THE days of working in paddocks dressed in three-piece suits and using utes to create plumes of pesticides over crops are long gone, but after 130 years, the NSW Department of Primary Industries' role has not changed.
With drought applications in full swing and preparations under way to move buildings in October, the 130th anniversary of the department's gazettal was celebrated quietly on Friday.
"We're intending to have bigger celebrations when we move into the new building," director-general Scott Hansen said.
With coronavirus dominating health discussions, Mr Hansen said the pandemic would also disrupt exports and described it as "the big unknown".
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It was to use world-class science and in-field trials - how we do that has changed a lot what what we do hasn't changed that much.DPI director-general Scott Hansen
"You've got ships queuing at ports waiting to unload and having to go through strict quarantine," he said.
"It will be another shock to our system - a lot of agri-chemicals are sourced from China and the availability of those is an issue a number of farmers have raised with us and been concerned about due to that logistics supply chain backlog that's occurring."
On top of the virus and growing biosecurity risks with more intercepts at the border, Mr Hansen said the ongoing challenge was helping producers get back on their feet after drought, followed by bushfires and floods.
"We know 2016 was a fantastic year for NSW primary industries - we had record yields across the state, we had record livestock prices at the time," he said.
"We know when we get to the end of this financial year, our agricultural industries will have shrunk."
He said weed spread was the immediate threat, but new crops were starting to emerge as farmers sought a better return with the water they had access to, including poppies for medicinal purposes in the Central West and chickpeas in the state's north.
"Chickpeas have gone from nowhere to being such a rockstar crop - there's huge demand from the subcontinent and it's a good rotational crop to put nutrients back into the soil," he said.
Mr Hansen said the first description of the department's purpose in 1890 recognised the importance of agriculture.
"The government needed to set up a department which was well informed and well advised about matters that impacted agriculture and could procure the best possible advice to put in front of farmers to enable them to meet the growing needs of, at that stage, the colony," he said.
"It was to use world-class science and in-field trials - how we do that has changed a lot what what we do hasn't changed that much."
Although it is now part of cluster called the Department of Planning, Industry and Environment (DPIE), Mr Hansen said the DPI still existed, but corporate staff were shared between the different departments, which also included National Parks and Wildlife Service, the Environmental Protection Authority and even social housing.
Mr Hansen said being placed with the planning department would be a positive for future land use planning.
"So people know what they're buying into, who their neighbours are going to be and what kind of activities will be carried out in a farming enterprise they might be building alongside of," he said.
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