Who are Australia’s top young agronomists?

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New South Wales-based R&D agronomist Rohan Brill and SA agronomy consultant Louise Flohr were joint recipients of the Young Agronomist Award 2015 at the 17th Australian Agronomy Conference in Hobart.

NSW Department of Primary Industries R&D agronomist Rohan Brill, co-winner of the 2015 Young Agronomist Award, inspects a trial cereal crop with DPI director Deb Slinger and fellow DPI agronomist Mark Richards at Wagga Wagga Agricultural Institute.
NSW Department of Primary Industries R&D agronomist Rohan Brill, co-winner of the 2015 Young Agronomist Award, inspects a trial cereal crop with DPI director Deb Slinger and fellow DPI agronomist Mark Richards at Wagga Wagga Agricultural Institute.
NSW Department of Primary Industries (DPI)

The biennial award recognises excellence in research and/or the application of agronomy-related science by an agronomist aged 36 years or younger.

“The award is made on the basis of the young agronomist’s contribution to research, teaching and education, their publication record and relevance of other communications to both the scientific and non-scientific community,” Australian Society of Agronomy (ASA) president Professor Holger Meinke said.

Rohan Brill: serious about growing better crops - and getting the word out via social media

NSW Department of Primary Industries (DPI) agronomist Rohan Brill is keen to spread the word about his research findings – to everyone from the world’s top agronomists to students and farmers.

And it’s this ability to impart knowledge effectively to those who need it that got the Young Agronomist Award committee’s attention.

Deb Slinger, director at DPI’s Wagga Wagga Agricultural Institute, says the award is a recognition of Brill’s diverse achievements as a “hands-on scientist”, able to deliver research findings to farmers, advisers and fellow scientists in ways that are accessible and persuasive.

“We are very impressed by the way Rohan approaches his work – he is leading, supervising and collaborating on multi-stage research projects co-funded by DPI and the Grains Research and Development Corporation (GRDC),” Slinger says.

Recently, Brill’s focus has been on frost mitigation in wheat, and on new canola and barley agronomy.

Fields of canola, Binalong NSW: Young Agronomist Award recipient Rohan Brill's recent research focus has been on new canola and barley agronomy.
Young Agronomist Award recipient Rohan Brill's recent research focus has been on new canola and barley agronomy.
Jan Smith, Flickr CC

As part of the GRDC’s Optimised Canola Profitability project across three states – NSW, South Australia and Victoria – Brill investigated whether the development of spring canola is affected either by the variety (phenotype) of canola sown or by the time of planting. His research identified some major developmental differences, demonstrating that sowing time and plant phenology can affect both biomass production and yield potential.

“He also identified the significance of open-pollinated canola seed size in improving emergence, early vigour, weed competition and grain yield,” Slinger notes. “Now farmers across southern Australian are grading seed and using the larger seeds to lift production.

And Brill’s not just a lab-coated boffin: he’s out there spreading the word about agronomists’ latest findings, popping up regularly on YouTube to talk about the latest canola research or chickpea varieties’ varying degrees of resistance to disease.                           

“Rohan has effectively communicated research results to a large audience of advisers, grain growers and researchers through GRDC updates, field days, national and international conferences and new delivery platforms, including Twitter,” Slinger says.“[He] is reaching local and international audiences on social media, which encourages interaction between researchers, farmers and advisers.”

One week, Brill’s presenting to the world’s top scientists (most recently addressing a global audience at the 2015 International Rapeseed Conference in Canada). The next, he’s taking his agronomy message to high-school or uni students, grain growers or varieties the media.

“Rohan is a high-level communicator,” says Slinger. “The strength of [his] work is his focus on communication to encourage the adoption of new practices to boost grain and oil seed production.”

Louise Flohr: upskilling women in agriculture

Co-recipient of the 2015 Young Agronomist Award was Louise Flohr, an agricultural consultant at Agrilink in South Australia, providing farmers with agronomic and business advice.

Flohr has already made a substantial contribution to agricultural producers in the water-stressed Southern Mallee region through her astute agronomic advice and her work in the areas of water assessment, crop moisture management, emissions reduction extension, farm planning and business management. She’s also been running trials testing the impact of nitrogen on crop yields.

A more recent passion is helping to upskill women new to farm businesses in basic agronomic principles and practices. Flohr’s efforts in this regard led to a successful application for GRDC funding, which allowed her to launch the Grassroots Agronomy for Women in Farm Business program in 2014.The success of the first program led to further funding, this time from the Department of Environment, Water and Natural Resources (DEWNR), with a new group now established in mid-north SA.

“The women are really keen to learn,” Flohr told ABC Tasmania following the awards ceremony. “They are so much more engaged in the farming business.”

"Both winners have delivered exceptional results in both applied research and also through the communication of research outcomes that can benefit farmers,” ASA President Professor Meinke said. “Their passion is ensuring farmers have valued advice on the latest research developments and both have introduced innovative ideas for effective communication."

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