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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.

Our 2024 RD Watt lecture was held on Friday 8 March in the Great Hall at the University of Sydney. 

2024: Development Agriculture: Nurturing International Partnerships

Our challenge for development agriculture is to contribute to equitably providing safe and nutritious food for 8.5 billion people by 2030.

Agriculture is the primary source of our food, fibre and bioenergy, and remains the key livelihood of most smallholder families in the developing world, including many of the world’s poorest.

Australia has been partnering with our regional neighbours to improve the productivity and sustainability of their agricultural systems, to increase food security and supply chain resilience. These activities also focus on topics that matter to Australian agriculture – biosecurity and food security. Our experienced speakers will explain how we punch above our weight in our contribution to development agriculture.

Hosted by Professor Daniel Tan, this year's RD Watt Lecture provided an appreciation of the key elements necessary to navigate through international development, with an emphasis on development agriculture. 

RD Watt Lecture 2024: Development Agriculture: Nurturing International Partnerships

Our speakers

Acting Chief Scientist, Australian Centre for International Agricultural Research (ACIAR)

Development agriculture: partnerships critical for success

Dr James Quilty is the Acting Chief Scientist for ACIAR. James worked at the International Rice Research Institute (IRRI), based in the Philippines for seven years  before joining ACIAR in the role of Research Program Manager for Soil and Land Management. Prior to joining IRRI James worked with Forests New South Wales studying the impacts of managed pine forests on soil carbon and soil respiration in the central tablelands of NSW. He completed his PhD in Soil Science at the University of Sydney studying the soil health implications of organic amendments in conventional irrigated cotton systems in central western NSW. 

NSW Coordinator, Crawford Fund

Biosecurity challenges in development agriculture 

Helen Scott-Orr has been the Crawford Fund NSW Coordinator since 2013. Helen is a former Australian Inspector-General of Biosecurity, and Executive Director Research, Advisory and Education, NSW Chief Veterinary Officer and Director, Brucellosis and Tuberculosis Eradication, with NSW Agriculture/DPI. She led several veterinary capacity-building projects in Indonesia on zoonotic disease control, especially for rabies, anthrax, brucellosis and leptospirosis. She is a Fellow of the Australian Institute of Company Directors and served on the boards of Animal Health Australia and Cooperative Research Centres for Invasive Animals, Weeds, Beef, Sheep, Cotton and Rice. More recently she has led reviews of the National Red imported Fire Ant program and of Veterinary Education in Australia and New Zealand. She is currently a Board Member of Vets for Climate Action.

Professor of Plant Pathology and Chair in Horticulture, University of Sydney

The highs and lows of development agriculture

David Guest AM graduated with a BScAgr in 1977 and a PhD in 1983, both from the Faculty of Agriculture. He enjoyed 20 years at the School of Botany at The University of Melbourne before returning to The University of Sydney as Professor of Horticultural Science, then Plant Pathology, and is currently Chair of Horticulture. His recent research applies a One Health lens to understand the constraints that limit crop health management and smallholder farming family livelihoods in tropical horticulture. His extensive fieldwork activities involve partnerships with research institutes and farming communities around Southeast Asia and the Pacific. He has supervised over 40 postgraduate research students, published over 150 research articles, books and book chapters and has been awarded over $17 million in research funding. He is a Fellow of the Australasian Plant Pathology Society, Past-President of the Asian Association of Societies for Plant Pathology, recipient of a Career Medal for Agriculture and Rural Development from the Government of Vietnam, and is a Member of the Order of Australia.

Plant Pathologist, NSW Department of Primary Industries

Facing the yellow dragon: managing biosecurity threats to citrus

Nerida Donovan is a Citrus Pathologist based at NSW DPI's Elizabeth Macarthur Agricultural Institute. Nerida coordinates a Citrus Pathology Program that enables government and industry to combat citrus biosecurity threats and supports industry sustainability. This is achieved by having the capability to detect all described citrus diseases, understanding the diseases within our borders to minimise their impact and preparing for the arrival of new diseases. Nerida also provides scientific expertise to Australian and international teams working on multi-disciplinary citrus projects. Nerida joined the department in 1999 after completion of a BScAgr (Hons 1, Medal) and PhD at the University of Sydney.

Past lectures

Our challenge for modern agriculture now is to demonstrate our place in meeting increased demands at the farm level, under increasing land use, financial, and reduced labor pressure. 

In NSW we are in now challenged by industry and governments to increase agricultural production by 30 billion dollars in regional revenue by the year 2030. This is a major challenge for the NSW community of landowners and primary producers if we make the changes to reduce the reliance on fossil fuels. Our experienced speakers will explain how we can expect to reach this target.

Increasing sustainability in food and fibre production will make development sustainable against adverse effects to our environment. But, why is it necessary for development to be sustainable? And what does sustainability imply from a practical, farm point of view?

The 2023 RD Watt Lecture provided an appreciation of the key elements necessary to navigate through sustainability, with an emphasis on agricultural sustainability. 

Host: Dr Turlough Guerin, CEO Landcare NSW Ltd


- Carmel Onions, National Director Agribusiness, Commonwealth Bank

Supporting Agriculture's journey in sustainability - a view from the Banking sector

- Dr Anthony Kachenko, General Manager - Production & Sustainability R&D, Hort Innovation

Horticulture's sustainability story - an emerging opportunity

- Assoc. Prof. Arunima Malik, Associate Professor in Sustainability, School of Physics, University of Sydney

Supply chain assessment of food systems

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.


  • Distinguished Professor James Dale, AC, Leader, Banana Biotechnology Program, Centre for Agriculture and the Bioeconomy, Queensland University of Technology

Bananas: a major world food crop in crisis

  • Lisa and Zoe Paisley, The Paisley Twins', Co-founders of Aggie Global

Aggie Global: using business to address food security

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

Food safety – securing our future

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: