THREE Mallee identities received a warm send-off at Ouyen last night.About 70 farmers, agronomists, friends and family members turned out for a barbecue at the Ouyen Football Club to thank former Department of Primary Industries staff Rob Sonogan, Graham ''Spag'' McKechnie and Lara Wakefield for a combined 79 years of service to the community.
The DPI site at Ouyen was one of seven closed this year and Mr Sonogan, who was based at Swan Hill and Ouyen for much of his career, decided to take a redundancy package.
MC Chris Sounness, who heads the DPI grains team at Horsham, gave Mr Sonogan free reign to reminisce about the changes he had seen during his 38 years, in particular how farmers dealt with the millennium drought, compared to previous droughts such as 1982.
Mallee Sustainable Farming chairman Ian Hastings said it was a great opportunity for people to show their appreciation.
Mr Hastings said Mr Sonogan had been a great advocate of trash retention in his early days in the Mallee.
''As we learned about direct drilling - our biggest issue was trying to stop the erosion - most of us were thinking of trash retention in a number of ways,'' he said.
''We wanted to build up soil carbon and we wanted to keep (trash) rather than see it blown up against a fence.
''And as we've started to better understand direct drilling, he's driven that just as much.''
Mr Sonogan started as a trainee with the Soil Conversion Authority at Charlton in 1974.
Since then he has worked with the DPI under its various monikers at Swan Hill and Ouyen, returning to Swan Hill in 1990, and specialising in grains issues since 1992.
Mr McKechnie has worked at Ouyen and Walpeup since 1984 as a research assistant focussing on salinity and vegetation management.
He also co-ordinated six Landcare groups across a region that covered about one million hectares.
Dr Wakefield completed her PhD while working as a scientist at the Walpeup Research Station before it closed three years ago, and then became a project officer at Ouyen.