Winthrop Professor Neil Turner, from The University of Western Australia Institute of Agriculture, has received the prestigious Dunhuang Award from the Gansu People’s Provincial Government as part of the 62nd anniversary of the foundation of the People’s Republic of China.
Only available to foreigners, it was presented this week in China by the Gansu Province Governor before more than 300 foreign experts and Gansu government officials, to recognise Professor Turner’s outstanding service and contribution to the joint UWA and Lanzhou University (LZU) economic, scientific, academic development and education program in Gansu.
Of the 10 awardees, he was the only one invited to thank the Gansu Provincial Bureau for Foreign Expert Affairs for assistance in working with the Key Laboratory for Grassland and Arid Ecology and to detail how he helped LZU develop agricultural systems in Gansu.
Professor Turner, a former CSIRO Scientist and Director of the Centre for Legumes in Mediterranean Agriculture at UWA, who first visited China in 1989, has spent one month a year for several years at LZU, helping staff and postgraduates with their research and publications.
He said he greatly appreciated the honour, which reflected not only his work, but that of a numerous colleagues in UWA’s Institute of Agriculture, who also spent time in Gansu, plus colleagues at LZU.
“In particular, I thank Professors Li Fengmin, Xiong Youcai and Li Xiaogang in the Key Laboratory of Arid and Grassland Ecology at LZU and Winthrop Professor Kadambot Siddique and Associate Professor Guijun Yan at UWA,” he said.
“My interest is in dryland agriculture and helping farmers increase production and income from the precipitation on their farms and for the past 25 years I’ve worked with dryland farmers in Western Australia, which has similar precipitation to the Loess Plateau, but grows its crops in the winters, which are not as cold as on the Loess Plateau.”
Professor Turner praised Chinese agricultural progress, saying it had come a long way, including increasing wheat yields 900 per cent from 0.5 t/ha in 1960 to 4.5 t/ha in 2005, by introducing new cultivars, increasing fertiliser use and developing water-saving agriculture.
“Nevertheless, a 2006 study suggests Chinese farmers are not using the precipitation as efficiently as possible and I therefore look forward to coming to Gansu for the next five years to assist the Key Laboratory for Arid and Grassland Ecology at LZU and to work with farmers to further improve their yields and water use,” he said.
For two weeks in September, Professor Turner and UWA Institute of Agriculture Director, Professor Siddique, worked with LZU developing plans to evaluate technologies to assist farmers to increase yields and incomes.
These include introducing improved cultivars of wheat and barley and grain and forage legumes to increase protein content and animal production, while maintaining soil health to withstand wind and water erosion.
“We also aim to develop improved soil mulching methods and tillage techniques to increase yields, while using less water,” Professor Turner explained.
UWA and LZU plan to develop a joint Centre for Dryland Agricultural Ecosystems to do collaborative research for the benefit of both Western Australia and Gansu and encourage regular exchange of staff and students.
“We hope Gansu Provincial Government will prioritise support for an initiative which will give Australian researchers access to new facilities on root growth at LZU and give LZU researchers access to specialist facilities and expertise for drought research at UWA,” Professor Turner said.
LZU President, Professor Zhou Xuhong recently visited UWA’s Crawley campus, where he agreed to push for five years of funding from the Chinese Ministry of Education for the second phase of a 111 project, which commenced with UWA in 2007.
The 111 project aims to invite 1000 world-class academics from the world’s top 100 universities to establish 100 innovative bases in China.
LZU is also expected to develop research links with ‘Ridgefield’, the UWA Future Farm at Pingelly, which is hosting a whole farm carbon emissions field day on Tuesday, October 18.
Authorised by ‘The UWA Institute of Agriculture’ and issued on its behalf by
Brendon Cant & Associates (+61) 8 9731 6739
Winthrop Professor Kadambot Siddique,
Director, The UWA Institute of Agriculture
(+61) 0411 155 396