University of Adelaide's Stephen Lee is leading the charge towards drought resistance across the state, after being appointed the director of the SA Drought Resilience Adoption and Innovation Hub.
Starting in the new role late last month, Doctor Lee will be based at the hub's headquarters located at the university's Roseworthy campus.
Led by the university and in partnership with the Department of Primary Industries and Regions, the SA Drought Hub is one of eight hubs established across Australia in 2021 through the federal government's Future Drought Fund.
The hub consists of a network of 59 industry partners, including grower groups, three SA-based universities, government agencies, indigenous partners, agribusinesses and research, development and extension partners.
The hub's stakeholders will co-design and deliver demand-driven activities that focus on innovation and adoption to build farmers' drought resilience and that of regional communities.
Dr Lee takes over from the hub's interim director Professor Chris Preston.
"I've been in the role for less than a month now, but I've been really enjoying it so far," he said.
"The SA Drought Hub team, under the guidance of Chris Preston, established a really strong foundation with the partners across SA, particularly the farming systems groups.
"They have undertaken extensive consultation right across the state on the priorities of farmers and communities to improve drought resilience both on farm and in the community, putting us in the perfect position to now deliver these projects."
With an extensive background in the industry, Dr Lee said the ability to create lasting change in a vital space was what attracted him to the role.
"I've always had a really strong passion and interest in agriculture and worked really closely with farmers throughout my career predominantly in livestock, and I've also been quite involved in various industry activities," he said.
"What appealed to me about the opportunity the Drought Hub provides is working with stakeholders across the state to create measurable change and leave a lasting legacy in an area as critical as drought resistance."
In addition to Dr Lee, the hub is in the process of appointing node coordinators and a node team leader in specific locations across the state.
Nodes at Minnipa on Eyre Peninsula, Port Augusta in the Far North, Orroroo in the Upper North, Loxton in the Riverland, and Struan in the South East have been established.
"The way the SA Drought Hub is structured is to provide coverage across the entire state," he said.
"We have nodes in the pastoral area, Port Augusta, the low, medium and high rainfall areas.
"The node coordinators are people who have lived in their communities for a long time and understand primary production in that area really well.
"The approach the SA hub has taken is very much focused on drought preparedness and improving resilience, so the difference between the Drought Hub and some of the other historical methods is equipping farmers, businesses and communities with the skills and ability to set themselves up to be resilient in times of drought rather than being reactive when drought occurs.
"It's critical to take the opportunity to establish projects like this when commodity prices are strong and when we can actually innovate and develop practices."
Although the ecology of each node location may differ, Dr Lee said core themes flowed throughout.
"We have a series of projects through the hub developed primarily through the farming systems groups across the state so we can identify local needs with each region," he said.
"Some of the priorities cover multiple regions and so it may be the solution on ground varies slightly from region to region but themes like improving management are common throughout."
Looking ahead, Dr Lee said his focus for 2022 was to implement strategies developed since the hub's inception.
"The Drought Hub was established in mid-2021 and the team has done a tremendous job consulting right across the state recognising what the priority focus areas need to be by region," he said.
"This is our first year of implementing projects across the state through those farming systems groups in 2022.
"My focus over the next couple of weeks is working with the team and the stakeholders to get those projects in place and under way."
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