History of Wagga Wagga Agricultural Institute
The Wagga Wagga Agricultural Institute (WWAI) has a long and distinguished history in agricultural research.
Agricultural research commenced at Wagga Wagga in 1892 when the Department of Agriculture established an Experimental Farm on the site.
Nathan Cobb planted the first trial of more than 200 wheat varieties in 1893. Cobb, a plant pathologist at Wagga, worked with the wheat breeder William Farrer, who was located at ”Lambrigg”, near Queanbeyan. From 1896, the Wagga site was also educating farmers at the Experiment Farm School.
Farrer joined the Department in 1898, working mainly at Wagga but also at Cowra and other experiment farms. 1901 saw the release of his most famous wheat variety, Federation. Farrer’s early maturing wheats enabled a rapid expansion of wheat growing in Australia.
The seeds of a research institute
Farrer was followed by other cereal breeders, notably Pridham, working from Cowra and assisted at Wagga by Robert Hurst. The Second World War interrupted efforts to combine baking quality with disease resistance and high yield. When Eddie Graham was appointed Minister for Agriculture in 1944, he indicated that a Wheat Research Institute should be established in the wheat belt. He appointed a Wheat Research Institute Advisory Committee of farmers, millers, bakers, shippers, Dr S Macindoe from the Department and Professor Waterhouse from the University of Sydney. In 1945, a proposal was submitted by Dr Macindoe for the establishment of a Wheat Research Institute to address the breeding of rust resistant wheat varieties with superior baking quality.
The proposal outlined the following approach: “The Institute should be located in an important wheat producing area. Only … personal contact with producers and their problems can (provide) the necessary stimulus to creative research”. The Institute needed a sufficiently large staff to overcome the disadvantage of isolation and adequate equipment and library facilities. The importance of specialists working in a group was recognised ("…nominal cooperation… cannot be as effective as where the plant breeder, the pathologist, the plant physiologist and the cereal chemist are all working together under the one roof on a common problem"). The staff mentioned included economists and even biometricians! The Director was to be senior ”…to allow real leadership in research”. Even an alternative name was suggested: "Because of Farrer's early contributions to wheat research in Australia, it would not be inappropriate if his name was attached to that of a modern Wheat Research Institute."
The issues for future research identified were:
- Improved disease resistance (flag smut, rust resistance).
- Baking quality:" …the quality of New South Wales wheats for bread making is capable of considerable improvement."
- Incorporation of the 'winter' character and improved cold and drought tolerance.
- The establishment of uniform yield and disease nurseries.
- Soil fertility.
- Feeding trials, silage even!
- Weed control particularly skeleton weed and wild oats.
- Evaluating farming systems including stubble mulching, rotations, ploughing and cultivation and fertiliser effects.
Wheat Research Institute and Agricultural Research Institute a reality
In 1950 the Foundation Stone for the Wheat Research Institute was laid opposite the buildings for the Wagga Agricultural College, opened in 1949. The founding director, Dr Albert Pugsley, was appointed on 1 July 1953 and the first research staff in agronomy, plant breeding and plant pathology in August that year.
The official opening of the Agricultural Research Institute (ARI) took place in October 1954 and by the end of 1955 the staff had grown to 17 including people in cereal chemistry, soil chemistry and general chemistry, a weeds agronomist, an assistant who later became the laboratory craftsman, one farm hand and office staff. Two of the first group of appointees were Ron Martin, long time wheat breeder, and Dr Fred Mengersen, oat breeder, both located at Temora. These breeders were already employees of the Department of Agriculture prior to 1953. Temora Experiment Station has continued to be a part of the Institute since that time.
The ARI was run as an autonomous institute under Dr Pugsley, with the College responsible for farm management and assisting with staff matters. The ARI’s role continued to expand and collaboration with CSIRO led to some of their staff in pasture research being located at the Institute. The library wing (B Block) was built in 1965. Les Bird, cereal chemist, and following him, Dr Allan Smith, soils chemist, took on the role of deputy/associate director. The early 1970s saw research broadened into crops such as barley, canola and pulses. The first manager was appointed in 1973. Dr Pugsley retired in 1975 and was succeeded by Dr Smith. In 1976, the Agricultural College became part of Riverina College of Advanced Education, the forerunner to Charles Sturt University. The farm was split and separate administrative arrangements made. The Conference Room wing (D Block) was opened in 1979.
Shift to a research focus
In 1981, the Department was decentralised into regions, and in 1992 it restructured again and became program-based. These changes affected the Institute as the Director was replaced by a Research Supervisor who continued as an active researcher. However, the Institute continued to grow with strong support from industry funding bodies. Research expanded into new areas, such as ruminant nutrition; the animal house opened in 1985. The National Wine and Grape Industry Centre was formed by Charles Sturt University, NSW Wine Industry Association and NSW Agriculture in 1997. When the local advisory and regulatory staff moved to the site in 1998, the Institute was renamed Wagga Wagga Agricultural Institute, a Centre of Excellence for Southern Farming Systems and Viticulture. In 2004, NSW Agriculture has become part of the NSW Department of Primary Industries and the Institute and Charles Sturt University have formed an alliance called the Wagga Wagga Agricultural Innovation Park.
The Institute has achieved much in its 50 years. Some highlights:
- The introduction into Australia of the semi dwarf wheats.
- The establishment of soil P testing and fertiliser recommendations.
- Research, in collaboration with Western Australia, to lower oestrogens in subterranean clover, improving ewe fertility.
- The release of the first wheat cultivar with Agropyron based disease resistance and the first barley with H. spontaneum derived resistance.
- The establishment of the canola industry in Australia.
- Extensive research on Septoria tritici and resistant varieties.
- The establishment of the "Southern Hard" wheat grade based on Ron Martin's varieties and Les Bird’s work at Wagga.
- The recognition of soil acidity, breeding acid tolerant cereals and the expanded use of lime.
- Major improvement in statistical analysis of field experiments.
The impact of the Institute’s research is reflected in the current farming systems and yield trends in southern NSW. Innovative research will continue to address problems and to produce better varieties for producers and end users, using modern methods to improve efficiency and realise goals which would otherwise be unobtainable.
Wagga Wagga became the Centre of Excellence for Southern Farming Systems and Viticulture in 1998.
Taken from WWAI 2004 Update