AgriFutures Pasture Seeds Program supports Nuffield Scholarship to boost the industry in Western Australia without water waste

04.11.20

Robert Bell’s research project for his 2021 Nuffield Australia Farming Scholarship is already underway with an on-farm trial investigating the agricultural and environmental benefits of subsurface drainage and tile drainage in pasture seed crops.

Mr Bell and his family run Western Australia’s only commercial ryegrass and clover seed production business and the largest small seed supplier in the state. The Bell family business also includes a beef cattle operation at The Plains in the South West of the state.

“I’ve been thinking about applying for a Nuffield scholarship for probably 10 years and took the leap this year,” said Mr Bell. “To me, a Nuffield scholarship is a real chance to get outside your own dunghill and meet people who are much cleverer than you. It’s a chance for me to experience something new, gather ideas and then bring them back to share with others.”

“Where I live and work we have the perfect climate and conditions to grow pasture seed crops and I want more people in the area to get into the pasture seeds industry. Pasture seed crops started here in the 1950s with sub clover then it kind of disappeared, but now it’s time to bring it back. It has the potential to be a really profitable industry for this region.

“That’s where my connection to the AgriFutures Pasture Seeds Program comes in. I couldn’t have gotten a better partner for my Nuffield Scholarship than AgriFutures Australia.”

Explaining the decision to support Mr Bell’s Nuffield Scholarship AgriFutures Australia Manager, Research Annelies McGaw said, “Rob is such a high quality candidate for a Nuffield Scholarship and the AgriFutures Pasture Seeds Program are excited to support him because he is a pasture seed grower from Western Australia with an innovative mindset and a real passion for this industry.

“Rob’s research project investigating and adapting techniques for subsurface drainage to suit the local climate and conditions will directly benefit pasture seed growers, particularly in his region of South Eastern Western Australia.”

Ms McGaw said, “We also want to encourage others in the pasture seeds industry to consider a Nuffield Scholarship. Pasture seeds might be a relatively small industry but it is a crucial link to the rest of the Australian agricultural system. The industry can achieve a great deal through programs like Nuffield.”

Explaining the research he will undertake in 2021 as part of his Nuffield Scholarship, Mr Bell said, “It’s really exciting! It’s about tile drainage and subsurface drainage which is something I saw around seven years ago in Oregon. I’ve started a pilot project on an eight-hectare site where we are draining off the water in order to create a more aerobic environment for the soil and the plants.”

“As well as the benefits to the crops our initial numbers also show that we’ve reduced our phosphate run off into the Geographe Bay Catchment, which is an added bonus. We’ve also discovered that the water we remove from the soil is relatively clean so there’s potential to store it then reuse it elsewhere on the farm or return it to the aquifer. As we find out more the possibilities are endless, and they don’t just apply to pasture seed production,” said Mr Bell.

“I’m most excited about the opportunity to see different ways of doing things and visiting a variety of agricultural operations with closed systems where water and nutrients are recycled. If I can bring that information back to WA and share it with others, I can only imagine the possibilities for our pasture seed crops.”

Find out more about Nuffield Australia and read about past scholarship recipients at nuffield.com.au

Find out more about AgriFutures Pasture Seeds Program at agrifutures.com.au/pasture-seeds