E.J. Crawford

Record of the work of E.J. Crawford in the South Australian Department of Agriculture from 1949–89

Eric Crawford joined the staff of the Kybybolite Research Centre in 1949 dealing with minor element deficiencies in sheep and general crop and pasture agronomy.

Eric transferred to Naracoorte in 1950 and worked in the districts from Meningie to Mt. Gambier in Seed Certification crop and pasture trials, demonstrations and general farm enquiries associated with post war land clearing and development problems.  During this three year period Eric assisted the late F B Pearson in general enquiries during which time excellent training was experienced.

Transferred to Adelaide in 1953, he changed to cereal and pasture work in the north of the state, initiating the first pasture species evaluation work in the Lower Rainfall Regions of the Mid and Upper North.

By now, land became available at Parafield and this became a site for sowing new pasture introductions supplied by C.S.I.R.O.

In 1956, by agreement with the then Director of Agriculture, Dr A R Callaghan and the Chief of the Division of Plant Industry of C.S.I.R.O.  Dr O Frankel, the first organised attempts at new pasture species evaluation were initiated and Eric J. Crawford was asked to develop the area at Parafield, formulate a program along the lines operating in C.S.I.R.O and formally take charge of what subsequently became known as the Parafield Research Centre and later the Parafield Plant Introduction Centre.

Further training with C.S.I.R.O in Canberra and Perth, led to Eric J. Crawford being appointed as the first plant introduction officer of the Department of Agriculture with terms and reference to be:

  1. To seek out, introduce and evaluate exotic herbage plant species for the development of new cultivars for Commerce
  2. To conduct research into the establishment and improvement of evaluation techniques and associated principles
  3. To seek the registration, release and basic seed production of the proposed new cultivars and initiate their orderly introduction into Commerce.

Eric’s specific interest in annual legumes for nitrogen fixation and dry matter production for animal grazing centred firstly around evaluation and demonstration work that led to the development of “Jemalong” Barrel Medic originally collected by F. W Hely of C.S.I.R.O in 1939.

During a visit to Walpeup Research Centre in Victoria in 1956 Eric saw the potential for a little known species, Medicago littoralis and brought the first seed to South Australia that subsequently became Harbinger strand medic.  Although New South Wales and Victoria were accredited with the original recognition of these two cultivars, it was the early evaluation and demonstration work conducted by Eric J. Crawford at Wanbi and Minnipa Research Centres that resulted in their wide spread acceptance in the cereal growing areas of South Australia and ultimately widely over southern Australia by the early/mid 1960s.

By this time Eric realised the potential of another annual medic species viz. M. rugosa.  Earlier trial work resulted in the cultivar Paragosa but this had short-comings in the lower rainfall areas but proved a useful cultivar in the higher rainfall, heavy textured soils of the Wimmera of Victoria.  Eric persisted with the species because of its great winter vigour and excellent regeneration and by 1978 produced the cultivar Paraponto which was used extensively in cereal growing rotations.

By 1967 Eric had demonstrated the great range in agronomic characteristics in many annual medic species and was asked to conduct a seed collecting mission in Israel, Cyprus, Turkey, Italy, Spain and Portugal.

Eric collected a big range of annual medics, clovers and grasses which contributed a big range of characteristics through the slowly developing gene pool being developed at Parafield.

By now, Eric’s evaluation programs spread over most of the agricultural areas of the State.  In 1971 as a result of cooperative work on Kangaroo Island, he registered the first new clover species Trifolium purpureum with the cultivar Paratta.  At this precise time the clover scorch disease of sub-clover (Kabatiella caulivora) became rife and Paratta proved to be susceptible and it was never released.  It is still a productive species on deep alkaline sands but the whole collection of accessions is susceptible to clover scorch and further intensive selection or breeding would be necessary to obtain resistance.

Early cooperative work with C.S.I.R.O resulted in the development of African and Siro Peruvian lucerne and an extension of this program by Crawford at Parafield resulted in the release of Paravivo lucerne in 1972.

