INSPIRING more students to consider a career in agriculture is just one of the motivations behind the exemplary work of agricultural scientist Rhiannon Schilling.
Dr Schilling, who was appointed as agronomy program leader at SARDI, the research division of PIRSA, in March and is an affiliate lecturer at the University of Adelaide, was recently named a 2020 SA Young Tall Poppy in recognition of her research into improving crops to overcome soil constraints.
The Young Tall Poppy Science Awards, an Australian Institute of Policy and Science initiative, recognise achievement in the sciences.
The award is the latest in a string of achievements Dr Schilling has accomplished since completing a Bachelor of Science (Agriculture Science) honours in 2010, and a PhD investigating the salt tolerance mechanisms of barley in 2014.
She has since worked as a Postdoctoral Fellow at the University of Adelaide and took on the SARDI role in March, leading a group of 38 agronomy researchers based at the Minnipa, Port Lincoln, Clare, Waite, Loxton and Struan Research Centres.
Raised on a mixed cropping and livestock property at Culburra, Dr Schilling said she enjoyed speaking to primary and secondary school students about her career.
"I hope to inspire more people to consider a career in agriculture," she said.
"I see that as something we need to do more as researchers to encourage the next generation."
Dr Schilling said science and research were fundamental to agriculture, with findings supporting growers and agronomists with decision-making and providing data to justify their decisions.
She said her recent work on sodic soils was an example of something that could have major industry impact and was research she was proud to be involved with.
"We've developed some pre-breeding lines that have tolerance to the multiple subsoil constraints - they are currently getting increased and bulked in the field this year," Dr Schilling said.
"Those lines have been developed as part of a national project and I'm keen to watch where they go and what impact they'll have on the grains industry."
Dr Schilling said she was enjoying her new role as head of SARDI's agronomy program, saying they aimed to inform industry about the best agronomic practices for crops in low, medium and high rainfall zones in SA.
"Our research recently has focused a lot on increasing the root growth and subsoil moisture use of our crops in sodic soils," she said.
"We're really focused on pyramiding tolerance to the multiple subsoil constraints that we have into our elite wheat varieties."
"Agtech is something that's also very interesting to me. I currently lead a national GRDC-funded project where we're using machine learning to combine many layers of historic paddock mapping data sets to then predict yields under different management scenarios, which can then help guide decision-making."
STUDY AND CAREER ACHIEVEMENTS
2009 - Mark Paul Bowker Memorial Prize - University of Adelaide
2009 - Sumner Scholarship - Australian Centre for Plant Functional Genomics
2010 - Honours Scholarship - ACPFG
2010 - EJ and EI Graham Prize in Plant Nutrition - Adelaide Uni
2011 - Grains Industry Research Scholarship - GRDC
2012 - K.P. Barley Prize - Adelaide Uni
2012 - Max Tate Prize - Adelaide Uni
2012 - AgPOGS Prize - Adelaide Uni
2014 - Dean's Commendation for Doctoral Thesis Excellence - Adelaide Uni
2015 - Travel Award - Plant Nutrition Trust
2019 - Inaugural Vice Chancellor's Award for Outstanding Achievement, Excellence in Research (Early Career Research) - Adelaide Uni
2019 - Edith Dornwell Medal - Adelaide Uni
2020 - SA Young Tall Poppy - Australian Institute of Policy and Science
TEAMWORK MAKES THE DREAM WORK
While Dr Schilling was honoured to receive a SA Tall Poppy award, she was quick to acknowledge the work of those around her when discussing the achievement.
"It was fantastic to see the Australian Institute of Policy and Science recognise agricultural science researchers and the impact that we have," she said.
"I know it recognises me as a researcher but I'm very fortunate to work with a group of very high quality researchers and supportive growers and consultants in the grains industry.
"I wouldn't be able to do research to a high standard without them, so I see this award as something that recognises the value of the grains industry and all people that contribute to that."
Despite holding an extensive list of study and career achievements in only a relatively short career, when asked about her future goals, Dr Schilling was firmly focused on team and industry success.
"I hope to keep building the SARDI agronomy program and helping to make sure it's high quality research and relevant to our producers," she said.
"My focus will be on making sure we do the cutting edge research that will be applied and can make an impact and be useful for growers."
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