The John Clive Radcliffe Era (1985–1992)

Dr John Clive Radcliffe

Dr John Clive Radcliffe was a member of the McColl management team for much of the time Jim McColl was the Director-General of Agriculture (1976–1985). He was therefore directly involved in a number of the key strategic programs pursued by McColl, including the regionalisation of services.

McColl and Radcliffe built a strong base for innovation through strengthening the management arrangements for research and development, establishment of the Research Policy Advisory Committee and the Extension Policy Advisory Committee and the commencement of a capital restructuring program for research infrastructure.

Radcliffe and his team continued development of many of the initiatives introduced in the McColl era. These included strengthening the commercial influence of McColl, particularly the introduction of the concept of whole farm management and a business approach to service delivery and a strong engagement strategy with industry through the regional structure. Along with this was the beginning of the commercialisation of extension delivery and the building of a stronger relationship with The University of Adelaide, especially under the then Director of the Waite, Professor Harold Woolhouse.

Radcliffe was well aware of the political turmoil that beset McColl and was fortunate to have served as Director-General of Agriculture during a period of relative political harmony.

John graduated from Adelaide University with Honors in Agricultural Science before his appointment to the Department as a Dairy Husbandry Officer for 12 months in 1961. He completed a PhD in crop science from the Oregon State University and rejoined the Department again in the Dairy Research Group at Northfield.

He progressed to a Senior Research Officer and Officer-in-Charge of the Northfield Research Centre before moving to head office in the positions of Principal Officer Research Management and Principal Policy Officer under Jim McColl and then head of the Policy and Planning Unit.

He served as Director-General of Agriculture from 1985 to 1992 before becoming Chief Executive of the newly formed South Australian Research and Development Institute (SARDI). In February 1993 he resigned to become an Institute Director and later Deputy Chief Executive of CSIRO.

John Radcliffe was awarded the Medal of the Order of Australia (OAM) in 1987, Member of the Order of Australia (AM) in 2001 and elected Fellow of the Australian Academy of Technological Sciences and Engineering in 1994. He was awarded the Medal of the Australian Institute of Agricultural Science and Technology in 2009.

For more details of Dr Radcliffe's early history, professional achievements and work within the Department of Agriculture and more recently, the History of Agriculture Project, his Oral History can be viewed in Dr Radcliffe's Oral History (PDF 331.2 KB).

Premiers and Ministers

John Bannon was the Premier of South Australia until 1991. Lynn Arnold, the Minister of Agriculture until Bannon's resignation, was appointed Premier for a short period of time prior to the defeat of the Labor Government in 1992.

The following people held the position of Minister of Agriculture during the Radcliffe era:

  • Frank Blevins until December 1985.
  • Kym Mayes 1985 to 1989.
  • Lynn Arnold 1989 to 1992.
  • Terry Groom 1992 to 1993.

The global environment and implications to agriculture

The period 1985 to 1992 was a most difficult and uncertain period for primary producers in South Australia and the Department. The reasons for this were:


There were several seasons during this period where rainfall was well below average and crop and livestock production mirrored this. The Eyre Peninsula was most affected by these events and in addition to financial and personal stress, there was widespread wind erosion across the Peninsula.

The incidence of these seasonal conditions was probably not appreciably out of the average, however the impacts were more widespread and profound as a result of other financial pressures being experienced by the farming community at the time.

The seasonal conditions and resultant impacts on primary industries led to the establishment of Rural Counselling Services, which have continued to the present (2015).

The global policy and market settings

The era was characterised by high world production and rising stocks of most commodities. Many of the other major producing countries, competing with Australia for markets, introduced or maintained price policy settings (subsidies) that made adjustment to market conditions very difficult.

World wheat prices fell by 50% and stocks increased by more than 70% between 1981 and 1986. This flowed through to other grains. Butter prices fell by 50% and stocks increased to a massive 1.7 million tonnes with the "butter mountain" increasing in Europe. European Community stocks of beef increased to over 600 000 tonnes, or three times the usual levels. Over a similar period direct costs of farm subsidies had risen from $3-5 billion to around $26 billion in the US and in the EC the costs doubled in five years.

The Australian wool industry was seriously impacted by marketing arrangements agreed between industry and Government. The level of clearance of wool at auction was at low levels and the stockpile, purchased under the marketing arrangements, had reached maximum levels.

An indication of the level of subsidisation of farm products can be gained from the cost of the subsidies to the community as a whole. For example, subsidies in the EC were costing USD 900 for each non-farm European family and for the US the equivalent was USD 700 per family. This level of subsidisation discouraged adjustment and alignment with market signals in these countries.

This impacted on Australian primary industries where low prices, decreasing demand for commodities, and competition on global markets with strongly subsidised products.

Financial conditions

High interest rates and inflation caused much hardship and uncertainty for primary producers in South Australia during the period.

From the mid 1980s until 1988 the interest rates fell from around 23% pa to between 11% and 12% before steadily rising to around 19% by 1990. Often financial institutions applied a higher interest rate to farmers reflecting the greater perceived risks in lending. Also for many families, farm operating and family supplies were purchased by credit card, making the interest rate impost even larger.

Inflation during the whole period ran at around 10% driving uncertainty and making farm management decisions difficult.

A complicating factor for many farmers was the policy adopted by some financial institutions in the early 1980s to lend against the value of the property, rather than their capacity to service the loan. Hence as farm values fell so did equity, placing previously sound businesses at risk.

These financial conditions resulted in a high level of farm bankruptcies and stress within families. During this time Rural Finance and Adjustment support provided by the Department took a major overhaul. Enlisting appropriate Government and rural financing/banking commitments was crucial.

Micro economic reform

Successive Australian governments continued with policies that removed subsidies and support mechanisms to farm industry sectors, particularly tariff support. Industry deregulation activities were linked to increasing competition within industry sectors. While there was an overall impact in terms of the global competitiveness of our rural industries, the high level of protection afforded by some countries saw some of our rural industries struggle, and in some instances decline.

State Bank collapse

The State Bank of SA collapsed in 1991 leaving the State Government with responsibility for some $3 billion of debt. While this occurred near the end of this era, it was evident for some time that reductions in State Government expenditure were required, making a response, by the Department, to the global and financial challenges more difficult.

Management team

When John Radcliffe was appointed as the Director-General of Agriculture in 1985 the Department of Agriculture management team comprised:

  • Dr Patrick Harvey – Deputy Director-General of Agriculture and Chair of SAGRIC International
  • Mr John Feagan – Director Animal Services
  • Mr Arthur Tideman – Director Plant Services
  • Mr John Potter – Director Policy and Planning
  • Mr Geoff Thomas – Director Regions
  • Mr Rangan Srinivasan – Director, Support Services

From the early days of this era, Dr Harvey was increasingly involved in SAGRIC International. In addition to his role as Chair of that Board he was also involved in operational matters. During the Radcliffe era the role and scope of SAGRIC International moved well outside agricultural work and included transport planning and strategy, land title consultancies and health planning. The focus of attention broadened from the Middle East to Asia and the Pacific rim.

In 1987 Arthur Tideman was appointed as Chair of the Animal and Plant Control Commission and Executive Manager of the Mt Lofty Ranges Review. Mr Tideman's position as Director, Plant Services was taken by Mr Glyn Webber, formerly Chief of Central Region. In the same period John Feagan and John Potter retired and were replaced by Dr Barbara Wilson, as Director Animal Services and Ms Ann Bunning as the Director Policy and Planning.

