UNE agronomist among inaugural ASA Fellows

Published 19 October 2012

The Australian Society of Agronomists (ASA) has named the University of New England’s Professor Graeme Blair as one of its inaugural Fellows.

Professor Blair and two others were honoured with this award during the 16th Biennial Australian Agronomy Conference, held at UNE this week. The other recipients were Professor Walter Stern, founding Head of the Department of Agronomy at the University of Western Australia, and Professor Ted Wolfe, a UNE graduate and former Head of the School of Agriculture at Charles Sturt University.

The Fellowships, inaugurated at the ASA’s previous conference in 2010, were awarded this year for the first time. They are awarded “for important contributions to agronomy – including laboratory and field research, development, extension and administration – and to support the careers of Fellows”.

Graeme Blair, the current President of the ASA, is an Adjunct Professor in UNE’s School of Environmental and Rural Science. The citation accompanying the award mentions his “life-long commitment to agronomic research and teaching – particularly in plant-soil relationships – at the highest national and international level”.

“He has developed an international reputation – particularly in the area of mineral nutrition of pastures and crops – by using innovative experimental techniques combined with a great capacity to develop creative insights through both empirical and modelling approaches,” the citation continues. “Throughout his career Graeme has aimed to obtain a deeper understanding of soil fertility, plant nutrition, and the relationships between them – culminating in the development of the KCI-40 sulfur soil test, which is used in all major soil testing laboratories in Australia.”

The citation celebrates Professor Blair’s “major role in training the next generation of agricultural scientists,” and concludes: “Graeme has always challenged – and been challenged – in his research and teaching career, and all who have been part of the many challenges are richer for the experience.”

The ASA awards its Donald Medal (in honour of the celebrated agricultural scientist Professor C.M. Donald) to “an eminent agriculturalist who has retired or is close to retirement”. Dr Brian Dear, a recently retired research agronomist at the NSW Department of Primary Industries (DPI), is this year’s recipient. Dr Dear graduated in rural science from UNE before embarking on his distinguished, 40-year career as a pasture agronomist. At the time of his retirement he was a Senior Principal Research Scientist within DPI.

This year the ASA, in conjunction with its industry sponsors, awarded eight travel bursaries to tertiary students to enable them to attend the conference, with several of these going to UNE students. In addition, and in recognition of 2012 as the Year of the Farmer, the ASA in conjunction with Landmark instigated a Young Farmer Award to assist a farmer under the age of 35 to attend the conference. The recipient was James Symonds, a farmer from Willow Tree, who said the award had enabled him to find out about “the cutting edge in agronomy” and to get an idea of “where things are going internationally”.

ASA Young Agronomist Awards went to Loretta Serafin, an agronomist with the NSW DPI in Tamworth, and Dr James Hunt, a research scientist in agronomy with CSIRO Plant Industry in Canberra.

THE PHOTOGRAPH displayed above expands to show Professor Graeme Blair with Amy Cosby, one of the UNE students who received an ASA bursary to attend the conference.