IN 1967, a group of Wimmera farmers banded together to achieve a common goal – to establish a wheat research centre in the region.
The following year their dream became a reality when the Victorian Wheat Research Institute – now the Grains Innovation Park – opened. Former Genebank curator Allan McIntyre said the idea came about after dissatisfaction around the self-induced grain levy.
“There were a lot of arguments in the ‘60s about how much value they were getting out of it, so they decided to set up their own research institute,” he said.
“The building was created by the Victorian Wheat Research Foundation and the staff were provided by the Victorian government.”
Mr McIntyre was originally a field officer and later became a manager of the wheat breeding program.
“I grew up on a farm and went through Longerenong College in the early ‘60s. By the end of my time at the centre, I was managing probably the largest wheat breeding program in the country,” he said.
“I became seriously allergic to cereals, so I had to transfer across to another area and became the curator of the Genebank.”
He said the Australian Grains Genebank was established at the site in 1985.
“It was the beginning of something new. When I finished we had something like 40,000 successions in our collection in about 15 years of work,” he said.
“It’s a vital facility. If we need to deal with any change in the environment or disease loads, we need that genetic diversity to be able to select plants that are resistant to a specific problem.
“When the Genebank was established, the Svalbard Global Seed Vault in Norway didn’t even exist.”
Mr McIntyre retired from the Genebank in 2001.
The Wheat Research Authority were the founding members of the facility.
Authority chairman and Natimuk region farmer Michael Sudholz said facility wouldn’t exist without farmers.
“It was their initiative to get it off the ground,” he said.
“We’re now caretakers and trustees of the original piece of land, which has now expanded four-times over. We take care of it and promote what the grain institute does, helping out wherever we can.”
He said the facility was vital to the region’s agriculture industry.
“Without the development that takes place at the site, farmers wouldn’t be as well off,” he said.
“It’s extremely important and valuable resource that has a great future; it’s fascinating to see the work that goes on there and what is stored at the Genebank.
“Farmers should be very proud that they were the ones that initiated all this in the first place.”