The Department of Agriculture Executive from 1988

The Department of Agriculture Executive from 1988. Back Row L to R Mr Glynn Webber, Mr Geoff Thomas and Mr Hugh McClelland. Front Row L to R Dr Barbara Wilson, Dr John Radcliffe and Mr Rangan Srinivasan.

Reflecting the increasing emphasis on marketing and trade Mr Hugh McClelland, a former Australian Trade Commissioner, was appointed to the position of Director Development and Marketing in 1988.

Following structural changes across government, the management team was strengthened with the inclusion of Dr Ivars Dainis, the Director of the Chemistry Division. The Chemistry Division was transferred into the Department from the Department of Services and Supply in 1989. When Cabinet made the decision to redevelop the Northfield Research Centre and farm into housing, Dr Andrew Scott was appointed to the position of Manager, Northfield Relocation (reflecting the significance of the issues) and became a member of the management team.

Mr Graham Broughton, Manager Rural Finance, also became a member of a flattened management team.

Minor changes were made to the Executive in the latter period of Dr Radcliffe's appointment reflecting ongoing restructuring across government and emphasis on natural resources management. A submission to the Public Service Board resulted in a broader role and reclassification of three senior positions. Dr Wilson's role was expanded to become the Director Animal Industries and Analytical Services, Mr Webber's role was expanded to become the Director Plant Industries and Natural Resources and Mr Thomas became the Director of Regions and Extension.

It was during this period that the position of Ministerial Liaison Officer (MLO) was consolidated, having been established earlier by McColl. The role of the MLO was to facilitate the exchange of information between the agency and the Minister's Office and to better align the activities between the two to deliver outcomes more efficiently for the SA Government. Many of the MLOs appointed at this time progressed to senior positions within the agency.

Positioning of the Department of Agriculture

McColl had taken a strong approach to broadening the role of the Department through strengthening relationships with agencies such as the Engineering and Water Supply and Lands departments, and with financial institutions, the university sector and interstate agencies. Radcliffe took this initiative to another level and by the end of his term as Director-General of Agriculture collaborations had delivered substantial benefits to South Australian agriculture.

In addition to positioning South Australia within the national framework via contribution to the Standing Committee on Agriculture and the Ministerial Council, Radcliffe's greatest achievement in this area was the relationship forged between Professor Harold Woolhouse, Director of the Waite Agricultural Research Institute, and Dr David Smiles, Chief CSIRO Division of Soils. Much of the standing of the "Waite Partners", and the Waite has flowed from many years of strong and effective collaboration between the Department of Agriculture, The University of Adelaide and CSIRO.

Infrastructure developed at the Waite precinct, Roseworthy and regional centres, encouraged the early success with Cooperative Research Centres, large collaborative and industry funded programs and presenting their research and educational capabilities to the world. This resulted in a number of high profile scientists being attracted to the Waite and a significant increase in international students.

Also during this period there was a clear intent to complement the traditional technical services provided by the Department with a comprehensive program of work addressing the social and financial aspects of agriculture. The seasonal conditions, high interest rates, and the resultant impacts on primary industries led to the establishment of the Rural Counselling Service. The Department of Agriculture took the lead in bringing together the various parties including the banks, health services, the SA Farmers Federation and agricultural consultants in what became a well coordinated service to farm families. This included advice on finance, health issues and employment options post farming. It also provided comprehensive advice to the SA and Commonwealth Governments in their response to the crisis. This program positioned the Department beyond just providing technical advice, to providing a broad whole farm approach and formed the basis of many other crisis response programs to follow.

Impending water shortages from the Murray Darling system, resulting from water allocation policies being implemented by upstream states, along with increasing salinity, led to the Department taking an increasingly active role in national negotiations around water supply out of the Murray Darling Basin. A strong collaborative position was developed with the water supply and environment agencies and industry in putting South Australia's position to the Murray Darling Basin Commission.

A highlight of the Radcliffe era was improved project accountability. Presentation of financial and program information enabled Government (and agency management) to make better informed decisions about budget allocations and resourcing levels, particularly when facing significant budget cuts. He encouraged and was actively involved in developing Program Performance Budget (PPB) papers so that Agriculture was considered a model set of PPB papers both in SA and nationally.

During the Radcliffe era the agency was active in preparing submissions to national industry inquiries and legislative reviews. The enhanced economic and policy resources appointed to generate these policy positions often generated considerable tension between the industry development activities of the agency and those developed by the economic and policy group.

At a program level the SA, NSW and Victorian agriculture agencies and CSIRO collaborated in a new arrangement, called Riverlink. The concept of Riverlink was for each of the four agencies involved to take a lead role for an industry sector and to provide these services to industry in the Riverland and Sunraysia region, across state borders. Under this arrangement SA took responsibility for viticultural as well as most irrigation technology and soils services.

Start of the period of resource contraction, strategic planning and agency restructuring

The 1970s and 80s was a period of stability and growth in the resources available to support programs within the agency. From the mid 80s onward pressure on resources was coming from a number of directions:

  • There was increased pressure by the Government of the day for agencies to provide additional services at a time where funding was coming under pressure. The initial strategic plan for the Department of Agriculture had been produced in 1983 and revised regularly during the Radcliffe era. However it was not until later that staff saw the need to alter programs and priorities in line with these plans.
  • During the period there were increasing demands on resources in specific areas, for example soil conservation and land management, rural services and adjustment, and the increasing demands by Ministers for servicing. As funding was not provided for many of these new initiatives there had to be reduction in existing programs, often with significant resistance from senior staff.
  • By far the greatest impact on resources was the collapse of the State Bank and the debt of around $3 billion that the State needed to service. While the collapse was publicly announced in 1991, the need to reel in government spending was known well before then.

The key strategic plans produced during this period were:

  • SAGRIC 84–87. Planning of Department of Agriculture services for South Australians. This plan clearly overlapped the McColl and Radcliffe eras.
  • Department of Agriculture servicing South Australians 1985.
  • Directions in South Australian Agriculture, 1987–89.
  • Corporate Directions 1989–90. This strategic directions document was produced, for the first time, with considerable industry consultation and input. This was particularly the case with the Advisory Board of Agriculture (ABA) and the SA Farmer's Federation (SAFF), and was supported by substantial inputs by regional managers through the improvement of their relationships with local industry. This was especially important for industries such as horticulture where much of the leadership was located in the regions.

It is clear from these plans that the stated objectives and strategic directions changed fundamentally during this period, better reflecting the global environment, and the positioning of the agency and resulting in the outputs achieved during this period. A further response from the Department was to undertake a fundamental review of the operation of the Department, through the Organisational Development Review (ODR).

The financial driver for the ODR was an overall budget reduction of $9.4 million over a 4 year period absorbing anticipated cost increases of $3.6 million, a total of $13 million over 4 years. In 1991–92 the recurrent State Government funding for core activities was around $60 million.

The Terms of reference of the ODR were to:

Undertake a detailed review of the organisation and recommend a strategic organisation development plan incorporating a business unit approach, taking into consideration the opportunities and constraints arising from:

  • the overall budget and resources within which the department and each business unit must operate.
  • the need to be more market/client orientated in the identification, development and delivery of products and services,
  • the need to clearly demonstrate the benefit to South Australian agriculture and the State's economy through the endeavors of the Department and its business units for optimum consumption of inputs (demonstrable accountability),
  • the relocation to Waite and the potential for establishment of Cooperative Research Centres in South Australia,
  • the department's, including the business units' role in natural resource protection, public health, responsibility for rural affairs and economic development of South Australia through agriculture.

