Milton (Spike) Spurling FAIAST

Milton Spurling died aged 80 on 18th September, 2005.  He was born in Renmark A graduate of Adelaide University he had a distinguished career in horticultural research and extension, agricultural education and public administration.  He was Federal President of the Australian Institute of Agricultural Science in 1979-1980 and elected to a Fellowship of the Institute in 1983.

He joined the then South Australian Department of Agriculture in 1946.  In 1948 he was posted to Loxton where he carried out research on irrigation and frost.  He was appointed Horticulturist at Roseworthy Agricultural College in 1950.  He rejoined the Department as Senior (later Principal) Horticultural Research Officer in late 1954.  In the latter role he oversaw expansion in horticultural research staff and development of facilities at Loxton, Lenswood and Northfield that made the Horticulture Branch such a powerhouse in the development of the state’s horticultural and viticultural industries in the 1960s and 1970s.

In 1972 he returned to Roseworthy as Senior Lecturer in Plant Science and later became Vice Principal and later Deputy Director.  This was at a time the role of Agricultural Colleges such as Roseworthy was changing from an emphasis on vocational training to a responsibility for higher-level technical training as Colleges of Advanced Education.  During this period (1980) he prepared a paper for the Institute Journal “Agricultural Education at Risk”, and later (1983) organised a symposium for the Centenary of Roseworthy College.  He also was involved in the committee that oversaw revision of the “Manual of Australian Agriculture”.

Milton published extension bulletins and articles on a range of topics including frost control, fruit drying, vegetable production, citrus production and tree crop irrigation efficiency. These were the early days of sprinkler irrigation and furrow irrigation was still the norm on government irrigation areas.  He had a particular affinity for the citrus industry and played an important part in the development of packaging and post harvest treatments to allow the export of fresh oranges.

He served on a number of sub-committees of Standing Committee on Agriculture, which were then the vehicles for coordination of research and regulatory effort between the States and the Commonwealth.  Milton Spurling worked internationally for the Colombo Plan in 1959 and FAO in 1973 on agricultural education projects and was also involved in agricultural training programs for aboriginal communities in SA.  In 1983 he reported on his findings on “Agricultural Study and Teaching in Great Britain”.

Those of us who worked with him in the Horticulture Branch of the, then, South Australian Department of Agriculture remember a dedicated horticultural research/extension leader, who was extremely supportive and loyal to his staff.  A characteristic of those agricultural scientists who trained around the middle of the 20th century was a clear focus on work that supported development of the industries that they served.  “Spike” was no exception.  The beneficiaries of this focus were the horticultural industries in SA and Australia more generally, the growers, and those who stored, processed and exported fruit and vegetables.  His work in horticultural education over many years was a major contribution to his home state.

Prepared by Ben Robinson with reference to the Journal of the Australian Institute of Agricultural Science.  Special inputs from Rip Van Velsen and Barry Tugwell.