Skip to main content

Annual RD Watt lecture

Commemorating our first lecture in agriculture
Our annual RD Watt lecture proudly commemorates the first lecture delivered to University of Sydney agriculture students in March 1911 by Australia’s first Professor and Dean of Agriculture, Sir Robert Dickie Watt.

2021: Sydney University's contribution to animal agriculture

Animal agriculture is an important cornerstone of the University’s agricultural contribution to Australia’s food security and was celebrated at the 2021 RD Watt Lecture held on Wdnesday 16 June.
Hosted by Associate Professor Joy Becker and held in the The Great Hall, the annual event commemorated the significant achievements in animal production, health, and welfare – areas where the University of Sydney has contributed immensely for over 100 years.
The event featured four wonderful speakers covering a range of animal agricultural experiences and perspectives across different animal types and agricultural contexts.
It also shared a glimpse of the achievements we have made and highlighted the directions that lie ahead for the discipline.

Our speakers

The contribution to animal agriculture by University of Sydney agriculture graduates and their teachers

Frank Nicholas grew up on a wheat-sheep farm near Alectown in central-western NSW. After leaving school, and determined to be a farmer, he completed the one-year Farm Certificate course at Yanco Agricultural College, and then worked for a year on the family farm.

Enticed by a scholarship, he embarked upon a BScAgr degree at the University of Sydney. A third-year course in genetics set him on a lifetime career involving a PhD in Edinburgh, followed by 34 years teaching and researching animal genetics in the Faculties of Agriculture and Veterinary Science at the University of Sydney.

In his retirement he is part of a University of Sydney team establishing a national hub for the control of inherited diseases in animals.

Animal production, endemic diseases and pandemics

Richard Whittington is Emeritus Professor in Veterinary Science at the University of Sydney. After graduating in 1980 with the University Medal he commenced his veterinary career in mixed animal practice in NSW and the UK.

By 1984 he had entered training to become a diagnostic pathologist with NSW Agriculture. This presented opportunities for research. Richard tackled intractable animal health issues that permeated agriculture and fisheries, specialised in immunology/microbiology/virology and by 1994 was working in collaboration with the Department of Animal Health at the University.

He took up a new Chair in Farm Animal Health in 2002, led a large group of academics, researchers and post graduate students and the development of the Veterinary Public Health Management Program. After stepping down in 2017 to make way for new people and ideas, and to free up time for creative thought, he remains actively engaged in research, scholarly publication and the supervision of post graduate students at the University.

He is an advocate of the critical role of universities in primary industries. 

Livestock welfare: securing the future of animal agriculture

Sabrina is senior lecturer in livestock behaviour and welfare with the School of Life and Environmental Sciences. Her passion for animal agriculture stems from time spent on her family’s beef property in the North West Slopes and Plains of NSW.

Sabrina graduated with a degree in Animal Science at the University of Sydney in 2006, and went on to complete a PhD investigating practical, farmer applied options for livestock pain mitigation.  As a part of “Team Pain” Sabrina’s research has had direct industry impact, with uptake of pain mitigation products across the cattle, sheep and pig industries nationwide and internationally.

Her current research integrates agricultural technologies with traditional animal behaviour and welfare science to provide objective measures for benchmarking beef production systems. She believes that the sustainability of animal agriculture relies on optimising the efficiency and welfare of the livestock in our production systems.  

Regenerative farming: working with nature for an abundant future

Hannah is a fourth-generation farmer born and raised near Bathurst, NSW.  An enthusiastic agriculture student at school, she went on to study a Bachelor of Science in Agriculture at the University of Sydney, majoring in Animal Production (Honors).

Following University, Hannah spent several years as a Regional Services Manager for NSW Farmers Association facilitating lobbying on behalf of farmers. On returning back to the family farm with her husband Cameron, life took a turn. Ill health and fertility issues led her to recognise the solution to optimising her health was through optimising her environment (AKA epigenetics). She saw the connection between soil health, plant health, animal health and human health.

Further studies in Permaculture Design, Holistic Management and Syntropic Farming have inspired she and her husband to use livestock as a tool to regenerate the landscape whilst growing nutrient dense food. She is passionate to model a diverse, localised food system to ensure abundance for our future.

Previous RD Watt Lectures

The University of Sydney has a long history of teaching and research in agricultural economics which we celebrated in the 2020 RD Watt lecture, Sydney University’s Contribution to Agricultural Economics.

When Keith Campbell was appointed Reader in Agricultural Economics by the University of Sydney in 1951, he became the first full-time academic in his field in Australia, and subsequently in 1956 became the first Australian Professor in Agricultural Economics.

The development of many of the fields of applied economics in Australia arose, directly or indirectly, out of the research conducted at the University of Sydney in agricultural economics, or as a result of the work undertaken by the students in agricultural economics produced by the University of Sydney.

Our panel of University of Sydney Alumni in agricultural economics and resource economics shared insights into their work, what they think the future holds for the Australian agricultural economy, and how Australia contributes to the global agricultural sector.

To celebrate International Women’s Day, and to commemorate our long history of agricultural education, research and outreach, we celebrated the diverse contributions at the 2019 Annual RD Watt lecture ‘Women in Agriculture’.

While not typically seen as the face of this industry, women play a vital role in enterprises and on farms to ensure the future of Australian agriculture continues to be innovative and productive. 

Making up around 32 per cent of Australia’s agricultural workforce, women take on a range of roles on and off the land. From agribusiness and innovation to government policy and ethical governance, three female leaders who are all University of Sydney alumni joined us to shine a light on women in agriculture.

Explore one of our nation’s largest industries as our panel of University of Sydney alumni in agriculture share insights into their work, what they think the future holds for Australian agriculture and how women continue to be key contributors.

The lecture was followed by a Q&A panel hosted by Dr Angela Pattison.

Download the 2019 RD Watt lecture: Women in Agriculture (MP3, 26MB) or listen at right.

Download the 2019 RD Watt lecture slides: