Agronomists gather to discuss future of food production

Published 10 October 2012

Agronomists from around Australia and from abroad will gather at the University of New England next week to discuss the scientific management of agricultural food production in the context of increasing population and decreasing availability of land.

The 16th Australian Agronomy Conference, running from Sunday 14 to Thursday 18 October, will bring about 300 participants to Armidale, with overseas delegates travelling from Europe, North America, South-east Asia, New Zealand, Africa, and the Middle East.

“Agronomy is the science informing soil, water, crop and pasture management in the production of food,” said the President of the Australian Society of Agronomy (ASA), UNE’s Professor Graeme Blair. “And in the 21st century it’s becoming increasingly important to help agricultural industries produce ‘more from less’.”

Professor Blair said that the location of the biennial conference at UNE this year acknowledged both the importance of UNE as an educator of agricultural scientists, and the University’s location in an important agricultural region.

Titled Capturing Opportunities and Overcoming Obstacles in Australian Agronomy, the conference will address opportunities and obstacles in plant breeding, nutrient supply and management, weed management, precision agriculture and chemical-free agriculture. Speakers will include a former Chief of CSIRO’s Division of Tropical Crops and Pastures, Dr Bob Clements, the Director of Agricultural Services for the International Fertiliser Industry Association, Patrick Heffer, and the President of the National Farmers’ Federation, Jock Laurie.

In his talk scheduled for 9.15 am on Monday, Mr Laurie will ask: “Are Australian farmers, the agricultural research community and governments capable of adapting to changing paradigms in agronomy?”

Another of the plenary speakers, Dr Jennifer Marohasy from the University of Central Queensland, will talk about obstacles and assumptions surrounding “chemical-free” agriculture – one of the most prevalent assumptions being that of a necessary connection between the agricultural use of chemicals and environmental harm. Dr Marohasy will emphasise the importance of avoiding such assumptions by being “consistent, logical and sceptical”, and will give examples of cases in which the presence of a chemical has been widely linked to environmental damage even when the scientific evidence has disproved any such link.

Among these audio files is a preview of an “agronomic education roundtable” at the conference to be chaired by Professor Jim Pratley from Charles Sturt University. Professor Pratley emphasises the need for “a concerted effort” to promote careers in agronomy, which is the area of greatest demand for graduates in agricultural science.