John Muir has been a government and private sector agronomist and natural resource manager in NSW and Queensland for over 30 years. As a newly qualified extension officer, he had particular success in working with farmers to develop methods of maximizing crop production and productivity from difficult soils with and without rain. For instance, he pioneered ‘controlled traffic’ and minimum or no-tillage operations in the Riverina and was involved with planting old man saltbush ‘out West’.
More recently he worked with growers of industrial hemp from Tasmania to Central Queensland for eight years. For part of that time he Ecofibre’s Agronomist. Throughout John’s carrier, there is a common theme of Landcare and Southeast Asia. Close to home, he was the Team Leader and Manager of Barung Landcare in SE Queensland. Further away he had a fundamental role in a ground-breaking, multi-donor International Landcare Program in Mindanao in the Philippines. The task was to make it possible for displaced farmers to farm sustainably on the sides of mountains. They are still there and they are prospering, thanks to the process of experiential learning that was fundamental to helping the farmers accept the challenge of coming to understand and create, with guidance, a very different approach to growing food.
John has worked in Indonesia on a major Natural Resource Management program, but the plight of farmers in Cambodia has been the biggest draw. In the last few years, he has worked with a private sector rice producer on mitigating the impact of drought-induced by global warming on 500 ha of the flood plains of the Lower Mekong Valley. Prior to this engagement, he was a regional sustainable rural livelihood and climate resilient irrigation development advisor for Oxfam and other international NGOs, also in Cambodia.
Waltraud’s interest in biology and economics led to a generalist degree in agriculture at the University of Hohenheim, with special emphasis in agricultural economics in the Tropics and Sub-tropics. She finished up with a PhD awarded for her study of the impact of advanced irrigation protocols and associated farming systems in a large watershed in South India on landowners and those without land.
Two years as Special Assistant to the Director General of ICRISAT in India led to an appointment in The World Bank in Washington DC as Program Officer in the Executive Secretariat of the Consultative Group for International Agricultural Research (CGIAR), at the time the coordinating and liaison hub of the (then) 16 International Agricultural Research Centres. Her responsibilities included monitoring and documenting progress within the Secretariat and underpinning annual and regional meetings between Centre Directors and the agricultural research leaders of client nations.
After relocating to SE Queensland, Waltraud became a hands-on farmer, growing (from scratch) and marketing several species of Australian and South African native flowers jointly with husband John. After the farm was sold, she got serious about consolidating her abilities as a bookkeeper, administrator, and manager.
Waltraud’s role in HFS is, basically, to ensure that all the essential managerial jobs get done, while John and John do what they do best for the benefit of Australia’s industrial hemp industry. However, her experience as an agricultural economist focusing on farming systems, is also relevant to hemp farmers.
PhD, Plant Health Scientist: 6 years working with hemp
John Wightman started his professional life as an ‘applied insect ecologist’ and pest manager, working for the NZ Government on developing an understanding of how to reduce the impact of insect pests of pasture and forage legumes. A move to international research at ICRISAT in India found him working with National Program scientists across Asia and Africa to cut down the terrible toll that insects can have on grain legume and peanut production. He enjoyed working with NGOs in S India to help thousands of farmers take ownership of the technology developed by his research group. John was then promoted to coordinate the Institute’s peanut research programs across two continents in addition to his research and extension work.
A crop change followed: South India’s cotton industry was in a spiralling decline caused by multiple issues, but mainly inappropriate insecticide protocols and chronic soil fertility problems. John managed an international consortium of Novartis/Aventis, NGOs and the public sector that led to significant changes for the good in cotton productivity, and the health of many farm families in South India.
In more recent years John has provided technical support for programs focused on the biological control of weeds in SE Queensland and has undertaken project reviews for ACIAR. He also worked in Vietnam and The Solomon Islands as a Senior Agricultural Extension Adviser. He has worked with John Muir on issues faced by hemp farmers since 2012. The focus is always on ‘prevention is better than cure’. He spends a lot of time as a technical writer and editor.