Pioneering researcher passes away

One of Australia’s leading agricultural soil scientists, Dr Sally Officer, passed away in December.

Sally was with the Victorian Department of Primary Industries (DPI), where in recent years she was prominent in researching the degree to which nitrous oxide is contributing to climate change and ways for growers to manage this.

In February 2012 Sally was diagnosed with cancer and underwent extensive chemotherapy. Despite the diagnosis and treatment, Sally was determined to complete writing research papers detailing her findings under the Nitrous Oxide Research Program, and planned the second round of research activities.

In September her condition deteriorated and she returned to her family in New Zealand.

Before working at the Victorian DPI, Sally worked as a soil scientist for the Institute for Crop and Food Research in New Zealand. The work there was a combination of research, survey and extension activities mainly concerned with soil quality and health issues. She also worked in the US for both Texas A&M University and the University of Illinois, where she was a part of large groups focused on precision agriculture research.

Sally’s recent research was centred around understanding nitrous oxide emissions in high-rainfall-zone cropping systems, especially where land previously used for pasture was converted to cropping.

She discovered that nitrous oxide output from these systems after rainfall could be as much as one kilogram of N2O per hectare per day. This was far higher than had been recorded elsewhere. To put this into context, more N2O can come off a high-rainfall system in one day than in 100 years in low-rainfall systems.  

This volume of emissions overwhelms current mitigation technologies. Given that in these zones, with decreasing rainfall and rising temperatures, cropping will become increasingly viable, Sally discovered and confirmed this as an important issue for Australian agriculture. 

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