Fifty Years in Pursuit of Agricultural Sustainability – an ever ‘Moving Target’

  1. Professor Timothy G Reeves FTSE   Professorial Fellow, Faculty of Veterinary and Agricultural Sciences, University of Melbourne
    Chair, Agriculture Forum, Australian Academy of Technology and Engineering
    Director, Timothy G Reeves and Associates P/L, Geelong, VIC 3220



    This paper provides key insights into factors important in the development of agronomists and other agricultural scientists. These include the critical people-related roles of – establishing strong, multi-disciplinary teams to conduct rigorous and accurate field and related research; strong leadership and support from senior managers; experienced mentors and role models; and the imperative of effective farmer participation in the research-development-adoption continuum. It then tracks the ‘rise and demise’ of some major farming systems in SE Australia, providing insights into the factors influencing their initial adoption by farmers and the factors that lead to them ultimately becoming unsustainable. Lessons learned and the current relevance of these findings is described for each system, particularly in relation to sustainability factors. It concludes that ‘business as usual’ is rarely, if ever, a viable sustainability option.

    Sustainable intensification of agriculture is the last of the systems considered and its critical importance to future global food and nutritional security is described. The paper concludes by identifying five ‘Grand Challenges’ to global food and nutritional security – natural resource losses; climate change; nitrogen-use efficiency; food loss and waste; neglect of rural communities – and the measures required to successfully overcome them, including sustainable intensification. Urgent attention is recommended to better tackling nexus issues; implementing sustainable intensification in agri-food chains; establishing policies and targets for reducing food loss and waste; developing a vision and strategy for rural communities; and implementing longer-term, patient co-investment in factors critical to sustainability.


The Australian Society of Agronomy is the professional body for agronomists in Australia. It has approximately 500 active members drawn from government, universities, research organisations and the private sector.

Photo Credits

David Marland Photography Southern Farming Systems Agriculture Victoria

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