Six actions were recommended by the consultants, McKinsey and Co, in the report, Plotting a Course for Agriculture in South Australia (PDF 1.7 MB):

  1. Redefine the mission to emphasise the economic development role.
  2. Build strategy around the highest value opportunities.
  3. Restructure the Department to clarify accountability.
  4. Strengthen measurement and planning processes.
  5. Focus on creating economic impact in existing activities.
  6. Initiate a major change program.

The recommendations were implemented to varying degrees of success. One of the outcomes of the ODR was the end to the Department's regional structure and the entity "Department of Agriculture". The new title of the agency was Primary Industries South Australia.

Restructuring of the research assets

The period 1985 to 1992 saw great changes at both a national and state levels to resources available for research and development. The reform process initiated during the McColl era, and for much of the time under the leadership of John Radcliffe, placed South Australia in a strong position to significantly strengthen its effectiveness in this area.

The Commonwealth Government passed the 1985 Rural Industry Research Act which established a structure for management of research funds by provision for a 100% match of commodity levies up to a ceiling of 0.5% of gross value of production. The Act provided the mechanism to collect the levies from producers and it also gave industry a much stronger role in determining the nature and extent of R&D programs, encouraging a longer term view in the planning of R&D.

Later the Commonwealth Primary Industries and Energy Research and Development Act (1989) gave increased independence and power through corporatisation of the structures. R&D Councils became R&D Corporations with incorporated structures that gave greater flexibility in the funding of R&D.

Funding to the SA Department of Agriculture from industry based R&D Corporations increased progressively from around $3 million in 1986–87 to $10.6 million in 1991/92. The increased funding available under the new national arrangements were merit based and saw a significant enhancement to the R&D programs undertaken by the Department.

In April 1989, aligned with the national changes to R&D and increasing applications for funding from Corporations, the Principal Officer Research Management introduced a new approach to priority setting. This included management of applications to Rural Industry Research funds.  The Research Guidelines series, initially produced in 1982, were progressively expanded to cover the range of strategic issues facing the agency as external funding became increasingly important.

The legislative changes at the national level saw the phasing out of State research committees in the wheat and barley sectors with one exception. The South Australian grains industry wished to retain a capability to fund regional research and development and established the SA Grains Industry Trust Fund under State legislation that allowed for the collection of levies on grain production.

While the decision by Government in 1988 to use the Northfield Research Centre site for urban infill was not part of the immediate long term plan for restructuring of R&D by McColl and Radcliffe, there was a feeling that this land, in the middle of the city, would eventually be required for urban infill. However the planning work undertaken and the directions set by the Department, in conjunction with industry, allowed what would normally have been a very difficult and disruptive matter to be turned into opportunities to restructure the department's research assets, consolidating previous discussions around a greater level of collaboration between The University of Adelaide, CSIRO and Roseworthy Agricultural College.

Following the decision by Cabinet, the Minister of Agriculture formed the Northfield Relocation Steering Committee comprising tertiary institutions, industry , unions and agency to make recommendations on the future.

Based on the Steering Committee's recommendations, in April 1989, cabinet approved:

  • that the Department vacate the Northfield site entirely, with the exception of the Gilles Plains Animal Resource Centre
  • the choice of the Waite Institute campus as the major relocation site
  • a detailed package be brought back to Cabinet.

A Review of Diagnostic Laboratory Services was completed in May 1990 with the main recommendation being amalgamation of the State Chemistry Laboratories (SCL), Central Veterinary Laboratories and the soil and plant analytical lab at Northfield.

Some of the major infrastructure changes during this time were:

  • Disposal of the Wanbi Agricultural Centre, Parndana Research Centre and relocation of staff from Kybybolite to Struan.
  • Purchase of a dairy property at Flaxley in the Adelaide Hills to replace the Northfield Dairy Research Centre .
  • In September 1986 a new laboratory at the Parafield Poultry Research Centre was opened.
  • In 1988 the Kingsford property (located near Turrentfield, north of Gawler) was purchased as part of the restructuring of research centres and the establishment of Turretfield as the state centre for sheep research and cereal sheep zone research.  The Sheep and Wool Research Group was relocated to Turretfield. This was a fore-runner to consolidation of Adelaide University livestock research and education staff and the Department's Sheep and Wool research people to Roseworthy (located a few kilometers west of Turretfield), and emulated the collaborative arrangements that had developed at the Waite.
  • Funding was provided to upgrade the Department's facilities at Flaxley and Lenswood in 1988 and a year later the Minnipa Research Centre was upgraded and designated for development as a Centre of Excellence for marginal land management strategies.
  • One of the most important and far reaching decisions made over the history of the Department of Agriculture was to move the majority of the programs from Northfield to the Waite Agricultural Research Institute campus of The University of Adelaide at Urrbrae. This decision was made in March 1989 and in a highly collaborative approach saw the department, The University of Adelaide and CSIRO commence a major restructuring of research and educational resources. Programs and resources were integrated as far as possible with each institution taking responsibility for components of the restructuring program. The Government invested over $30 million in construction of the Plant Research Centre and further funding for common facilities such as the transport and parking infrastructure, a child care centre and field equipment. Concurrently a significant amount was provided by the State Government, along with CSIRO and Adelaide University to further develop the Soil and Water precinct at the Waite.

Official opening of the Flaxley Agricultural Centre in November 1990

Official opening of the Flaxley Agricultural Centre in November 1990.

From L to R: Dr John Radcliffe (Director-General of Agriculture), Mr Don Pfitzner (former UF&S President, Mr Brian Bartsch (Leader of the Centre), Hon Lynn Arnold (Minister of Agriculture) and Mr Alan Manning (President of SA Dairyfarmers Association).

A further change in the R&D landscape occurred in the early 1990s with the Commonwealth Government announcing the establishment of the Cooperative Research Centres (CRC) program and the approval of two such centres based at the Waite. The leadership role being played by South Australia was evident when the Chief Scientist, Professor Ralph Slatyer invited Professor Harold Woolhouse, Dr John Radcliffe, Dr David Smiles and Dr Albert Rovira to make a presentation in the Cabinet Room of Parliament House, Canberra, on a CRC for Soil and Land Management as a case study on what the program might look like.

The main objective of the CRC program at the time was to encourage collaborations between R&D agencies, education institutions and industry to deliver strategic and applied R&D and education programs to industry. The work done to establish a collaborative approach on the Waite Campus placed the partners in a good position to win CRCs. The CRC for Soil and Land Management was approved in the first round of applications (1990) and the CRC Viticulture was successful in the second round (1992).

In subsequent rounds, post 1992, South Australia was highly successful in winning large collaborative projects through the CRC Program and other programs, generally based around the collaborative arrangements forged during the period 1985 to 1992.

Finally, during this period, SA played a national leadership role in forging a collaborative agencies response to the increasing influence of industry R&D Corporations. In 1989, the Standing Committee on Agriculture and the Ministerial Council received a report on "Research Innovation and Competitiveness" as a basis for upgrading and improving the co-ordination of research. A contentious issue was the funding of research overheads by R&D Corporations. Active discussions were held around this time about a national rural R&D strategy. Dr Radcliffe was asked to chair the working group that prepared a National Agricultural Research Strategy for Australia, a role he carried into his position with CSIRO. This led, over a decade later, to the National RD&E Framework and the preparation of industry strategies and a number of cross cutting strategies.

The rise of the current era of natural resources management or new age conservation

Change in agriculture is seldom revolutionary, more evolutionary, and such were the changes to natural resources management in the period 1985 to 1992. Some would argue however that the changes in government programs and the engagement with not only land managers, but the community as a whole, were approaching revolutionary.

In the short history of agriculture in South Australia there have more challenges and emphasis on soil degradation, pest and disease management, weed control and vegetation decline than any other activity.

Historically the early 19th century activities of the South Australian Parliament focused on legislation around weeds and pests and diseases of livestock, followed by sand drift and soil erosion in the early twentieth century. Farming conditions in the State were very different from those previously experienced in the new settlers' homeland and many farmers opening up land in the colony had little or no farming experience in their homelands.

Up until the 1980s the various elements of land management were delivered independently. Early soil conservation programs and associated soil conservation boards, were responsible to the Advisory Committee of Soil Conservation and were implemented separately from weeds and vertebrate pest control. These were primarily the responsibility of local government.

The establishment of Soil Conservation Boards was slow. Only five boards were established up until 1983, these being the Murray Mallee, Murray Plains, Yorke Peninsula, West Broughton and the Upper Eyre Peninsula boards. A further four boards were established between 1983 and 1987 and the first in the pastoral area, the Northern Flinders Ranges Soil Conservation Board, was established in 1988. This was a reflection of the increasing interest and emphasis of the Department on Agriculture in the pastoral regions of SA.

The proclamation of the Animal and Plant Control (Agricultural Protection and Other Purposes) Act 1986 established the Animal and Plant Control Commission and the Animal and Plant Control Boards . The new act replaced the Vertebrate Pests Act 1975 and the Pest Plants Act 1975. Arthur Tideman was appointed Chair of the Commission.

It was during this time discussions of integrated land management started to occur, reflecting the realisation that farming systems, tillage practices, salinity, soil acidity and vegetation conservation were important in terms of sustainable land management. In 1985, the first meeting of the Australian Soil Conservation Council (First National Soil Conservation Report, Feb 1987 Australian Government Publishing Service 1987), a meeting of all responsible Ministers from the States/Territories and the Commonwealth, was held. The Soil Conservation (Financial Assistance) Act 1985 set up the National Soil Conservation Program and this provided in SA for 13 nationally funded and 13 state funded (through the Expanded Soil Conservation Program) projects to undertake works such as contour banks/contour furrows on land susceptible to water erosion and drains for saline affected areas. The on-ground programs were sponsored by the Soil Conservation Boards providing a new approach to soil conservation and provided funding to subsidise on farm capital works programs in a catchment context. This promoted a new interdisciplinary approach to land management on a whole farm/catchment basis.

It was also the period when the concept of Ecologically Sustainable Development (ESD) became paramount in terms of resources management and was embraced by the Ministerial Councils. The Rio conference, The Earth Summit: The United Nations Conference on Environment and Development 1992 resulted in an increased community awareness of the environment, driven in part by the Australian Conservation Foundation (ACF). The Commonwealth circulated a discussion paper which recognized that “economic growth and a well-managed environment are fundamentally linked (Ecologically Sustainable Development A Commonwealth Discussion Paper, June 1990 , Australian Government Publishing Service, Canberra)”. It set up a set of sectorial working groups to introduce the concept of ESD into the thinking and activities of those industries. The working parties had conservation, industry and government interests on them. Roger Wickes represented the State Department of Agriculture on the agricultural working group and procured an increase in national funding to support a new Landcare program and various tax incentives to promote sustainable farming techniques. The Director-General refreshed the soil conservation program in the Department to take advantage of the new emphasis. As a result Roger Wickes was appointed Soil Conservator and Chief, Soil and Water Conservation Branch in February 1988 with support staff. This group negotiated a revised legislative framework to support the community involvement in Landcare.

In 1989 the Soil Conservation and Land Care Act was passed , superseding the Soil Conservation Act 1932 The key objectives of the new act were:To establish a system ensuring:

  • The regular and effective monitoring and evaluation of the condition of the land;
  • The early identification of degradation of the land and the causes of that degradation;
  • The development, implementation and enforcement of plans for preventing or minimising further degradation and for rehabilitating degraded land.
  • To involve the community as widely as possible in the administration of the Act and in programs designed to conserve or rehabilitate land.

The first meeting of the new Soil Conservation Council was held on the 20 June 1990, with the following people appointed by the Governor for a term of three years; Neil Smith (chairperson), Professor Malcolm Oades and Bill McIntosh from the old Advisory Committee of Soil Conservation; Glyn Webber, Nicholas Newland, Peter Norman, Kent Martin, Paul Brown, John Bradsen, Mike Kluge, Mary Crawford and Anne Stimson. The final member of the Council was the Soil Conservator, Roger Wickes.

The statutory role of the Soil Conservation Council was to:

  • Approve district plans for soil conservation boards;
  • Monitor and evaluate the condition of the land in the State;
  • Develop sound strategies for land conservation and rehabilitation;
  • Promote the principles that land must be used within its capabilities, and
  • Promote community awareness of issues relating to soil conservation.

In a very short time, 21 new soil conservation districts were formed making a total of 27 covering all the land except the Coober Pedy opal fields and the aboriginal lands in the west of SA.

The more established soil conservation boards were the first to complete their plans. The Murray Mallee and West Broughton Boards released draft plans in 1991. Many of the District Plans contained background and recommendations covering pest plants, feral animals and broader farming systems. They foreshadowed the next phase of land management with the establishment of NRM Boards in 2004 under the Natural Resources Management Act (2004).

As the fundamental changes to soil conservation and land management were occurring in South Australia, the land care movement was growing in Victoria. South Australia quickly followed suit. Dr Barbara Hardy was appointed as the initial chair of the SA Landcare Committee, which comprised representatives from all the major community based organisations. The SA Landcare Committee led the development of the Landcare movement and sought commercial support for the concept. 1990 was declared the Year of Landcare and was followed by the Decade of Landcare across Australia. This saw a fundamental strengthening of the community base to land management, with both land managers and the community in general taking a keen interest in soil and land management. In 1989 the Hon Lyn Arnold, Minister of Agriculture, launched of the Decade of Landcare, at Cobblers Creek.

Launch of the Decade of Land Care

Launch of the Decade of Land Care by Lynn Arnold, Minister of Agriculture. In the foreground are Roger Wickes and Cecily Bungy (1989).

A wide range of activities were initiated to support the newly established boards and the Decade of Landcare including:

  • Significant increase in resources from both the State and Commonwealth Governments and the Murray Darling Basin Commission
  • Appointment of Landcare officers in most district officers to promote and support landcare activities in the local community
  • Appointment of Dr Barbara Hardy as Chair, SA Landcare Council.
  • A comprehensive program of land use mapping undertaken by the team led by David Maschmedt to assist preparation of District Plans
  • The establishment of a property planning centre at Clare in 1991, led by David Heinjus. Subsequently appointments were made to other offices.

Property Management Planning (PMP) was a process of whole farm planning that considered, available resources, a business scheme and personal goals. Early development of the Project piloted a promotional extension program and a series of training workshops. On-farm case studies were undertaken. Participants developed a whole farm management process that considered the inter-relating aspects of climate, topography, soil, vegetation, property improvements, crops and livestock, labour, cash flow, economic inputs and returns, capital and personal goals. The success of PMP in the Clare region led to the establishment of centres at Naracoorte, Port Augusta, Port Lincoln, Loxton and Mount Barker.

The foundations were set and discussions were later taking place for much of the 90s leading to the release of the Draft Integrated Natural Resource Management Bill in 2001. The purpose of the proposed legislation was to strengthen community involvement in regional NRM legislation and to provide a consistent approach to natural resource management undertaken by bodies under different Acts, such as the Catchment Water Management Boards, Soil Conservation Boards and Animal and Plant Control Boards.

The Radcliffe era saw the development of a broader approach to land management reflecting fundamental changes in farming practices, for example continuous cropping, reduced tillage and the commencement of no-till practices, use of bag nitrogen and selective herbicides.

