Agricultural scientist wins food award

In recognition of his significant contribution to the Australian agriculture sector, La Trobe University agricultural scientist Dr James Hunt, has won the 2017 ICM Agrifood Award (male category).

Dr Hunt’s research focuses on crop agronomy, physiology and efficient water use in dry-land crop and mixed farming systems. He is currently developing innovations in the wheat industry – one of Australia’s most important commodities - in response to the detrimental effects of climate change.

Dr Hunt said he was honoured to receive this prestigious award.

“I’m delighted to win this award for my contribution to Australia’s Agrifood sector,” Dr Hunt said.

“Agriculture contributes around $60 billion per year to the Australian economy but climate change and the ongoing cost:price squeeze presents significant challenges to the profitability of Australian farmers.

“My research – including my current project with the GRDC looking at the management of early sown wheat – aims to combine management and genetics to increase productivity and profitability for grain-based farming systems.”

La Trobe Deputy Vice-Chancellor and Vice-President (Research) Professor Keith Nugent congratulated Dr Hunt and said the award signifies research innovation leading to real world impact.

“Dr Hunt’s research in crop agronomy and efficiency around water usage has led to major new innovations that have made, and will continue to make, a real difference to Australian wheat farmers,” Professor Nugent said.

Current research – adapting Australian wheat production to rainfall decline

Dr Hunt is currently working with the Grains Research and Development Corporation (GRDC) on a major study looking at how new genotypes and early sowing can adapt Australian wheat production to the effects of climate change, particularly rainfall decline.

A previous GRDC funded project led by Dr Hunt used crop simulation technology and field experiments to demonstrate that a new early sowing system, combining slower-developing wheat genotypes, sown earlier than currently practiced could substantially increase farm wheat yield in south east and south west Australia.

Dr Hunt explained the significance of the new research to Australian agribusiness.

“Australia is an important region for global food security, producing an average of around 25 mega-tonnes (1 x million tonnes) of rainfed wheat, currently worth around $5.75 billion, most of which is exported,” Dr Hunt said.

“However, the impact of climate change leading to reduced autumn rainfall, increasing spring maximum temperatures but higher frequency of frosts has resulted in a plateau in Australian wheat production.

“If Australia is to increase wheat production in line with projected global population growth and demand, a substantial improvement in water productivity and yield is required.

“Our previous study with the GRDC demonstrated that farm wheat yield in south east and south west Australia could be increased by 25 per cent under emerging temperatures and rainfall by using this new early sowing system and slower-developing wheat genotypes.

“In our new GRDC study, project partners (La Trobe, SARDI, Hart Field Site Group, BCG, Moodie Agronomy, Agriculture Victoria and FAR Australia) are taking new slow developing cultivars suitable for early sowing systems that have been recently developed by commercial breeding companies and working out how growers can best manage them. This will hopefully get the industry one step closer to achieving the kinds of yield gains we identified as being possible in the first project.”

For more information on the study, contact Dr James Hunt at
Mobile: +61 428 636 391.

Dr James Hunt - biography

Dr James Hunt is a Senior Lecturer in La Trobe’s Department of Animal, Plant and Soil Science, where he leads a field crop agronomy and physiology research group.

Prior to joining La Trobe, he worked for CSIRO Agriculture for seven years where he received a CSIRO medal for Impact from Science in 2013, and a Eureka Award for Sustainable Agriculture in 2014 for his role in coordinating the GRDC Water-Use Efficiency Initiative.

Outcomes of his research have been widely adopted by grain growers across south eastern Australia, and in 2016 he was awarded the GRDC Seed of Light for communicating research results to grain growers.


About the ICM Agrifood Award
The ICM Agrifood Awards recognises two of Australia’s most innovative young food and agriculture scientists or technologists, one male and one female, who have achieved substantial peer/industry recognition for their work over the past five years and made a major contribution to Australia’s Agrifood sector.

More information on the ICM Agrifood Award.

Media contact: Claire Bowers – - 9479 2315 / 0437279903

ICM Agrifood Award media contact: Anthea Batsakis – - +61 3 9864 0925