sustainable business,” Mr McDonald said.
“Livestock are a tool like many others available to farmers, that need to be used accurately and with an end result in mind. Done well, they have the ability to earn income and boost soil health by speeding up the cycling of nutrients which can reduce input costs without compromising production.”
Another grower who has benefited considerably from the study program is Katrina Sasse, from Morawa in Western Australia, who received a 2017 Nuffield Scholarship supported by the GRDC.
Ms Sasse researched “the way forward for daughters” and investigated strategies to encourage young women, particularly farmers’ daughters, to play an integral role in the continuity of family farm businesses, enabling them to survive and help rural communities thrive.
Ms Sasse, who works full-time as a manager of her family’s cereal and oilseed cropping enterprise, focused her studies on the growing number of women farm operators around the globe and initiatives encouraging women in agriculture. Her research has been particularly pertinent to families who see the benefits and opportunities of having daughters in the business.
“I have a lot of confidence in what women are doing on farms. The wheels have turned and we must promote the achievements of female farmers to the younger generation so they are educated about where the future of ag is headed,” she said.
“Women bring new ideas, creativity and leadership styles to any industry. More can be done to encourage a balanced gender setting on farms and in groups and organisations in rural Australia and to increase the engagement of daughters in family farm succession planning.”