IT'S FAIR to say that in almost 50 years in agriculture Kerang farmer Allan McCallum has never been afraid to look at new opportunities.
From the nascent Australian oilseeds industry in the 1970s to aquaculture over the past 15 or so years and now the emerging medical cannabis sector Mr McCallum has been a key part in developing several agricultural sectors from the ground up.
His perseverance and vision have been rewarded with recognition in today's Queen's Birthday Awards.
Mr McCallum has received the Officer (AO) in the General Division of the Order of Australia for his distinguished service to primary industry, particularly to grain, seafood and medicinal plant production, and to professional organisations.
His CV makes for impressive reading, with a host of board positions over 40 years of service, including 15 years as chairman of aquaculture business Tassal, 11 years as chair at Nugrain, later Nuseed and time as a director at businesses and organisations such as Incitec Pivot, GrainCorp and the Victorian Farmers Federation (VFF).
More recently, he was a founding director of the Cann Group, a business focusing on medicinal cannabis that is in the process of building a $200 million processing plant at Mildura in Victoria's Sunraysia region, a position he still holds.
But today's glittering resume was the furthest thing on Mr McCallum's mind when he first entered agricultural advocacy in the early 1970s as a farmer at Caramut in Victoria's Western District.
"I got involved in the oilseeds industry and the former Victorian Farmers and Graziers Association, the forerunner of today's VFF as I wanted to see the oilseeds industry in the Western District develop," Mr McCallum said.
It was a far cry from today, where canola headlines a robust, multi-billion dollar industry.
"We grew a little bit of linseed through the Western District and there were some mustard being grown but no canola as we know it now."
A strong belief in the potential for growth in the oilseeds sector led Mr McCallum to relocate to his current property north-east of Kerang, in northern Victoria, in 1981.
"We thought we could grow sunflowers more efficiently up here, with the hotter weather and additional sunlight, under irrigation."
He became increasingly involved in agripolitics, including the VFF and Grains Council, and agribusiness including time on the boards of Vicgrain, the state-run precursor to today's GrainCorp.
This included time at the helm of the Australian Oilseeds Federation (AOF) where he was involved in the fight to allow farmers access to genetically modified canola varieties.
It was his role on the board at Incitec Pivot that led him to his next big passion - aquaculture.
At face value there is not in common between Victoria's Northern Country, hundreds of kilometres from the sea, to the salmon breeding groups of Tasmania, but Mr McCallum explains there was a link.
"Pivot owned a company in Tasmania called Gibsons that had an aquaculture feed mill and that had a 10 per cent stake in Tassal," Mr McCallum said.
"When we were busy tidying up Pivot we sold Gibsons and the 10pc share in Tassal, which later got into financial difficulty and entered administration.
"Subsequently I was invited to join the Board of the 'new' Tassal.
"We conducted capital raising to bring the company out of receivership and from that initial $40 million we now have a company with a market capitalisation of $880 million and over 1500 employees.
He said Tassal had recently branched out from the salmon industry into prawns and was farming tiger prawns at a range of locations in Queensland.
But in spite of his achievements, Mr McCallum has not rested on his laurels, now embarking on a quest to develop the medicinal cannabis industry.
"It is a plant-based medicine and I see such huge potential with it, medicinal cannabis has the potential to make people's lives better."
"This is an industry only in its fledgling stage, but if you look at where the oilseeds sector was when I got involved, where the aquaculture sector was 15 years ago you would have been hard pressed to see how much they would grow."
Mr McCallum said his most treasured memories from his time within agriculture were the people.
"I was lucky to have some fantastic mentors when I started off in the grains industry and all through my time I have been fortunate enough to be surrounded by some great people."
He said he was particularly proud of the opportunities he had helped create in rural and regional Australia.
"Tassal employs 1500 people, firstly in Tasmania and now in regional Queensland, while you've seen the oilseeds sector develop to the stage where crushing plants like at Numurkah (in Victoria's Goulburn Valley region) are employing a lot of people.
"It is also the quality of work, these are not just menial jobs, these are skilled positions and it is helping support the resilience of our rural and regional communities."
He is hopeful the Cann Mildura project will continue this trend.
"We're hoping to employ 150 people in the Sunraysia region once it all gets up and running."
Over his years in agriculture Mr McCallum said there had been some big changes.
"The grains industry I came into was heavily regulated and essentially run by statutory bodies."
Mr McCallum said he felt the evolution would continue in the ag sector with digital technology leading the way.
"Agriculture across all industries is starting the ag-tech era which will deliver over the next decade massive changes in the way we farm and productivity improvements that we cannot imagine today.
"Already with Tassal, we can feed the salmon from the eighth floor of head office with the flick of a switch sending out exact rations for them which helps maximum growth and minimise wastage, but there is so much more that technology is going to be able to assist us with."
He said while some concepts may seem like pie in the sky a look at the grains industry just 25 years ago reflected how far agriculture has progressed.
"When I started at Vicgrain, the average delivery was just seven or eight tonnes, it was the little old truck run up to the local siding.
"Now that figure is between 25-30 tonnes, a mixture of semis and B-Doubles, the old elevators we had capable of processing 80 tonnes an hour just wouldn't keep up.
"Agriculture continues to innovate and to move forward and I want to continue to be a part of that."