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David Cameron – Syngenta Growth Award

It is not everyday that one is honoured by an award, and nominations for the Syngenta Growth Awards are 'invite-only'. Therefore, we are so proud of David ‘Camo’ Cameron for winning in the Productivity category for 2016, which “recognises growers and advisers who use best practice in achieving consistent productivity gains”.

The Syngenta Growth Awards ‘profile and reward’ farmers and advisers across the following three categories – Productivity, Sustainability and Community and People. Winners announced at Syngenta’s Gala Award Dinner, which in 2016 were held in Sydney.

This seems old news now, but congrats on winning the Syngenta Growth Awards, Productivity.

Thank you. I felt privileged to be nominated and delighted at the win! I didn’t expect to win, especially when I got to Sydney and met the other nominees who are all doing brilliant things in agriculture.

How did you qualify for this award?

Syngenta’s area manager, Owen Langley nominated me, as the awards are by invitation‑only. I qualified in the productivity category, as a production focussed agronomist. Some of my overseas agronomy work fitted with their global Good Growth Plan objectives for small holder productivity.

The award is open also to farmers – it is a farmer and adviser category. Originally, the Growth Awards were called Syngenta Spray Awards and they were used to recognise farmers and advisers that were very good at applying pesticides. From there they went from local ‘spray awards’ to global ‘growth awards’

How did you get into Agronomy ? What do you get out of dealing with Ag clients?

Mum encouraged me to do more than work as a shearer or truck driver, which was where my interest lay when I was young, so early on I knew that I would study agriculture. I was inspired enough to do well at school and win one of two scholarships offered to undergraduates to study Agricultural Science at The University of WA.

Then I was the fortunate recipient of the GRDC wheat grower scholarship. Initially, this investment in me by the grains industry helped financially through my studies. But it did more than that, as it kept me loyal to the industry - even though I went mining after graduation due to a lack of jobs in agriculture.

While studying I realised I wanted to work in agricultural extension, as I enjoy science and people. My interest in plant science drew me toward Agronomy.

Where are you based, and give us a little of your background, leading to Farmanco.

With Farmanco, I am based in Moora, which is 170km north of Perth in the Midlands region of Western Australia. I cover an area that stretches from the coast to the pastoral region, where rainfall ranges from 250mm to 600mm. After some time overseas, and four years practicing low‑rainfall agronomy based out of Merredin, I settled in Moora in 2003.

I originally interviewed with Farmanco in 1996 – but wasn’t successful at that time! Fortunately, though, Elders were prepared to employ a graduate agronomist.

Until 1996, Elders had historically recruited Advisers out of the Department of Agriculture, as that organisation opted out of one-on-one extension services. Being the first trainee in the Elders business meant that I benefited greatly from training provided by these experienced Advisers.

From the mid-90s to mid-2000s, retail stores dominated the ag industry. By the time I joined Farmanco in 2009, there was strong demand from farmers for ‘fee-for-service’ and independent Agronomy advice.

You congratulated your wife Melissa on award night, which is fantastic! You clearly acknowledge and appreciate her support.

Melissa and I work together very closely. She is supportive and understands the things required for me to do this job, such as living in the country and putting in the long hours that seasons demand.

I’m sure there are many good reasons for farm businesses to employ an Agronomist. In your experience, what would be the three key benefits to a farmer / agronomist relationship?

Agronomists are responsible for the extension of research, developments in technology, and practice. Engaging an agronomist ensures you are up-to-date.

Agronomists offer their opinion on technical situations. This can be enormously helpful with insight into a new or uncertain situation, or it can provide peace of mind with more familiar situations. Even agronomists use agronomists!

Unless you are having a bad run with machinery, agronomists are in the paddock with you more than anyone else.

This relationship between farmer and agronomist is significant. So is the relationship between the agronomist and the farm paddock and farm business.

When are pressure times of job?

Timing is such an important part of successful farming, and planning tasks is crucial. Therefore, the planning season from January to April is my busiest. From May to October, during the growing season, I keep busy changing those plans and dealing with issues that arise.

Rapid improvements in technology have had huge impacts in many areas of business. In agriculture, where do you see that these improvements a) have already impacted and b) will come from into the future?

I see farmers continuing to improve their productivity, and doing this with scale too will assist their profitability. Unfortunately, this does mean they will do this with fewer people around them, as rural communities continue to contract.

Technology will drive productivity improvements. There are many technologies ready to influence agriculture. However, the two most significant that I see are gene editing and autonomous machines (robots).

  • Gene editing will speed up the rate of genetic gain in our plants and animals, as breeders make changes to DNA without having to go through the long process of crossbreeding.

  • Autonomous machines could carry out tasks not possible with human labour. We will see them doing tasks that are currently not agronomically possible. For example, a robot going to specific parts of the paddock and mechanically killing weeds, or pruning tillers off a crop that has too much potential for the plant‑available‑water it can access.

Can you equate for us the team environment we aspire for in Farmanco, to a farm business team? What qualities do we need in our people to effectively lead our farming clients into the future?

Because Farmanco consultants are so intimately linked to the farm businesses we serve, yes; I can. Behind the farmer, our business is the next closest to the paddock.

Both types of businesses (Farmanco consultants and the farmer) work in remote situations. We deal with staff spread over large areas, and so need to be good planners and communicators.

Being involved in agriculture there are many variables that are difficult to manage, which tends to keep people humble and grounded. This expresses as integrity and helps people deal with each other honestly.

Farmanco and farm business teams need to work together, especially as margins tighten and there are fewer people in our industry.

Farmanco needs to value communication and integrity in relationships. We need to maintain a staff of independent, experienced consultants who keep their skills up-to-date, giving the best advice they can to each farm business.

What do you see as the benefits of the Farmanco Pestbook as a working tool for the farmer, and agronomist?

With your Agronomist, you can update your knowledge and each season, check for updates. The Pestbook is a ready reference for commonly asked questions. Work with your Agronomist for strategy and deeper discussion and learning about issues.

When using the Pestbook without your Agronomist, it is a standalone guide that enables the farm business to tackle most crop situations encountered in dryland cropping.

You're off on a study tour of the UK and Europe in June. What do you hope to get out of it?

The itinerary has just come through and the trip is from the 9th June to 18th June. This is an awkward time for an Agronomist to be away, because seasonally my busy time is June, July and August. But the Farmanco team will cover for me and I anticipate this tour will provide me with insight into where cropping technology will progress over the next decade.

At this stage I think the highlight will be going to the Cereal Event at Lincolnshire, with 24,000 other farmers and agronomists.

I am also keen to see the Syngenta research facilities and Case IH plant in Austria, where some of the technology we spoke about earlier is being commercialised.

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