A golden pioneer

A golden pioneer


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AUSTRALIA'S canola industry lost one of its greatest champions when John Lamont died, aged 75, on Anzac Day.

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John Lamont.

John Lamont.

AUSTRALIA'S canola industry lost one of its greatest champions when John Lamont died, aged 75, on Anzac Day.

He played a pivotal role in making canola one of our most valuable crops today.

In 1966 John Lamont (pictured) was the second farmer in NSW to grow rapeseed as a commercial crop (the first was an Englishman who brought the seed to Canowindra and grew a crop in 1965), and his interest in the golden-flowered brassica made him one of the crop's most prominent proponents.

Originally a Merino and wheat grower, he was among an increasing number of farmers with an interest in the benefits of crop rotations.

His farming pedigree was rooted in the family property, "Kooringal West", at Wallacetown, with strong ties also to Victoria and Queensland.

Born in Geelong on December 19, 1939, he was also sent from "Kooringal West" to boarding school at The Geelong College, Geelong, Vic.

As a young man he cut his teeth as a jackaroo on Atholl Station at Blackall, Qld, before heading back to "Sedgefield" at Junee, in 1960, where he worked with his brother, Robert, until he married in 1967.

He met his bride, Elizabeth (Libby) Ritchie, on a blind date arranged by his best mate Ken Slade from Tarcutta, who at the time was dating one of Libby's friends. Their marriage at St Mark's Church, Darling Point, brought them two children, a son, Dugald, and daughter, Alex.

During those early years, Old Junee farmer Bernard Hart, also of Hart Brothers Seeds, had been working with research agronomist Eric Corbin of Wagga Wagga NSW Department of Agriculture on developing lupins and safflower.

The two knew each other through a harvesting syndicate they ran, so when John heard Bernard and Eric had decided to give rapeseed a go, he jumped on board.

Three imported varieties from the UK and Canada were grown in the 1966 trials, including 30ha commercially grown by John Lamont.

The early crops were vigorous, reaching 2.5 metres. While they would soon be stunted by the emerging blackleg disease which appeared on the scene in the early 1970s, John stuck with the crop.

In the early '70s vegetable oils and margarine were gaining prominence, growing demand for canola oil.

He often referred to the crop's strong, lingering aroma as "the smell of money", usually while walking through a blooming field which he spent many an hour checking.

He also gained a reputation at this time as a "black and white man" - in his eyes, a crop was either working or it wasn't. As soon as he decided a crop was a failure, he would plough it in and re-sow with something else.

Yet, even when a crop failed, he'd be back the next year until he got it right, his doggedness earning him the title of a foundation grower.

He also had a flair for progress, a trait which shone in his push for low glucosinolate rapeseed and the introduction of the name "canola".

When Bernard Hart and Continental Grains agronomist David Frame returned from a fact-finding mission to Canada about 1975-76, John Lamont took their feedback and made a beeline for the Department of Agriculture's plant breeders.

He made it clear the name rapeseed would need to be replaced and the development of higher quality, low toxin "canola" varieties was a must.

Within 18 months they had his new strains - and he lost no time in promoting their virtues.

By March 1981 the industry had grown to the degree that a working committee was elected to investigate the practicalities of an overarching organisation.

In 1982 the Rapeseed Canola Association of Australia was formed, with John Lamont and Bernard Hart front and centre as the inaugural secretary and president, respectively. John would later replace Bernard as president and hold the role for some time.

A neighbour reluctant to try the crop once said: "Well John, you've been at it for 20 years and I don't think you've made a bob out of it yet".

John smiled back: "Well, maybe just a few", when in fact he had done very well.

However, a note on a bouquet sent to his family by the Australian Oilseeds Federation perhaps best summed up his dedication to the industry's development: "he has left his mark on the Australian countryside in bright yellow patches and planted the seeds for a multibillion dollar industry".

He was also a member of the Yathella fire brigade for 28 years.

John Lamont is survived by his wife, Libby, son Dugald and daughter Alex.

The story A golden pioneer first appeared on Farm Online.

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