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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 2023 RD Watt lecture was held on Tuesday 28 March in the Great Hall at the University of Sydney. You can watch the recording below.

2023: Sustainable Agriculture: Challenges and Opportunities Towards 2030

Sustainable development is development that meets the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs.
Report of the World Commission on Environment and Development: Our Common Future, Part I, Chapter I, page 41

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?

This year's RD Watt Lecture will provides an appreciation of the key elements necessary to navigate through sustainability, with an emphasis on agricultural sustainability. 

Our speakers

CEO, Landcare NSW Ltd

After a decade on a mixed crop and livestock property in Temora, in the northern Riverina area of NSW, Turlough completed his Bachelor of Science in Agriculture, followed by a PhD at the University of Sydney. This has led him into diverse senior environmental and stakeholder interface and management roles in technology, infrastructure, and resources companies: all Blue Chip, ASX & Fortune 500 businesses. He recently led NSW Government's first net zero program to grow the market for low emissions construction materials, which is now attracting external investment and expanding nationally.

Turlough is now bringing together his experience in corporate sustainability and passion in landscape conservation into the area of sustainable agriculture where he currently is the CEO Landcare NSW, one of Australia’s leading community-led conservation and landholder organisations, with up to 60,000 volunteers actively engaged annually, and whose activities cover more than 50 of the state’s 80 million hectares of land.

National Director Agribusiness, Commonwealth Bank

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

Carmel completed a Bachelor of Agricultural Economics First Class Honours from the then Faculty of Agriculture in 1994 at the University of Sydney. Having worked at the Commonwealth Bank for over 20 years, Carmel’s role at the Bank today is completely dedicated to helping farming customers, and the Ag sector, navigate the changing expectations on producers to be carbon neutral and to protect and enhance natural capital.

Carmel’s career started in financial analyst roles in the Mining sector, and transitioned to CBA in Management Finance, Strategy, leading large scale Transformation Projects (she is an accredited Lean Six Sigma Black Belt), leading Bankers and supporting Ag customers, and finally into the Ag Strategy team. She has a Graduate Diploma in Applied Finance & Investment Analysis (from the former Securities Institute of Australia, now FINSIA). Carmel is passionate about the Ag sector and the enormous opportunity Ag has to play in helping solve the twin global crises in climate and nature.

General Manager - Production & Sustainability R&D, Hort Innovation 

Horticulture's sustainability story - an emerging opportunity

Anthony is passionate about the sustainable growth and development of primary industries, which drove him to study a Bachelor of Horticultural Science (Hons 1) and PhD through the Faculty of Agriculture at the University of Sydney, graduating in 2008. He holds a Masters in Agribusiness and Diploma in Quality Auditing. Anthony began his career at Greenlife Industry Australia (then Nursery & Garden Industry Australia) in various policy and management roles. While at Greenlife Industry Australia, Anthony drove the 20:20:20 Vision Program, a national campaign to increase green space by 20% across Australia by 2020. He also established national research efforts in urban forestry and living green infrastructure across Australia. In addition, he spearheaded the first Australian Standard AS2303: Tree Stock for Landscape Use.  

At Hort Innovation Anthony and his team oversee investments focused on production-related R&D, including emerging technology. Anthony leads Hort Innovation R&D efforts to navigate industry-wide sustainability opportunities. In 2020, he initiated the inaugural investment in developing the Australian-Grown Sustainability Framework through an extensive consultative process. In addition, he has continued working closely with the Australian horticulture industry to drive enduring investments that underpin a prosperous and thriving sector. 

Associate Professor in Sustainability, School of Physics, University of Sydney

Supply chain assessment of food systems

Arunima is an Associate Professor in Sustainability at the School of Physics and Business School, and she completed a Bachelor of Science (Molecular Biology and Genetics) (Hons 1), and her PhD in Sustainability Research at the University of Sydney. She undertakes big-data modelling to quantify sustainability impacts at local, national and global scales. Her research is interdisciplinary, and focusses on the appraisal of social, economic and environmental impacts using input-output analysis. In her talk, she will discuss about the role of input-output approaches in quantifying impacts embodied in supply chains, with a particular focus on food systems.

The food systems are responsible for hidden impacts, such as greenhouse gas emissions, which contribute to climate change, which in turn impacts negatively on food systems. But food systems do not operate in isolation – there is a complex interconnected web of economic interactions at play. When disasters strike, these economic interactions are disrupted leading to losses in supply chains of food and other sectors. Arunima will present research in this space.

Past lectures

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.

Speakers:

  • 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.

Speakers:

  • 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: