The 2011 national Syngenta SPRAY Award has been taken out by NSW contractor Stuart Jackson, who sprays over 65,000 hectares a year in the region around his home in Warren.
The SPRAY (Sustainable, Productive, Responsible Applicator of the Year) Awards are in their third year and the win will see Stuart join the ranks of Australia's best sprayers. His prize includes a $15,000 study tour of the UK, which will be tailored to reflect his areas of interest.
Stuart established his business in 2001 and runs it with the help of his wife, Roz. He focuses on the area within 60 kilometres of his hometown and believes that his close knowledge of the local region is essential to his success, helping him better manage drift and off-target spraying.
“I was absolutely blown away to be named the winner,” Stuart said. “Roz and I are just rapt.”
A state finalist in 2010, Stuart took on board the judging panel's comments to improve his operation and take out the main prize this year.
“The whole experience over the two years has given us an excellent opportunity to really examine our operation. We have made changes based on the judges' recommendations and we‟re really pleased with the results we've achieved.”
Lead judge, Syngenta Technical Services Lead Garth Wickson, said Stuart's internal drive to continually improve netted him the win.
“The level of consistency among the top five sprayers in this year's awards program was very high and it was tough to separate them. They all demonstrated best practice and beyond. Stuart ultimately stood out not only because of the quality of his operation, but because of his exceptional drive to achieve better quality results.”
Garth said some of the areas in which Stuart had demonstrated improvement over his previous entry included occupational health and safety procedures and productivity. “He has improved his productivity by 30 percent. Part of this is because he bought a new rig, but that's not the only reason.”
Stuart can cover up to 800 hectares a day with his new rig, and he employs an offsider to drive a 12,000-litre water truck and trailer to each job. His offsider usually mixes the chemicals before Stuart arrives, improving his efficiency and productivity. A self-designed mixing vat and plumbing on the water truck also helps lift efficiency because it allows for mixing product in advance and addition of other chemicals to the tank at different times while it is being filled.
“What really impressed us was that instead of focusing on bringing in new customers with his increased capacity, Stuart instead looked at how to service his existing customers better,” Garth said. “Because he can get the job done faster with his new rig, he has some more time on his hands. This gives him flexibility to schedule jobs to really ensure he's applying product at the right time and in the right conditions.”
Stuart said his approach was to treat his clients' crop as his own. “I'm always after the best result for them. They trust me so they give me leeway to make decisions about how and when to spray. Clients all want timely spraying – weeds and insects don't wait for you – but I also need to take weather and other conditions into account. I work with five main clients and they rely on me to make the right decisions for them.”
Stuart was still processing the win today and said he has not yet begun to think about what he wants to see on his $15,000 UK study tour. “I had tried not to think about winning so I wouldn't be disappointed!” he said.
For the moment, he is just enjoying the win and making the most of the opportunity to talk with the other finalists. “It's been great to talk with these guys about different aspects of spraying. They're all top operators in their own fields, and you can always learn something.”
According Garth, it was not just in the ranks of the finalists that the quality of entries had improved since the awards were established. He said the quality of Syngenta SPRAY Awards entries had improved across the board, indicating that the industry is taking on board messages about best practice approaches. “The quality of the entries overall has definitely gone up, which we're very pleased to see. One of the main aims of this program, apart from recognising great sprayers, has been to get good practice messages out to the industry and it seems like that's been happening.”
Stuart was named SPRAY Award winner at a dinner function during AgQuip in Gunnedah last night. He was selected from five state finalists following a judging process that included extensive submissions and detailed on farm visits to review the finalists' set up, including quality control, record keeping, safety measures and innovation.
Second place getter was Tasmanian finalist Oliver Ward, who has implemented a specialised spraying program at the 230-hectare Bushy Park hop farm in the state's Derwent Valley. Third place went to Hans Loder for his "back to basics" spraying program at the Katnook Estates vineyard in the Coonawarra wine region in South Australia.
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