My BCG Journey – Dr Zvi Hochman

From the very first moment I attended the 2001 Australian Agronomy Conference in Hobart and heard Ian McClelland present his keynote address, I have been a huge fan of BCG.  Ian’s presentation on ‘Farmers Determining Their Own Destiny’ was memorable. Eighteen years later, I can still recall his opening statement: “Tell me and I forget, show me and I may remember, involve me and I will understand.”

My interest having been piqued, I visited BCG with my CSIRO colleagues Brian Keating, Peter Carberry, Neal Dalgliesh and the late Bob McCown.  Our aim was to develop a collaboration between CSIRO and BCG.  This led to our characterising the soils of the BCG Systems Trial and in turn to a growing national appreciation of the importance of stored soil water.  To this day, whenever you see someone south of the QLD border post a picture on Twitter of a soil coring rig, or speak about what great yields they’ve achieved despite low growing season rainfall, you can trace it back to that first meeting in Birchip and the collaborations that followed.

The co-operation between our two organisations progressed to using APSIM (Agricultural Production Systems sIMulator) the commercial arm of Yield Prophet®, which has now been running for seventeen years. From humble beginnings as a fax sheet to BCG members in 2002, to an online learning and decision support tool with over 2000 growers and their consultants as subscribers, Yield Prophet’s influence has gone well beyond its subscribers and has revolutionised the way farmers maximise yield from seasonal conditions.

In those early days of Yield Prophet development, I enjoyed the stimulation of working with Harm van Rees, the down-to-earth influence of Anne Jackman and the boundless enthusiasm and hospitality of BCG members and staff, including Alex Gartmann, Fiona Best and a young James Hunt who was the first Yield Prophet coordinator.

In 2006 I co-starred with John Ferrier (the natural radio talent) in the ABC National series, “With the Grain”, in which John split a paddock with one half to be managed according to his judgement and the other according to votes from the public. It was my role to guide the public vote with insights from Yield Prophet. Ultimately, and unfortunately, drought ruled: both halves failed to produce a harvestable yield. However, it was a very successful program which did its bit to bridge the country-urban divide and culminated in a Ferrier household rendition of “Give me a home among the gum trees”.

The negotiations between CSIRO (APSRU) and BCG to license Yield Prophet to BCG was my first interaction with the BCG Board, which diligently probed every aspect of the deal before signing off. This agreement signalled a more mature partnership between BCG and CSIRO and is now the template for APSIM commercial licensing globally. Similarly, when James moved on from his Yield Prophet coordinator role, Tim McClelland augmented it with a business-minded approach that bought a maturity to the product.  I continued to maintain my links with BCG through Yield Prophet related projects and the annual Yield Prophet planning meetings.  In September 2013, when John Ferrier asked me if I were interested in applying for a position as a skill-based member of the BCG Board, I jumped at the opportunity. 

Being a member of the BCG Board has been an enriching experience. I feel privileged to have worked with each and every member, all of whom have been dedicated to BCG, its members, staff and purpose. Each has contributed with a unique skill set. The farmer-directors are passionate about BCG and delivering value to members; their enthusiasm infects the skill-based directors who in turn bring their professional discipline. Board stalwarts such as Ian McClelland, John Ferrier, Caroline Welsh, Peter Myers and Alan Bennett have served alongside me for the six years that I have been a member. David Hudson replaced Steve Jefferies when Steve had to step aside to become CEO of GRDC. Ex-BCG staff members Cherie Reilly and Simon Craig now contribute an improved staff perspective to the board and Tim Rethus provides a fresh growers’ perspective.

As is the case for research-based organisations, the last six years have been challenging for grower groups. The board focused on meeting these challenges. The BCG portfolio of activities was diversified and re-organised and the management restructured to ensure that BCG is able to respond to these challenges and that the group continues to grow and thrive. Key to the Board’s successes has been the appointment and guidance of CEOs. I was fortunate to have been involved in the appointment of both Chris Sounness and Fiona Best at the start and the end of my term. Chris made an outstanding contribution and I leave the board with every confidence that Fiona will do an outstanding job of steering BCG into the future.    

I have truly enjoyed my role at BCG. I hope that my contribution and perspective as a research scientist have been valuable. Researchers are a diverse lot and I believe that after six years it is time for a new perspective to help guide BCG forward. My commitment to the group has not diminished and I will continue to contribute through my role as a member of its research committee.

Wishing you all the best,

Zvi

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