Conservation farming pioneer remembered

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With a passion for conserving bushland, soil and water, Neil Smith was one of the early drivers of today’s conservation farming systems

Image of Neil Smith

The late Neil Smith, Southern Panel member 1994 to 2003. One of his passions was vetch for soil improvement.

PHOTO: Emma Leonard

Many in the GRDC’s southern region and the wider GRDC community will remember Southern Panel member Neil Smith, who lost his battle with cancer in August this year. Neil served on the Southern Panel between 1994 and 2003, in the early days of no-till and stubble-conservation systems.

He lived his entire life on the family grain farm at Maitland, South Australia, where he planted trees and included green manure crops in the rotation, while others were still expanding paddocks and moving to continuous, high-input cropping.

In many ways he was a man before his time, with many of the arguments and values he championed proven over time to be correct.

His cousin, Jamie Smith, described Neil in his eulogy as very much his own man: “He was a traditional man of simple needs, a stubborn and argumentative man, a frugal and noble man, as well as being a complex man, an articulate, intelligent and inquisitive man. Above all, he was a humble man.”

Neil was passionate about growers conserving bushland, soil and water. He used a commonsense approach to farming, which was driven by his own research and investigation as well as intuition and experience.

During his time on the GRDC Southern Panel, Neil was a vocal advocate for the development of local farming-systems groups to drive research on local issues, including snails on his home area of Yorke Peninsula. He was also a great supporter of the development of the adviser and grower update programs that now underpin the extension of many GRDC research investments.

Neil’s inquisitive nature and community spirit led him to serve in many community and industry roles, including the SA Soil Conservation Council, Yorke Peninsula’s Natural Resources Management group and the Minnipa Advisory Committee (now Eyre Peninsula Agricultural Research Foundation). In all these roles, he focused on prudent economic principles, sustainable land and water management, and the value of research, future planning, fairness and common sense.  

His belief in and championing of agricultural research has left a legacy of sustainable farming practices that will benefit many generations to come.


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