A plant pathologist by training, he retired this summer after nearly a decade as technical director at NIAB, where his primary role was leading the NIAB TAG membership programme, providing strategic agronomy advice and information to over 2,500 farming and industry members.
In all his roles, though, his insight when it comes to plant biology and applied plant science has made a huge contribution to industry-wide advances in disease control strategies, plus our understanding of fungicide activity, the physiological effects of fungicides and fungicide resistance issues.
Recognised as a leader in this area nationally and globally, he’s also been a valued contributor to industry and academic advisory committees and research groups, both national and international, on cereal disease control.
He’s also had a lifelong passion for knowledge transfer, has been a prominent public speaker on a range of agricultural issues and a regular contributor to the farming press.
As NIAB’s former chief executive, Dr Tina Barsby, says: “Bill loved his public role as the ‘face of NIAB’ in communicating all aspects of science and agriculture.
“He was as comfortable presenting technical agri-science information at farming conferences as he was in front of a camera explaining food and farming issues to the general public, with audiences appreciating his style of delivery – approachable, understandable and always with good humour.”
This is a sentiment echoed throughout the industry. Susannah Bolton, research director of AHDB, says: “Bill is one of those rare individuals who is able to seamlessly bridge the gap between science and practice on farm. This has been of huge importance when dealing with diseases that evolve rapidly and develop resistance.
“Sometimes the implications of the changes on the best management practices have been hard to decipher, but Bill has been able to connect the fundamental biology with really important messages on how best to use fungicides. That is why he is admired and respected by scientists, agronomists and farmers alike.”
A County Durham lad with a farming background, Bill attended Hull University in the early 1970s, starting a joint botany/zoology degree, before switching to straight botany. He also attended Harper Adams as a crop protection postgraduate, before joining ADAS as a plant pathologist in 1977, eventually becoming its national cereal pathologist.
In 2007 he became the director of Broom’s Barn Research Centre in Suffolk, at the time at national centre for sugar beet research, before transferring to NIAB in 2012.
For decades, Bill has been a go-to person for no-nonsense, independent, practical expertise and advice – something that has become ever-more needed by hard-pressed farmers, grappling with variety choices and disease control and facing a fast-changing agronomic and legislative landscape.
“Bill has had a significant impact on the industry’s ability to manage crop disease, which is so critical for the resilience and productivity of the arable sector,” says Dr Helen Ferrier, chief science and regulatory affairs adviser at the NFU.
She highlights his “enthusiasm, experience and commitment to the farming industry” adding: “His ability to engage an audience of farmers and growers about science really sets him apart within the academic research community.
“He is a superb communicator, able to explain so clearly the link between fundamental scientific knowledge and improvements in commercial practice, earning him the respect of growers, agronomists and policy makers, as well as fellow scientists.”
UPL [Award category sponsor]
“Bill has the ability to relate to audiences at all levels and is an expert at knowledge transfer. One of his overriding characteristics is his ability to understand grower needs, conduct applied research and translate the science into practical on-farm advice. He is recognised throughout the industry for his work on cereal disease control and is passionate about fungicide resistance and integrated disease management – clearly ahead of the time on sustainability.”
Pamela Chambers, UPL’s National Influencer
What makes Bill Clark our winner:
- Bridges gap between science and practice
- Huge contribution to our understanding of cereal diseases and their control
- Ahead of his time on sustainability
- Helped farmers control costs and boost profits
- Speaks farmers’ language
Bill's video acceptance
This article orginally appeared on the Farmers Weekly Awards website and has been reproduced here.