Regional Winner | Sustainability category
Chris Toohey is an adviser at Elders and a 2020 Growth Awards Regional Winner in the Sustainability category. Read on to learn more about Chris.
What’s the one thing you have done in your career you are most proud of?
I have been able to establish fully replicated trials to test out varieties and nutrition on crops, which give valuable information to the growers I service. Initially I started out with demonstration sites six years ago to showcase new varieties and new products but then I stepped it up and made sure the trials were done properly with reportable independent data. I am proud of the journey I’ve been on and to produce information which is equivalent to that which is reported in scientific journals. That has flowed on to being asked to be a guest speaker at grower forums and GRDC discussion groups and the like. It is nice to be awarded the Elders agronomist of the year, which I have been several times, but I am more proud of the fact that I am producing data through trials that delivers information and it has helped with my integrity and standing with growers.
How will you share what you learn with others in the industry?
It is interesting that I have changed my philosophy of sharing over the years. I used to be very private with what I learned but now it is the opposite. I have 1400 followers on Twitter and those followers are not only Australian but from around the world including Canada. I have learned to become more open and feel like it is my turn to give back to the industry. I like to share information in a number of ways, including social media, grower meetings and events where there can be up to 150 growers in a room. There is good information flow in paddock discussions and in meetings I participate in, like the twice yearly GRDC Wagga Wagga planning committee of which I am a member.
In our area, we are sitting on an outstanding season and even though we are just on average rainfall, it’s the first time we have had that in the 12 years I have been in the district. Some of the exceptional productivity that will come at harvest this year is very exciting. I think we need to celebrate the harvest, but we also need to value add what we have learned in 2020 and turn it into a sustainable strategy for 2021 and beyond. There are lessons to come out of this season about how to do things better and we will learn a lot out of that. An example is how to work with outbreaks of powdery mildew in wheat. Five years ago, we didn’t see it in wheat at all. It’s all very well to have great results but there is the opportunity to reinvent yourself. What I am doing as an adviser is to reinvent myself so that the advice I am giving remains sustainable and relevant.
What do you see as your biggest opportunity in the next 12 months?
Grower negativity and the financial ability to invest money and adopt new strategies for sustainable production and economic benefit are two barriers to achieving success.
We have come off a couple of horrid years and it is not necessarily easy for growers to choose to do what they would like. We are still living on the edge and haven’t got this crop in the silo yet. Some growers might still be struggling under financial burdens. It is all very well to have new chemistry available for spraying but there can be huge upfront costs at sowing and some growers may simply not be able to afford this.
What is the biggest challenge Australian Ag has to overcome in the next 10 years?
As Australian farmers, I don’t think we understand our customer base well enough. We are incredibly good at selling commodities rather than valuing what we produce. There is a huge opportunity to put better value into our products but there has to be the desire to do it. A lack of understanding of what our customers want is costing producers in terms of what they can receive for what they produce. We need to be on the front foot and understand our customers more, especially on the export front.