The University of Sydney (1994-97) (1999-2004)
BSc(Agr), PhD (Agriculture)
Lincoln Ventures, NZ; The University of Sydney, Australia; INRA/SupAgro Montpellier, France; Cornell University, NY, USA;
Senior Lecturer in Precision Farming
Favourite thing to do in my job: I love being on farms playing with cool new gadgets and sensors that measure things like how green a plant is or how much clay is in the soil.
Study variability and patterns in how food crops grow
Cool informatics are not just restricted to city life. Farmers have access to a lot of different sensors and technologies that generate lots of information about how productive their farms area. My job is to a) help get the technology to work and b) to help farmers understand the information and most importantly make decisions on how to grow crops better. The really hard part is that agriculture is done in the ‘great outdoors’ and there is a lot of variability in the soil and environment. This means that while we think that we have an ‘average’ production system, there is a lot of variability in the system – even within a single field!!! If we put the same average amount of fertiliser or chemical onto a field then we are not accounting for this variability. Putting on the right inputs at the right place is what this is all about.
The image above shows soil patterns from 2 soil sensors (left and centre) and then a yield map (right) from sensors mounted on the harvester. Brown areas in the soil maps are more sandy, blue areas are more clay (more clay = more soil water). The yield map has red as low yield and blue as high. Can you see how the yield patterns follow the soil patterns? This is data from Australia where rainfall is fairly low – so more soil water = more yield usually. But some areas respond differently. It is not always easy to understand the agriculture in these patterns!! Trying to make sense of how plants grow differently in a field is one of the big challenges in my area of science.
Some of the technology that allows us to collect data this data is GPS technology. We can record where information comes from. We can also steer very precisely (within 2 cm) with very high quality GPS units (£10000, not £10 like the GPS in your phone) and the GPS with a computer can drive the tractor by itself. Have a look at
My Typical Day
Doesn’t exist! – could be on a farm or in front of a computer
What I'd do with the prize money
Still thinking on that one…
How would you describe yourself in 3 words?
relaxed, traveller, inquisitive
What's the best thing you've done in your career?
I’ve travelled and worked in many different places with lots of fantastic people
What or who inspired you to follow your career?
Interest in the natural world and holidays spent on fams.
Were you ever in trouble at school?
Only with the Nuns
If you weren't doing this job, what would you choose instead?
Who is your favourite singer or band?
What's your favourite food?
Buffalo wings – vey addictive!!
What is the most fun thing you've done?
Californian road-trip when I was much younger.
If you had 3 wishes for yourself what would they be? - be honest!
Be employed at multiple places so I that could work and travel and follow the sun. That scientists had the same salary as lawyers.
Tell us a joke.
Why do kangaroos hate rainy days? Because their children play inside.