It was the result of experiments at Parafield, Parndana and Kybybolite in cooperation with C.S.I.R.O that led to the decision of which accession of Phalaris aquatica would be released as Sirroco.

By now Eric had developed a close working relationship with agricultural organisations in many countries in Mediterranean type environments and contributed towards planning and exchange of genetic resources which fostered evaluation programs in many of these countries, at the same time increasing  the gene-pool of, in particular, annual legumes for evaluation and preservation in Australia.

By the mid 1960s Eric realised the significance of, and need for, the preservation of genetic resources in forage species for future generations of agronomists and plant breeders.  He kindled this interest into an ever increasing pool of species based essentially on annual medic species but after further consultation and cooperation with C.S.I.R.O, acquired a large collection of annual clovers for both evaluation and preservation.  By 1989 this collection exceeded 27,000 accessions from about sixty countries of the world.

Eric’s increasing collection soon became recognised as a world resource of annual medic species and international organisations such as FAO and IBPGR channelled enquiries for seed to him from any many countries of the world.

In 1977 Eric was invited to lead a plant exploration and seed collecting mission for ICARDA in Iraq, Jordan and Syria, regions from which little material had previously been collected.  He encouraged an interest in evaluation and preservation of resources in several countries of the Middle East and continued to liaise with personnel in many such organisations.

Between 1978 and 1981 Eric annually conducted a short course on Principles and Practices of Plant Introduction for an FAO sponsored course for post graduate students of Middle East countries conducted at Roseworthy Agricultural College.

The need for long term preservation of genetic resources eventually became recognised on a national basis and Standing Committee on Agriculture, in 1982 approved in principle, the setting up of eight resource centres throughout Australia.  Eric J. Crawford acted as Curator of the Medicago Genetic Resource Centre which became the responsibility of the South Australian Department of Agriculture.  As a result of Federal Government funding, this rapidly became a Centre with standards approaching the levels set by IBPGR on an international basis.

Perhaps Eric’s most gratifying contribution to agriculture was the development of the first aphid tolerant barrel medic, Paraggio which escalated into commerce at a greater rate than any other annual medic cultivar.  This was soon followed by the earlier maturing cultivar, Parabinga with similar attributes.

Eric’s continual attempts to assess the relative levels of hardseededness in annual legume species has born fruit in cultivars such as Paraggio and the recognition of the value of hardseededness has since resulted in new cultivars of clovers for high rainfall areas.

Eric’s cooperative work with the somewhat rare clover species T.balansae resulted in the cultivar Paradana balansae clover being released to commerce.  This was soon followed by Kyambro Persian clover.

In his published papers and presentations at international conferences he has expounded the virtues of annual medics in cereal-ley farming systems as well as elaborating on the varying characteristics considered in developing new cultivars.

In Eric’s role as Secretary of the South Australian Herbage Plant Liaison Committee since its inauguration in 1964, he has contributed to the documentation of many new cultivars and liaised with other organisations in evaluation and seed production technology.

“Once a collector, always a collector” during a private visit to Papua new Guinea in 1982 he collected tropical legumes for C.S.I.R.O in Queensland and in the 1985 he collected privately in the Greek Islands and southern Italy.  His long term goal to preserve plant genetic resources for the future has been rewarded in the development of good seed storage facilities and the appointment of a Curator to ensure its survival into the next century.

Eric has been the author and co-author of forty nine referred scientific and extension publications.

After forty years in the Department of Agriculture, Eric J. Crawford rounded off his career as an invited speaker at an IBPGR/ICARDA Workshop on medics for ley-farming systems in the Mediterranean systems in Italy in June 1989.

In recognition of his contribution of new pasture cultivars to Southern Australian Farming Systems, he was awarded the Agricultural Technologists of Australasia Gold Medal “Award of Merit” in 1984.

Page Last Reviewed: 20 Nov 2017
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