Dry land salinity and soil acidity were emerging across large areas of productive agricultural land. The Upper South East salinity and drainage strategy was released in 1991 and the State Dry Land Salinity Strategy in 1993.

Earlier acidity investigations in the South East by Lewis and McFarland were repeated in the higher rainfall pastoral zone of the Adelaide Hills, Fleurieu Peninsula and Kangaroo Island, led by Doug Reuter.

In 1987, Cabinet initiated a Working Party on Tree Planting, convened by Mark Seeliger. This reported to the Ministers of Agriculture, Environment and Woods and Forests aiming to better lead and coordinate government tree planting and revegetation activities with those of non-government organisations (Greening Australia, Trees for Life and Conservation Volunteers) and private people. The government accepted a Rural Tree Planting Policy and funded an implementation program which brought all parties together at the newly established Tree Centre at Lochiel Park in Adelaide. The Rural Tree Planting Committee, reporting to the Minister of Agriculture, oversaw this. Once again the State had led the nation in the lead up to the Hawke Government’s One Billion Tree Program launched in 1990 and the complementary Save the Bush program.

Reflecting the collaborative arrangements forged with the Engineering and Water Supply Department, the Agriculture Department played a lead role in generating funding and community support for projects such as the Rehabilitation of the Loxton Irrigation Scheme.

Land use planning and the Mt Lofty Ranges review

The Department of Agriculture has historically contributed to land use planning issues in South Australia, primarily via input to local government development plans and the resource demanding assessment of changes of land use associated with rural land.

The policy position of the Department oscillated from a planned approach to development, to allowing market forces to prevail. The latter, more common policy position, argued that there was not a shortage of agricultural land and that Government should not interfere with the land owners right to change land use or subdivide their land.

The Mt Lofty Ranges however proved difficult for Government and agricultural land owners in that the region had the following characteristics:

  • productive agricultural land close to the metropolitan markets and transport hubs
  • was the main source of water for Adelaide and quality was deteriorating due to urban development and agricultural practices
  • increasing pressure for subdivision for urban and rural living due to the attractive rural landscapes
  • unique remnant temperate forest vegetation

Due to the implications to primary production, the Department of Agriculture took a lead role in a major Environment Department review of land use in the Mt Lofty Ranges. In 1987 the Department provided Arthur Tideman to lead the review with staff support from both agencies.

The overall purpose of the review was to provide a statement of direction for planning and management of the Mt Lofty Ranges. The outputs of this review were as follows:

  • Release of the Investigations Report in March 1989.  This was a statement of technical data available from a wide range of sources
  • Consultation Management Plan completed later in 1989
  • Mt Lofty Ranges Review was completed in 1990
  • The Mt Lofty Ranges Regional Strategy Plan was completed and released in 1993.

Rural adjustment – national setting

Since 1971, there have been various Commonwealth-State agreements for the provision of financial assistance to the rural sector. During the 1970s and 1980s, the preferred assistance vehicles were grants and highly concessional, long-term loans. The government effectively become the lender of last resort, underwriting risk. There were significant losses from non-performing loans in the 1980s and 1990s and these were held by Government.

The Rural Adjustment Scheme 1988 shifted emphasis to longer term structural adjustment and micro-economic reform. The scheme was divided into three parts, part A provided loans, including debt reconstruction loans, to those farmers unable to access support from other sources.

The Rural Adjustment Scheme (RAS) 1992 was developed following a review of the Rural Adjustment Scheme by Synapse Consulting. The report recommended greater emphasis on enhancing on-farm productivity through provision of interest rate subsidies, training and development, new exceptional circumstances provisions and improved re-establishment grants. Loans were not part of RAS 1992. The shift from direct lending to supporting loans advanced by commercial financial institutions through interest rate subsidies was "to ensure the rural adjustment scheme should support the commercial finance sector rather than to usurp or compete with financial instructions" (Simon Crean, Minister for Primary Industries and Energy 1992).

Rural adjustment – South Australian response

In response to these national issues around rural adjustment the Department of Agriculture established the Rural Crisis Task Force, and structurally, the Rural Affairs Unit in the early part of Radcliffe's term.

The Rural Affairs Unit provided a focus for the broader issues facing farmers, their families and rural communities outside of the traditional areas of Departmental services. The Unit supported improved operations of the Advisory Board of Agriculture, Agricultural Bureau, the Women's Agricultural Bureau and Rural Youth.

During the late 1980s and early 1990s further funding was provided to support rural adjustment programs through support for the Rural Financial Counseling Service and establishment of the State Association of Rural Counseling Services.

In 1986–87, $37 million was approved as loans to primary producers under the Rural Adjustment Scheme, primarily for debt reconstruction. Around 350 applications for debt reconstruction and 250 requests for household support were approved.

In August 1986 a commercial rural lending scheme was initiated through the SA Government Financing Authority, offering commercial loans at competitive interest rates. Funding for this arrangement came from "profits" generated from prudent management of Rural Adjustment Scheme funds. The scheme was administered by the Department's Rural Assistance Branch and had strong support from the United Farmers and Stockowners. The scheme remained in place until 1994.

For the period 1985 to 1992 around $30 million of loans were granted each year.

A major adjustment program during this term was the vine pull scheme. The grape and wine industries were experiencing difficulty in adjusting to the transition from production of grapes for fortified wines and dried fruit to table wines. There were also perceived changes in consumer preferences to the styles of wine consumed. As a result the grape industry experienced five years of very low prices from around 1982.

The vine pull scheme was funded by the Commonwealth and State governments between 1986 and 1988 with 2,350 hectares of vines removed from 446 properties accounting for between 25,000 and   30,000 tonnes of grapes. This scheme generated many disagreements relating to eligibility and related conditions placed on the assistance package, resulting in frequent intervention by the State Ombudsman.

At the same time large areas of unwanted varieties were top grafted with chardonnay, a variety of increasing interest to consumers.

In the Barossa nine per cent of the vines were removed; the greatest loss was the destruction of old dry grown shiraz vines which, 10 years later, were bringing prices in excess of $3000 per tonne while irrigated shiraz had risen to $800 per tonne and cabernet sauvignon to $1220 per tonne.

The growing impact of bioscience

The period 1985 to 1992 witnessed profound changes in the impact of bioscience on agriculture. In both the plant and animal programs, the Department of Agriculture took a lead role in collaborating with scientists at the forefront of bioscience research to develop the technology into tools and techniques to deliver benefits to industry.

Early application of genetic technologies occurred in the animal area, initially in pigs and then sheep and cattle.

Pigs, transformed for enhanced growth factors were being produced at the Northfield Pig Research Unit in a collaborative project between the Department, The University of Adelaide and private sector interests by the late 1980s. The difficulty of the regulatory system keeping up with science was highlighted when the transformed pigs were sold at the Gepps Cross market. While legal, considerable public concern and was raised and contributed to the introduction of the Commonwealth Government gene technology legislation and establishment of the Office of the Gene Technology Regulator.

The sheep research groups based at Turretfield and Struan Research Centres were working on production of transgenic sheep with enhanced wool production characteristics, and cloning.

The effectiveness of the transgenesis process was enhanced by production of the world's first culture system for growing sheep embryos prior to insertion into ewes for development. This was to be widely used in subsequent years for a wide range of embryo transfer and artificial breeding technologies developed by the Group.

In 1989 the world's first sheep, genetically engineered for enhanced wool production, were born at Turretfield.

Dr Simon Walker, Senior Research Scientists with one of the Turretfield sheep

Dr Simon Walker, Senior Research Scientists with one of the Turretfield sheep. Photo taken around 1990.

