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A Short History of the ASA

The 1st meeting of the Society took place in April 1980. The 13th meeting is a good opportunity to pause, ask how did the Society come into being, reflect on the present, question what has changed over the years and contemplate future directions. To inform members about the past, some information concerning the origins are presented here.

Regrettably the record is incomplete as it has not been possible to locate documentation from meetings prior to the first conference.


In the 1950’s and 1960’s, agriculture related conferences were organised under the auspices of the Standing Committee of Agriculture. Proposals would come to the committee through State Departments of Agriculture or the Commonwealth Department of Primary Industries. If approved, responsibility for organising the conference was delegated to a group of people, usually in a State Department. An organising committee would be formed and this generally included representatives from each state, CSIRO and a university representative. The committee would decide on time, location, venue and the general tenor of the conference. Contributions were then solicited and invited. These conferences were the genesis of others such as the Soils Conferences, the Grassland Agronomy Conferences and the Cereal Agronomy Conferences. During the 1960’s, professional societies began to emerge, such as the Australian Society of Soil Science and the Australian Society of Animal Production, and these began organising their own conferences.

The Genesis of the Australian Society of Agronomy

During the mid 1970’s, a small group began to propose the formation of an Australian Society of Agronomy. They spoke about the need for such a Society at Grassland and Cereal Agronomy Conferences. Mr Dennis de Kantzow and Dr Bruce Sutton of the Department of Agronomy at the University of Sydney and Dr Jim Davidson of CSIRO took the initiative. Two meetings were convened in 1978/79 which were hosted by Professor Mike Norman at Sydney University. A group of interested people from a range of organisations attended and there was a representative or a proxy from each state.

Initially, the Animal Production Society, which had been formed in 1954, was used as a model. It was agreed that the Agronomy Society would meet in alternate years and should have a prominent figure address the conference at its opening on a topic of current general interest in agronomy. Selected invited speakers should present reviews and developments on particular themes, and importantly, members were to be invited to contribute one-page papers. Proceedings were to be published. One day of the conference was to be devoted to visits to the field. The intention was to involve everyone from the scientific to the practical and to encourage participation by members of the farming community. A preference was expressed to hold meetings in country areas, but after the first couple of meetings, it was not always possible to do so.

At the end of the second meeting of the initiating committee, the group agreed to a format. Dr John. Leslie graciously offered to organise the first conference in Queensland and this was accepted.

The Australian Institute of Agricultural Science sponsored the first conference and, while it was thought initially to maintain this association, it never developed. Since then, the Australian Society of Agronomy has operated as a stand-alone organisation. Dr Jim Davidson chaired a group and consulted widely in drawing up a constitution, which was discussed and adopted at the first conference. Although there have been changes from time to time, the essential framework of the original constitution has altered very little. This is a tribute to the thoroughness with which this task was undertaken.

Comments on the first conference

Prof. Mike Norman of Sydney University gave the opening general address, speaking about agronomy as a profession. Prof. Colin Donald presented a paper reviewing his concept of the ideotype.

The Donald Medal

Professor Colin Donald was an eminent agronomist who died in 1985. The Donald Medal was established by the Society in 1984 in recognition of his significant contribution to crop and pasture science. The first medal was awarded retrospectively to Peter Ozanne who addressed the second conference of the Society in 1982. Subsequently, the Donald Medal has been presented at every Australian Agronomy Conference.

The Logo

The logo was developed when preparing for the 5th Agronomy Conference in Perth in February 1990. It was designed to represent the soil/plant/atmosphere continuum, with emphasis on plants and the sun, because of the plant’s dependence on solar radiation. The colours were carefully chosen to represent these.

Professor Walter Stern
President 1989 / 1990

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