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Behind the Fire- An interview with John Stewart

Why did you start Accufire?

I invented The Accufire Firelighter following a near miss accident on our farm in 2000 while burning. It was an unsettling experience which prompted me to consider the attributes a fire lighter should have as far as safety and functionality.

I was keen to make a safer "hands free" fire lighter where the fuel source would be away from the user. The dream was to be able to sit in an air conditioned cab whilst operating the firelighter. I only intended to make a unit for my own application. As time passed a number of neighbours asked if I could make one for them. This was at a time when the emergence of herbicide resistance in the broadacre grain belt regions was beginning to be understood. The computational and mathematical modelling conducted by our agronomic fraternity at the time conveyed a confronting picture of the future of herbicide resistance.

In short, Harvest Weed Seed Control (HWSC) is a technique in which weed seeds are mechanically destroyed rather than relying purely on chemistry. Narrow windrow Burning (NWB) was one of the several mechanical techniques growers could adopt and if NWB was their choice of technique then they needed an efficient fire lighter with broadacre capability.

From this Accufire was born.

John with the Accufire Forest Unit.

What’s your background?

From 1977 I was a partner in a family farming enterprise at Wongan Hills, Western Australia. By 1993 we had accumulated enough of a landholding, allowing my two brothers and I to dissolve our existing partnership. My wife Karen and I started our independent farming career in 1994. Our operation was a broadacre grain growing enterprise, producing was typical for the region, cereals, pulses and oilseeds. We were 100% croppers. In 1995 we transitioned from cultivation to no-till cropping and in 2008 we “flicked the switch” and moved to a “Controlled Traffic” regime. 2012 presented us with a question... Do we pursue Accufire?

How do you see the future of Herbicide Resistance?

Agricultural Herbicides have been an extremely effective for killing weeds for more than 50 years. Weeds suppress the production of food for a growing world population. Globally we are at a stage where we need to extend the efficiencies of the available herbicide technologies and Harvest Weed Seed Control, as part of a battle against Herbicide Resistance is a valuable one. Narrow Windrow Burning, as one of the Harvest Weed Seed Control measures is a cheap one to adopt. Other technologies that currently combine with herbicides such as genetic engineering of some crop types and more recently CRISPR Technology are significant and should play out in the next steps to increase global food production, there will be 80 million more people in the world in 12 months’ time. Stakeholders in global food production are driven by technology and ways to continue to safely and sustainably increase crop production output with the resources available.

Technology and time will advance us to the next step, whatever that is?

John & Karen Stewart.



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