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Australia Day Honours for Agricultural Professionals

Tue 05, Feb 2019

This Australia Day, the AIA had two of its members recognised for service to Australian agriculture, primary industries and farming. These were Peter McMaugh AM and Geoff Thomas OAM.

The AIA is very pleased and honoured to have its own members recognised through the Australian Day Honours. Congratulations to Peter and Geoff.

Peter McMaugh AM

Peter is a Fellow of our Institute and has dedicated more than 50 years to the turf management profession, and even recently in the past 12 months has been sharing his professional learnings with other members of our Institute through public presentations. He has also continued to support the turf sector through his commercial business which he continues to operate.

In summary, Peter’s scientific expertise, innovation and commercial accomplishments have had a significant impact across many sectors of the turf industry and among his many achievements have been creating the name for Australia’s most recognised buffalo grass, Sir Walter, developing the drop-in wicket in the early days of one-day cricket and establishing Australia’s first turf research organisation. Peter’s couchgrass collection provided the Australian industry with superior varieties Winter Green and Windsor Green which have been the base from which other Australian plant breeders have developed new superior couch varieties Grand Prix and Winter Gem.

Peter has previously been recognised for his achievements through the Graham Gregory Award which is the horticulture industry’s most prestigious accolade, recognising outstanding achievements from all sectors in horticulture throughout the whole supply chain. He is committed to the development of the turf sector and agricultural sector more broadly in Australia and stands out from his peer group in the depth and ongoing contribution he has made.

Geoff Thomas OAM

Geoff came from a small family farm in the SA Mallee and graduated from Adelaide and Melbourne Universities. He worked in the SA and Vic Departments of Agriculture for 30 years largely in the delivery and management of field services in extension and applied research.

His major interests and influence were in the integration of enterprises and technologies in dryland farming systems approaches based on profitability, risk management, and proper care of the land. This also included the development of improved irrigation methods in horticulture and changes to delivery systems to improve water use efficiency involving not just changes in the orchard, but the capacity to sell and buy water according to need. Geoff was also involved at a national level on the changes to Murray Darling Basin management arrangements to balance agricultural, environmental and domestic needs.

After a period on the Executive of the SA Dept of Agriculture, he worked in regional development, and then established his own consulting business, Thomas Project Services. He was involved in the establishment of Australian Grain Technologies, was Executive Manager of the SA Grain Industry Trust, and managed numerous dryland field projects with the GRDC.

In 2013 he received the Seed of Gold Award from GRDC for his contribution to the grain industry, only the second person to do so. A passionate supporter of the profession, he is a long-time member of Ag Institute Australia, served as State and National Chair, and is a Fellow and Life Member.

On a personal note, Geoff and his wife Mary, also an Ag graduate, had four sons, three of who studied Ag science, with two of those marrying Ag science graduates. Geoff and Mary would say, “If you need more Ag graduates, don’t look to us, we have done our bit”!  Geoff retired from consulting to nurse Mary who passed away from Motor Neurone Disease (MND) in 2017. Together they established the Thomas MND Fund which uses the skills developed as Ag scientists to lead and support research and service delivery to others living with MND – a further example of the wide applicability of agricultural training.

Not only were Peter & Geoff recognised, other agricultural professionals received Australian Day Honours including Emeritus Professor Jim Pratley AM & Honorary Professor Lester Burgess AM, both friends of the AIA.

Jim Pratley AM

A Charles Sturt University (CSU) academic, Jim inspired generations of agriculture students, contributed to the development of conservation farming, and shaped education policy. Professor Pratley was the foundation Dean of the CSU Faculty of Science and Agriculture from 1990 to 2006 and co-founder of the Australian Council of Deans of Agriculture. His research on conservation farming, herbicide resistance, weed science and self-weeding crops has contributed to the development of new farming practises.

In 2013, he completed at Ministerial Review of agricultural education and training in NSW, leading to mandatory agriculture components in the state’s school curriculum. Professor Pratley is currently the research pathway leader for plant systems at the Graham Centre for Agricultural Innovation.

Lester Burgess AM

Lester received his Honours for significant service to international agricultural research in the areas of plant pathology and biosecurity.  Lester has been with the Crawford Fund for International Agricultural Research as a volunteer advisor working with farmers, government and university staff in Vietnam, Indonesia and Laos to advance production techniques and disease identification, in conjunction with the Australian Centre for International Agricultural Research and the University of Sydney, since 1993.

Lester held several positions at the University of Sydney, Faculty of Agriculture and Environment including Dean of Agriculture from 1988 to 2000. He was Former Adjunct Professor of Plant Pathology, Pennsylvania State University and Adjunct Professor of Plant Pathology, Kansas State University. 

To see the citations for Peter, Geoff, Jim and Lester, and all recipients of the 2019 Australia Day Honours, check out:

In 2018, Chris Russell AM was recognised for his significant service to agricultural science and technology through advisory, developmental and research roles, and as a mentor and innovator. Chris has served in numerous roles in the AIA including National Chair, and Chair of the Ethics Committee. He has also been a role model and advocate for communication in agriculture. Named in his honour, the AIA now offers the Chris Russell Medal of Excellence. This NSW State Award is for undergraduate students who are completing their agriculture, natural resource management and/or animal science studies and are undertaking a research project as part of their studies.

The AIA has many members who have made contributions to our organisation as well as to Australian agriculture broadly. The AIA also has numerous awards including the prestigious Australian Medal of Agriculture.

Please contact the National Office if you feel there are members you know who we should be recognising. For more information on the AIA Awards please go to and also speak to your own Divisional Committee Members about the various awards offered at the state level. 


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