Distinguished career in sustainable agriculture recognised with Farrer Medal

Professor Timothy Reeves has been awarded the William Farrer Memorial Medal by the Farrer Memorial Trust for distinguished service in agricultural science.

Professor Reeves is the first Professor in Residence at the University of Melbourne’s Dookie campus. In this role he provides mentorship to the 17 Master of Philosophy and PhD students based at the agricultural campus, and engages with the local community, industry and students on the importance of sustainable agriculture to global health and nutrition.

The medallist is chosen by trustees of the Farrer Memorial Research Scholarship Fund from persons who have rendered distinguished service in agricultural science in Australia in the fields of research, education or administration.

Professor Reeves joined the University of Melbourne in 2018, having received an honorary doctorate from the Faculty of Veterinary and Agricultural Sciences in 2017.

Professor Timothy Reeves with the William Farrer Memorial Medal.
Professor Timothy Reeves with the William Farrer Memorial Medal. Photo: ARThomasPhoto.

He previously served as Director General of the International Maize and Wheat Improvement Center in Mexico from 1995-2002, was a member of the United Nations’ Millennium Project Task Force on Hunger and senior expert for the Food and Agriculture Organization. Professor Reeves is a member of the board of the Crawford Fund, and a Fellow of the Australian Academy of Technology and Engineering. He began his career as a pioneer of no-till and sustainable agriculture at the Rutherglen Research Institute in north-eastern Victoria.

He was awarded the CM Donald Medal from the Australian Society of Agronomy in 2017 for his career-long contributions to research, development and extension in the field of agronomy – the applied science of using plants for food, fuel, fibre, and land reclamation.

Professor Reeves is only the second person to receive both the Farrer and Donald medals, following Dr Tony Fischer of the Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organisation (CSIRO).

Professor John Fazakerley, Dean of the Faculty of Veterinary and Agricultural Sciences, said the Farrer Medal was recognition of Professor Reeves’ outstanding contributions to agricultural science, including his role at the Dookie campus.

“Dookie campus is a unique and invaluable asset for the University of Melbourne and Australian agriculture with a long history as a rural centre for research and education, and a bright future,” he said.

“Tim’s work with our staff, students and community on and around the campus is a fantastic continuation of his career-long leadership in sustainable agriculture and the development of future generations of researchers. The Farrer Medal recognises his past and continuing impact on Australian and global agriculture – congratulations Tim!”

Dr John Radcliffe, Trustee of the Farrer Memorial Research Scholarship Fund and former Deputy Chief Executive of CSIRO, congratulated Professor Reeves on receiving the prestigious award.

“As a pioneer of no-till and conservation agriculture research at the Rutherglen Research Institute his impact can be seen in the modern farming practices we use today,” Dr Radcliffe said.

“Professor Reeves’ professional career has followed a stellar trajectory with roles as Foundation Professor of Sustainable Agricultural Production at Adelaide University, Director General of the International Maize and Wheat Improvement Center in Mexico and a member of the United Nations Millennium Project Task Force on Hunger.”

After receiving the medal, Professor Reeves delivered an invited oration for the Farrer Memorial Trust, “Sustainable Intensification of Agriculture – for Food and Nutritional Security”.

In the oration, Professor Reeves argued for a “new revolution” of diversified farming based on integrating crops, pastures, livestock, shrubs and trees in a regenerative agriculture framework that also incorporates greater soil carbon sequestration and better maintenance of soil health. Sustainable intensification, he said, is critical both on-farm and across the entire agricultural value chain.

Citing soil scientist Mary Scholes and systems ecologist Robert Scholes’ argument in Science that “Civilisations rise and fall on the quality of their soil,” he said agricultural systems must integrate soil health at a fundamental level.

“Sustainable intensification and the future of farming is highly dependent on fertile, healthy soils and if we are to achieve the dual imperatives of enhanced productivity and ecosystem health then greater attention to our key resource, the soil, is urgently required,” he said.

While Professor Reeves notes that Australia and other nations have made significant progress in sustainable intensification of agricultural systems, he said “much more needs to be done, and done efficiently, effectively and with urgency.”

“There is no doubt that if the world is to achieve global food and nutritional security, adaptation of our farming systems to climate change is absolutely critical. Climate-smart agriculture is required, and sustainable intensification can help us deliver more adaptive and more resilient production systems.”

The full oration is available online.

Banner image: Professor Timothy Reeves with Dr John Radcliffe, Trustee of the Farrer Memorial Research Scholarship Fund and the William Farrer Memorial Medal. Photo: ARThomasPhoto.