While genetic technologies were employed a little later in plants than in animals, the Crop Pathology Group, based at the Waite, developed, in collaboration with CSIRO, a range of DNA probes for disease identification. These were used to support crop breeding programs as well as the development of commercial services to industry. Commercial services included the development of the first test kit for Annual Ryegrass Toxicity (ARGT) to be used as the basis for on farm management of the issue, and as a quality control approach for hay being offered for export, particularly to Japan.

Community concern about agricultural chemicals and residues

Community concern about the use of agricultural chemicals was reinforced by the rejection of consignments of Australian meat in overseas markets.

In 1987 the States and Commonwealth commenced the organochlorine residues program in agricultural produce following the recall of meat exports entering the United States. Stock from around half of the 12,500 livestock producing properties in South Australia were tested and cleared of the risk of causing residues in meat. Some interesting results were shown from the trace-backs where a positive organochlorine level was detected. On several occasions cattle had been grazing around abandoned houses and sheds that had been treated with an organochlorine for termite protection and ingested sufficient contaminated material to return a positive residue result.

An associated national program was the chemical recall program, managed in South Australia by the Department in conjunction with Local Government. This program was completed by 1989, a total of 57 tonnes of old chemicals having been collected.

Managing the accumulation of chemicals collected as part of the Chemical Recall Program

Managing the accumulation of chemicals collected as part of the Chemical Recall Program. From L to R: Mr Neil Kowalick and Dr Groff Neumann (Team Leader, Pesticide Program).

Increasing community concern about the use of agricultural chemicals placed additional focus on their use. As a result, the Farm Chemical Management and Services Branch was established in 1989.

In 1991 the Branch collaborated in an initiative of the Standing Committee on Agriculture/Australian Agricultural Council (via the Coordinating Committee on Agricultural Chemicals) to review of agricultural chemical spray drift. Strong community interest resulted in this review receiving around 600 submissions.

Delivery of services in a more commercial environment

At both a national and state level there was increasing interest and attention towards using more commercial approaches to delivery of R&D and extension outcomes. Some of the drivers of this were:

  • R&D Corporations were being encouraged by their industry stakeholders to deliver clearly identifiable benefits from the R&D they were funding.
  • A growing understanding of intellectual property and its management.  Generally access to this intellectual property required a new range of partnership options often with large multinational organisations.
  • Concern about the effectiveness of existing delivery mechanisms for transferring the more complex and expensive technologies to stakeholders.
  • The increasing globalisation of science and establishment of national arrangements for both R&D and its delivery to stakeholders. The R&D Corporations were increasing in importance both in terms of funding and liaising with their industries nationally, rather than on a state by state basis.
  • Commencement of a period of government reductions in funding for agriculture.

Director Regions and Extension, Geoff Thomas, led the response to the need for a more commercial approach.  Experience in New Zealand, United Kingdom and the Netherlands was applied with the following elements:

  • A comprehensive culture change program was implemented, enrolling approximately 20 key staff in the 1992 Enterprise Workshop Program. This initiative formed staff into teams to develop a series of commercial service delivery projects, in turn building understanding and capability.
  • Emphasis on marketing of services with a need to clearly identify the client groups for service, particularly agribusiness and private consultants. The relationship between research and extension was seen as crucial to the success of a marketing approach, relying as it does on effective information transfer.
  • Introduction of a charging for services policy. Charging for services was seen as reflecting a balance between meeting the revenue needs of the organisation, the needs of farmers , and the contribution of the service to the state. Care was needed to ensure the educational role of the service and its relationship with agribusiness was not lost. When charging for services, the information and services provided needed to be clearly defined and represent value for money.

Some of the commercialisation highlights during the Radcliffe period were:


Over many decades the Department's sheep research group had studied the genetic factors, and their inheritance, influencing wool quality and production. This information, along with that from a number of similar groups across Australia was the basis of Woolplan, which was launched nationally in 1986.

Fleece measurement service

Launched at Turretfield in 1988 it provided for some years a pioneering service to wool producers via measurement of the diameter, strength and related characteristics of wool. The information provided assistance to sheep breeding programs aimed at improving wool quality.

Animal Breeding Consultancy Service

The Animal Breeding Consultancy Service launched in 1989, by the SA Department of Agriculture, packaged a range of national industry services, many developed with significant contribution from South Australian research projects.

Services included the national sheep sire referencing service, the Semen Analysis Service, TAKEAWAY (a sheep nutrition software package), BREEDPLAN (a national performance recording service), and the Pig Health Monitoring Service (for disease control and management).

: Dr Barbara Wilson (Director Animal Industries and Analytical Services) and Dr Debbie Lehmann (Veterinarian Kangaroo Island)

From L to R: Dr Barbara Wilson (Director Animal Industries and Analytical Services) and Dr Debbie Lehmann (Veterinarian Kangaroo Island).

Test kit for ARGT

Field test kit for Annual Rye Grass Toxicity (ARGT) developed and evaluated for commercial use in 1986.

In 1989–90 the Department's ARGT testing service was marketed nationally by agribusiness company, IAMA with 498 paddocks being tested and 189 found to be infected.

Testing of samples for ARGT

Testing of samples for ARGT. L to R: Dr Alan McKay (Senior Plant Pathologist), Jan Gooden (Technical Officer) and Dr Alan Dube (Manager Field Crop Pathology). Circa 1988.

Rotavirus project

Dr Peter Whyte developed techniques to produce an antibody enriched milk product which when delivered orally provides passive immunity to disease in humans. The development of a vaccine for childhood rotovirus induced diarrhea was the basis of a joint venture arrangement with Fauldings signed in 1987. Two years later Northfield Laboratories Ltd was established as the company to manufacture and market the human rotavirus vaccine. Northfield Laboratories Ltd was later sold to Dutch company, Nutricia.

Australian Irrigation Technology Centre

Measurement of the performance of irrigation equipment was a major research and extension program run from the Loxton Research Centre under the leadership of Keith Watson, irrigation extension specialist. This commenced in the 1970s and became part of the highly successful Irrigated Crop Management Service(ICMS). The ICMS continues to be provided by Rural Solutions SA, a business unit of PIRSA (as at January 2015).

The key role of the equipment testing service was to assess the performance of equipment such as drippers, undervine/tree low throw sprinklers and the range of large overhead sprinklers. This service was provided to both equipment manufacturers and irrigators.

Recognising the broader opportunities for irrigation equipment development and testing, Watson negotiated the establishment of the Australian Irrigation Technology Centre at the University of South Australia, Levels Campus, with the Loxton work transferring to the University. The Centre commenced in 1989. The University expanded the role of the Centre becoming the Australian Irrigation and Hydraulics Technology Facility.

Pasture improvement programs

The State agencies, along with the dairy, sheep, meat and grains R&D Corporations were collaborating to deliver greater value from the pasture improvement programs. The national approach sought to concentrate effort in a smaller number of key breeding groups, to better understand and manage intellectual property and to commercialise varieties produced.

The SA Department of Agriculture took a lead role in medic and lucerne breeding, and a supporting role in grasses and subterranean clover development, and a national medic genetic resource centre was established.

A highlight of the commercial arrangements during this time was the agreement reached with Heritage Seeds.  A joint venture was established, where Heritage Seeds would provide market intelligence to the breeding program, market varieties globally and return royalties to the Lucerne Breeding Program for further research. The Department undertook to breed and release varieties with characteristics seen as desirable for the global market place.

