Northfield Laboratories and Research Centre (1964 - 1993)

Doug Reuter

(This article, provided to the Agriculture History Project in May 2007, was edited lightly for the website.)

The Vision and Development

In September 1964 Department of Agriculture research staff in the Soils Branch with other research groups relocated from the Simpson’s Building in Gawler Place, Adelaide to new research facilities at Northfield. These modern facilities were designed by Allan ‘Teddy’ Beare (Chief Soils Officer and Soil Conservator), Peter Barrow (Senior Agronomist) and Ted Carter (OIC Kangaroo Island Research Centre) on land where Sir Ross and Sir Keith Smith landed their Vickers Vimy bomber on their epic flight from England to Australia in 1919.

Premier Sir Thomas Playford officially opened the Northfield Research Laboratories in January 1965. It was a gala event attended by many farmer dignitaries, who no doubt held great expectations of how this government and wheat industry investment would assist South Australia’s rural industries.

The vision for this new facility had several facets. Following World War II, agricultural land development in South Australia expanded rapidly but with relatively little knowledge about the requirements of the soils and the farming systems being used. Recognising this, in the 1950s the Department offered cadetships for students to undertake agricultural science degrees at the University of Adelaide as a means of strengthening its future research and extension arms. Thus, by the early 1960s new graduates were starting their careers with the Department, which in turn prompted the need for new facilities for the new age of farming.

The first Officer-in-Charge at Northfield, Peter Barrow, was followed closely by Reg French, who both orchestrated the beautification of the grounds (including gum trees planted by the Women’s Agricultural Bureau in June 1967) and progressive extension of many additional facilities. This wonderful new facility was a vast improvement on the abysmal conditions endured at Gawler Place and, importantly, brought together Departmental researchers across several scientific disciplines (weeds, entomology, field crop and pasture agronomy, plant breeders, horticulture and soils). Rapidly, an excellent esprit de corps developed amongst Northfield staff.

Across Folland Avenue, the Department’s dairy research group established their facilities and the Northfield Dairy Research Farm under the leadership of John Feagan. Bill Bussell managed the farm. Paul Heap developed the Northfield Pig Research Unit’s centre, and Rip van Velsen and David Cartwright established the Northfield Horticultural and Commonwealth Quarantine glasshouse complex.