Farming systems pioneer remembered

Photo of the late David Roget

Dr David Roget, remembered as bringing researchers and growers together.

PHOTO: Brad Collis

The grains industry farewelled one of its brightest minds in December, when former CSIRO researcher Dr David Roget passed away unexpectedly.

Known as the ‘go-to’ person for delivering scientific outcomes that could be applied by growers, David will be remembered for taking research out of the laboratory and into the paddock.

David contributed more than 30 years of service to agricultural research, initially in the field of soil-borne plant pathology and later on biological disease suppression and farming systems research.

He grew up and studied in Victoria but was lured to South Australia early in his career by another influential researcher, Dr Albert Rovira, who at the time was Chief Research Scientist of the CSIRO Division of Soils. David was a principal research scientist with CSIRO at the Waite campus, Adelaide, before he retired in 2005.

David was instrumental in developing and promoting the concept of farming systems research by bringing together multiple disciplines and grower input, particularly through the Mallee Sustainable Farming Project.

His colleague Dr Gupta Vadakattu, from CSIRO Ecosystem Sciences, says David played a significant role in the success of the SA Research and Development Institute (SARDI) Root Disease Testing Service.

“David’s research was pivotal in developing cropping practices that have removed take-all as a major disease constraint to cereal production in Australia,” Dr Vadakattu says. “He will also be remembered for his many other research contributions, such as identifying biological disease suppression across SA, development of sowing point design to reduce cereal diseases and targeting yield reduction in wheat-on-wheat systems.”

Even in retirement, David remained involved in grains research. He was a technical adviser for a GRDC project on managing Rhizoctonia disease in cereals and was actively involved in SARDI’s Root Disease Testing Service.

Dr Vadakattu worked alongside David on several projects, and recalled his colleague as a man who loved to be out in the field, sharing research outcomes with growers: “David’s knowledge and understanding of complex interactions in cropping systems was exemplary. He could recognise better than anyone the potential of scientific findings for improvements in crop yield under field environments.

“David had a quiet, gentle manner and was well liked and respected by fellow researchers, farmers and funding bodies.”

Grower’s friend

Waikerie, SA, grower Allen Buckley worked closely with David to develop an initiative to encourage the uptake of no-till farming and continuous cropping in the Mallee.

Backed by GRDC support, the Mallee Sustainable Farming (MSF) Project was formed in 1997, and David was a board member until he retired from the CSIRO. Today, MSF continues to promote and apply David’s guidelines for optimising performance by matching inputs to crop requirements, soil capacity and seasonal opportunities.

As the inaugural MSF vice-chairman and a past chairman, Mr Buckley has seen the impact of David’s work on farming systems in the Mallee and across SA.

“About 75 per cent of Mallee farmers and a great deal more across SA now practice no-till and continuous cropping, which has significantly increased production and brought huge environmental benefits,” Mr Buckley says.

“David also emphasised the fundamentals of rotations as a foundation for sustainability on a whole-of-farm basis, and this remains evident today.

“Thanks to David and his team, the uptake of sustainable farming techniques, which suit low-rainfall systems, has reduced soil erosion and as a result, the dust storms of the Mallee are almost a thing of the past.”

Mr Buckley describes David as a grower’s friend and the ultimate collaborator who could unite growers and researchers.

“David always wanted to be a farmer, and I think this underpinned his ability to work with farmers to ensure research outputs fit their systems.”

David Roget passed away, aged 61, on 3 December 2013. The funeral was held in Adelaide on 9 December. He is survived by his wife Robyn, son, daughter and grandson.


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