Potato crop management service

South East Horticulture Adviser, Mark Heap, developed the specialist Potato Crop Management Service (PCMS) for frozen French fry potato growers in the South East. The business plan for this service was developed through the South Australian Enterprise Workshop in 1992 (the service won the F.H. Faulding award for Commercial Development)

See the potato industry section for further information

Subsequently, PCMS was a joint venture involving Primary Industries SA (PISA), Mc Cain’s Foods, South East Potato Growers Association and the Horticultural Research and Development Corporation (HRDC). This commercial crop management service combined the best available technical information into a holistic crop management system delivered by a number of field officers. It commenced in July 1993 and incorporated:

  • pre plant checking of soil borne pests and diseases.
  • soil nutrient testing to recommend pre plant fertilizers.
  • regular petiole analysis to recommend nutrient applications during the growing season.
  • assessment of irrigation system performance, and scheduling of irrigation to meet crop evapotranspiration and stage of growth water requirements.
  • scouting and monitoring of pest and disease outbreaks in the crop to recommend control measures.
  • in field crop maturity and quality testing to assist harvest decision making by the processors.
  • developed new simplified ways of presenting crop monitoring data to growers.

At its height, the service was monitoring 1,100 ha of crops or approximately 50% of the South East potato crops. The PCMS was operated and improved by PISA for approximately 4 years, and significantly improved the competitiveness of South East potato growers. Following pressure from commercial service providers, a package of the systems and technology was provided to a series of fertiliser and chemical resellers (mainly IAMA resellers) in the South East, and the Potato Crop Management Service was wound up.

Government industry partnerships

Relocation of the East End Markets

The East End Markets, on the north east sector of Adelaide city, was the main venue for producers of fruit and vegetables to sell to retail outlets in South Australia. The markets were located in a block bounded by East Terrace, Rundle St, Grenfell St and to the east of Frome St. The East End Markets site was too cramped and congested for modern day requirements of materials handling, logistics and cool storage and the site was too valuable for this continuing use.

The Markets were unusual in a national context in that, while controlled by several Acts of Parliament, they were in private ownership. State Cabinet appointed a task force comprising Dr John Radcliffe as Chair, Peter Emery (Under Treasurer) and a Senior Legal Officer from Crown Law to facilitate the relocation of the markets to a site that had yet to be determined. Ian Lewis was Executive Officer to the task force and provided much of the support in driving the relocation approach. The task force liaised closely with John Eakins (HL Banana Agency-representing wholesalers) and Bill Joyce (representing growers). Mr Eric Kime, then General Manager and later Chairman of Sydney Produce Markets at Homebush was engaged to provide guidance on the key requirements for a commercially successful wholesale produce market

The old Pooraka stockyards became the preferred site and the land was set aside for the new market in 1985. In 1986, the task force engaged a developer to carry out a feasibility study of the project. Released in 1987, this was rejected by the merchants/wholesalers on the basis of prohibitive costs.

The fruit and vegetable industry then put forward a proposal to the Government for a joint venture between the two. Government rejected this, in April 1987. So the fruit and vegetable industry led by John Eakins and Bill Joyce decided to proceed on their own. An unlisted public company, Adelaide Produce Markets Limited was formed with a board of directors comprising wholesalers, growers and retailers. John Eakins was the inaugural chairman. Construction of the new market facility finally commenced in November 1987 and it was completed in September 1988. To implement the new arrangements the existing legislation needed to be repealed.  One problem encountered during the development was the identification of a large number of sheep buried by the former owner of the site. This required considerable cost to recover and dispose of the carcasses.

The East End Markets ceased operation on Friday 30 September 1988 and on Monday 3 October the Adelaide Produce Market Ltd. commenced trading. The Premier, John Bannon, officially opened the new market on 4 October 1988.

Oilseed crushing mill

An oilseed crushing mill was established at Millicent by the Elders Grains Division. The establishment of this plant allowed local crushing of oilseeds and provided a local processing capability. Financial support was provided by the SA Government.

Pulse processing

The Department collaborated with two companies to establish grain processing and splitting plants at Two Wells (Pea and Grain Exporters) and Balaklava (Gulf Industries).  These were examples of more commercial entrepreneurial activities where the Department provided technical support to help development of commercial activities.

Brucellosis and tuberculosis

On 1 January 1988 SA was declared free of bovine brucellosis and "impending free" of bovine tuberculosis. This ended an intensive 10 year Brucellosis and Tuberculosis Eradication Campaign (BTEC) featuring collaboration between industry and government to establish freedom of these diseases and the resultant market opportunities this provides.

Further information on this program

Horticultural export development

In a collaborative venture between the Department and industry the Horticultural Export Development Committee was established, supported by newly appointed staff (Ian Lewis and Tim Deer), with emphasis placed on the export of citrus, apples, table grapes, native flowers, cherries and vegetables.

The Department played a key facilitating role with industry, linking companies who were exporting , or wished to export with potential markets and buyers. Constraints to exporting, such as market access, biosecurity, cold chain protocols, and insurance issues were addressed using this partnership approach between government and industry.
The program saw leading global traders and supermarket operators visiting South Australia and developing collaborative ties with the horticultural industries. One downside was the differences in scale between the exporters and the industries' capacity to deliver.

The model was applied nationally with the establishment of the National Horticultural Export Council.

Biosecurity and emergency responses

The Department of Agriculture, in partnership with the State's agricultural and horticultural industries were well experienced in responding to fruit fly outbreaks (since 1947) and incursions of plague locusts and grasshoppers.

The 1986–87 season was the first since 1973 when no fruit fly outbreaks were detected. Two years later, nine outbreaks in Adelaide were the subject of a very comprehensive eradication program.

Around the same time as the fruit fly outbreaks a large scale plague locust and grasshopper response program was mounted with main areas being the Flinders Ranges and northern Mallee.

Plant variety rights

Discussions around the introduction of plant variety rights (PVR) arrangements into Australia commenced in earnest in the early 1970s. The main driver for the introduction was to align Australia's position with the International Convention for the Protection of New Varieties of Plants. The system protects the rights of plant breeders and encourages the development of new varieties of plants.

The discussions were led by the Commonwealth agriculture department and involved all state agencies and industry associations. That it took until 1987 for the Plant Variety Rights Act to be passed by the Australian Parliament indicates the strongly held and divergent views of many plant breeders and industry sectors.

The main development for the SA Department of Agriculture, during the Radcliffe era, was collaborating with Commonwealth and State agencies, breeders and industry to ensure the maximum benefits were achieved from the new legislation. Some of the key outcomes were:

  • The availability to horticulturists of a wide range of tree crop varieties from overseas programs that were previously not able to be grown in Australia. A number of the Australian breeding programs were able to make modest returns from patenting and commercialising new varieties. Exclusivity of access to new varieties also enabled development of special promotion and marketing arrangements between providers of planting material, growers and major retailers.
  • Arguably the biggest initial impact was in the pasture cultivar development area. National collaborative structures were initiated by the dairy, meat, wool and grains research and development corporations and state agencies with pasture breeding or evaluation programs. Committees were established for perennial and annual grass programs and the perennial and annual pasture legume programs. South Australia took a leadership position in both perennial legume and annual legume programs with both the medic breeding program and the lucerne breeding programs releasing many new cultivars during the period 1985 to 1992. Partnerships were established with private seed companies for the commercialising of the new varieties.
  • Most field crop breeders were slow to embrace the new legislation, probably due to the global collaborations that existed at the time and lack of interest in deriving royalties from new varieties. It was not until the early 2000s that initiatives were taken for wheat breeders to take a fully commercial approach to their business and other crop breeders were encouraged to develop arrangements to recover some of the breeding costs from end point royalties.

There is little doubt that the introduction of the Plant Variety Rights Act in 1987 has had a profound impact on all plant industries.

Regulation and industry structures

The period 1985 to 1992 was very active in terms of changing industry structures which were established under regulation and reviewing industry production, pricing and marketing arrangements. Many of the changes were driven by Commonwealth Government initiatives of micro economic reform and enhancing competition to drive efficiency and global competitiveness.

In terms of deregulation the two main initiatives during the period were the repeal of the Potato Marketing Act in 1986 and repeal of the Egg Industry Act in 1992. Both involved extensive consultation with strongly divided industries and the closing down of two marketing boards.

The wind up of the Potato Board saw funding from the sale of assets being invested in the Potato Industry Fund. The Fund supports potato projects approved by an industry led committee, the inaugural chair being former Minister and Member for the South East electorate of Victoria, Alan Rodda. Dr Garry Oborne prepared the repeal legislation and Kevin Gent was responsible for sale of assets.

See the potato industry section for further information

The repeal of the Egg Industry Act was commenced in 1986 but was rejected by the State's Upper House and was not completed until around early 1992. The deregulation came at a significant cost to Government as they had to not only meet the losses incurred by the Board over its last couple of years of operation but pay reasonable compensation to existing hen quota holders. The sale of assets was managed by Kevin Gent.

The Citrus Industry Act 1991, Wine Grapes Industry Act 1991 and the Dairy Industry Act 1992 were primarily about industry structures. The repeal of statutory production, pricing and marketing arrangements were undertaken after 1992.

South Australia's contribution to national issues

The national approach to agricultural policy development, harmonisation of legislation across jurisdictions, planning for biosecurity and emergency response programs and industry issues is conducted through the Standing Committee on Agriculture and the Agricultural Ministerial Council. These coordination mechanisms have been operational since the 1930s but have changed in name, and at certain times and functions have been separated, particularly in the area of soil conservation and resource management.

The Standing Committee and Ministerial Council were active during this era in establishing working groups to lead the development of significant national programs. Examples of such programs were the introduction of Plant Variety Rights, animal welfare issues, soil conservation and, management changes and drought policy.

South Australia has the reputation of contributing significantly to these activities, and the Radcliffe era typifies this with South Australia leading the national developments in many policy areas.

Throughout the period 1985 to 1992 the following were the major issues, of relevance to South Australia, considered by the Chief Executives and Ministers:

Industry development and marketing reforms:

  • New approaches to dairy industry marketing.
  • Need for hen quotas.
  • Plant Variety Rights - Inquiry into public breeding.
  • Endorsed the establishment of Aus-meat (development of national industry standards for meat production and processing).
  • National beef recording scheme.
  • Royal Commission into Grain storage, handling and transport.
  • Deregulation of the wheat industry was a major topic. This followed on from the Royal Commission into grain handling, storage and transport and the IAC inquiry into wheat marketing.
  • Establishment of the Australian Horticultural Export Council.
  • Milk marketing review.
  • Deregulation of the domestic wheat industry in 1988.
  • Review of barley marketing.
  • Review into agricultural education established under the Standing Committee structure - Commenced December 1989.
  • Concern about micro-economic reform particularly transport, industry assistance and labour market reform.
  • Wool industry crisis - assistance package agreed.
  • Deregulation of the SA egg industry by March 1993.

Soil Conservation and resource management:

  • National Soil Conservation Strategy.

Residues in agricultural produce:

  • Pesticide residues in meat.
  • Means of reducing cadmium residues in sheep and cattle offal.
  • EC ban on hormonal growth promotants in livestock.
  • Continuation of the testing of pesticide residues in agricultural products. Violation rate in beef dropped to 0.15%.
  • Recall and disposal of banned organochlorine chemicals.
  • A lot of items on agricultural chemicals and residues 1989.
  • Pesticide residues in wool.
  • Food Safety and a Clean Food Export Strategy.

Food safety regulation:

  • Model food arrangements.
  • Food safety starting to become an issue 1990.
  • Salmonella in eggs becomes an issue.

Animal welfare:

  • Working through animal welfare codes of practice.
  • Model code of practice for the welfare of animals - Sea transport of livestock.
  • Need for the Commonwealth to respond to domestic animal welfare issues which are a concern to overseas market.

Drought and rural assistance:

  • Referred to difficulties being experienced by around 200 farmers on the EP - due to drought and financial implications.
  • Significant downturn in farm incomes.
  • Discussion about drought policy review.
  • Further progress on development of a national drought policy (1992).

Research and development:

  • Discussion on the coordination and leadership of R&D.
  • 1989 report on "Research Innovation and Competitiveness" as a basis for the upgrading and improving the co-ordination of research.
  • Discussion on the funding of overheads by RDCs.
  • SA and Vic brought paper on R&D coordination and funding.
  • Discussion around a national rural R&D strategy.


Post his appointment as the Chief Executive of the SA Research and Development Institute, Dr Radcliffe held the positions of Director, CSIRO Institute of Plant Production and Processing (1993–96) and Deputy Chief Executive, CSIRO (1996–1999). Since his formal retirement from CSIRO John continues in a honorary part time honorary research role in CSIRO, based at the Waite Campus.

John remains extremely active in terms of appointments to boards and his consultancy activities. Some of the highlights of his appointments, both past and present include:

  • Chair of Working Group that developed the National Agricultural Research Strategy for Australia (1993).
  • Chairman, Board of the SA Research and Development Institute (1993–1997).
  • Review of the "Institute Structure" of the Queensland Department of Primary Industries (1999).
  • Review of canola breeding in NSW (2000).
  • Co-author of the final report National Land and Water Resources Audit (2002).
  • ARC Review of Water Reuse in Australia (2003–2004).
  • Lower Murray Darling Basin Inquiry for Dairy Australia (2009).
  • Chair of a number of GRDC commissioned reviews including Rhizobia Research, the Australian Cereal Rust Control Program and Dual Purpose Crops (2004, 2010 and 2011).
  • Chair or Member of numerous groups including the Amos Howard Memorial Trust, Farrer Trust, Royal Agricultural and Horticultural Society of SA, Port Dock Station Railway Museum Board, Foundation for a Rabbit-free Australia, University of Adelaide Council, Selection Committee for the Grains, the Forests and Wood Products and Land and Water Resources R&D Corporation Boards, and a large number of CRC Boards.

John's interest in community and historical matters is as broad and influential as his work related activities. These include:

  • Chair, History of Agriculture Steering Committee (2002 to present).
  • President, Australian Electric Transport Museum (SA) Inc (1967–1982).
  • Chairman, Council of Tramway Museums of Australia (1975–1995).
  • President, Museums Association of Australia SA Branch (1979–1982).
  • Trustee (1982–1990) and Chairman (1987–1990) of the History Trust of SA.
  • Chairman, National Motor Museum Advisory Committee (1983–1987).
  • Chairman, History and Conservation Executive Committee, SA Jubilee 150 Board (1983–1986).
  • Member, Australian Bicentennial Authority SA State Council (1985–1988).
  • Member, Federal Taxation Incentives for the Arts Committee (1988–1993).

Author and acknowledgements

This article has been prepared by Dr Don Plowman, former Deputy Chief Executive of Primary Industries and Regions SA. Contributions from the History of Agriculture Working Group, Arthur Tideman, Glynn Webber, Geoff Thomas, Mark Seeliger, Peter Carr, Roger Wickes, Kevin Gent and Ian Lewis is gratefully acknowledged.

Further information on most issues is contained in the Annual Reports of the Department of Agriculture for the periods 1986–87 to 1991–92. A complete set of reports is held in the Woolhouse Library at the Waite.

Prepared: May 2015

Page Last Reviewed: 20 Nov 2017
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