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Annual RD Watt lecture

Commemorating our first lecture in agriculture

The Sydney Institute of Agriculture's 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.

2022: Food Safety and Security: Australia and Beyond

Date: Thursday 16 June

Time: 6.00pm to 8.30pm, including drinks and canapes

Venue: The Great Hall, Science Road, The University of Sydney

This year we focused on the SIA theme of Quality Food led by Associate Professor Thomas Roberts, with an evening of talks followed by a Q&A hosted by Dr Claudia Keitel

Food safety and security are critical for human wellbeing globally. In this year’s RD Watt Lecture, we celebrate research and agribusiness achievements in these areas. The reliable production of high quality and safe food has been front of mind for agricultural researchers at the University of Sydney ever since Robert Dickie Watt (1881-1965) delivered the first lecture in Agriculture at the University of Sydney in 1911.

The 2022 RD Watt Lecture commemorated progress in food safety and food security to which the University of Sydney has contributed for more than a century. We had four wonderful speakers – all University of Sydney graduates – who cover a range of agri-food research and agribusiness experiences and perspectives. We shared some of the achievements they have made and highlighted the directions that lie ahead for food safety and security.

Contact us for more information.

Our speakers

Leader, Banana Biotechnology Program, Centre for Agriculture and the Bioeconomy, Queensland University of Technology

Bananas: a major world food crop in crisis

James completed his BScAgr (Hons) and PhD through the Faculty of Agriculture at the University of Sydney, graduating in 1976. After a period in Europe and then with the Queensland Department of Primary Industries, he joined Queensland University of Technology in 1988 and has been there ever since. 

His research interests and activities are now centred on the genetic improvement of bananas through genetic modification and more recently genome editing. In 2005, his group was funded by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation’s Grand Challenges in Global Health to develop cooking bananas in Uganda and East Africa with high levels of pro-vitamin A as a strategy to alleviate vitamin A deficiency, a major cause of blindness in East Africa. Those bananas are now in final stages of field trialling with likely release to Ugandan farmers in 2024. The target population for these bananas is 125 million people. Also in the early 2000s, he and his team began an R&D program to develop Cavendish bananas that are resistant to Panama Disease (Fusarium wilt) tropical race 4. This devastating disease has spread to all the major banana producing continents and is the greatest threat to the world export banana industry as well as local production. The program has now produced a line of genetically modified Cavendish bananas that is essentially immune to the disease. This line is progressing through the regulatory process and will be the first GM bananas grown commercially anywhere in the world.

'The (Paisley) Twins’, Co-founders of Aggie Global

Aggie Global: using business to address food security

Both Lisa and Zoe studied Agriculture at the University of Sydney to cultivate their passion in agriculture because “everyone needs to eat”. By learning the ins and outs of food production it was one way Lisa and Zoe could make sure everyone could eat, whilst making positive impact within society. During their degree they gained experience in Australia, Laos and Fiji to understand agricultural systems in countries with an income of level 1-3, whilst improving how we view agriculture and farming communities in level 4 income countries, like Australia. This exposure gave them the incentive to make a difference and bring their expertise to farmers in rural areas and countries with less access to markets, having come from a privileged background. In 2018, Lisa and Zoe moved to Sigatoka, Fiji and formed Aggie Global to help farmers address the challenges that prevent agricultural development.

Lisa is passionate about bridging the gap between farmers, markets and researchers to ensure the agricultural sphere thrives. She endeavours to ensure the business benefits all customers and community members to ensure food security is overcome in a sustainable manner.

Zoe focuses on the products and services delivered to the Aggies, by improving upon the existing products and services and guiding the development of future to Address Food Security.

Head of Food Safety, International Fresh Produce Association - Australia-New Zealand

Food safety – securing our future

Deon has wide ranging, long-term experience across food science and technology. He has post graduate qualifications from the University of Sydney, and has experience in food policy development, microbiological risk assessment, risk communication, drafting and enforcement of food legislation, and training and education.

Deon has previously worked for the PNG University of Technology, the World Health Organization, the Food and Agriculture Organization, Food Standards Australia New Zealand (FSANZ), and Dairy Food Safety Victoria. He has worked in over 25 countries providing high level scientific advice and guidance on food safety matters and the risks presented by our food supply.
Deon is a fellow of Australian Institute of Food Science and Technology (AIFST), a member of the Board of FSANZ, and a non-executive director on the Boards of AIFST and FPSC.

Past lectures

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.


  • Emeritus Professor Frank Nicholas - Animal Genetics

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

  • Emeritus Professor Richard Whittington - Farm Animal Health

Animal production, endemic diseases and pandemics

  • Dr Sabrina Lomax - Senior Lecturer in Livestock Behaviour and Welfare

Livestock welfare: securing the future of animal agriculture

  • Hannah Plummer - Regenerative Farmer

Regenerative farming: working with nature for an abundant future

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.

  • Dr Brian Fisher, Former Dean of Agriculture & Managing Directory of BAEconomics
  • Hannah Janson, Head of Insights at Rural Bank
  • Gareth Aird, Senior Economist at Commonwealth Bank
  • Shelly Anderson, Senior Analyst at NSW Department of Primary Industries

Hosted by Prof. Robyn McConchie

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: