Well known agronomic and agribusiness consultant Chris Wilkins brings over 20 years’ experience in the Western Australian grains industry to his new role with the Grains Research and Development Corporation (GRDC).
Hailing from Badgingarra in WA’s grainbelt, Mr Wilkins said his skills would add to the spread of expertise on the western regional panel whose key role is to feed regional priorities into the GRDC and assess funding proposals.
“The panels have a very important role,” he said.
“The mix of experience on the panel gives very good direction for the expenditure of grower levies and the government funds that go with it.
“On the western panel we have people who have research backgrounds, we have farmers and we also have some industry people.
“What I hope to bring to the panel is my perspective as an agricultural consultant and an agronomist to see that projects that we think can make a difference to WA agriculture are funded.”
Mr Wilkins said his role as deputy chairman of the Council of Grain Grower Organisations Ltd (COGGO) had placed him in good stead for his GRDC position.
“The COGGO is in effect a ‘mini GRDC’ where we fund short-term small projects and research driven by grower groups in Western Australia,” he said.
Mr Wilkins is also a member of WA Agriculture Minister Ken Baston’s Ministerial Agricultural Advisory Council.
Mr Wilkins’ association with the agricultural industry stems back to 1990, when he landed his first job with the then Western Australian Department of Agriculture.
For the past 15 years he has run his own agricultural consultancy business, Vision Agribusiness Services, offering farm business, agronomy, farming systems and crop protection advice.
Simultaneously, he serves as a director for one of the State’s leading agricultural consultancy businesses, Synergy Consulting WA.
“My clients have really enjoyed the fact that five years ago I became a small-time farmer,” Mr Wilkins said of his recent diversification into farming, “Because I am now seeing some of the theory clash with reality.”
Members of the GRDC western regional panel serve a two-year term and provide a direct link between WA growers and the corporation, ensuring there is a two-flow of input into the organisation and feedback about latest research, development and extension results.
“Under the new method of assessing projects through ‘themes’ we’ve seen panel members have very close input into assessing projects on how grower levies are spent and what kind of research aims we are looking for,” Mr Wilkins said.
“We are getting very good at targeting research into areas that farmers and the rest of the industry think are important.”
Mr Wilkins highlighted the importance of working closely with the Regional Cropping Solutions Networks (RCSNs), which fund short-term projects, typically around local production constraints.
“What we have seen come through the RCSNs has been really good,” he said.
“It’s great to see something that’s local and has the ability to spend some immediate money on local issues.
“It is giving us the strength to prove up some ideas and take some of these research priorities up a level, to get greater expenditure and greater resources and a better outcome.
“But in the very first instance it is a very good way of getting an immediate connection between the growers, researchers and the GRDC.”
In terms of research priorities, Mr Wilkins said he was particularly interested in further research into weed resistance and non-wetting soils – the two biggest challenges facing his clients.
“I am interested in research on break crops and fallows in the medium and low rainfall zones, with the decrease of livestock in those areas putting a lot of pressure on herbicides for weed management,” he said.
Mr Wilkins said in the west of the grainbelt there were also problems with water repellent soils.
“To the west we have a lot of non-wetting soils which causes a lot of problems with crop and pasture establishment,” he said.
Non-wetting soils have been identified as a key area of investment for the GRDC under the GRDC External Investment Plan 2014-15, with funding in this area set to increase to about $7 million over the next five years, with a range of amelioration options to be investigated.