General Jeffery Award finalists announced are top specialists in soil health

Three leading experts in soil health have been announced as finalists in the 2022 General Jeffery Soil Health Award to be held at the National Landcare Conference

The General Jeffery Soil Health Award recognises the work of people who care for soil health and who are educating or inspiring others to do likewise – three leading experts have been announced as finalists for the 2022 award

There are three experts in soil health in the running to win the 2022 General Jeffery Soil Health Award that will be presented at the National Landcare Awards taking place in August 2022 in Sydney NSW.

The prestigious Award recognises the work of people who care for soil health and who are educating or inspiring others to do likewise. The winner of the award will pick up a trophy and a handy $20,000 cash prize.

The award is open to any individual farmer, land manager, extension specialist or educator who is helping improve soil health.

The Award was established by the Office of the National Soils Advocate in 2020 to honour and perpetuate the memory of Australia’s first National Soils Advocate, Major General the Honourable Michael Jeffery, AC, AO (Mil), CVO, MC (Retd).

The General Jeffery Soil Health Award is presented biennially alongside the National Landcare Awards. The Award includes a trophy and a $20,000 cash prize for recipients to continue their work.

The 2022 Award will be presented at the Awards Gala Dinner during the National Landcare Conference in Sydney on Wednesday 24 August 2022.

Finalists for the 2022 General Jeffery Soil Health Award

Dr Oliver Knox CPSS Madgwick NSW

Oliver is a researcher in cotton farming and soil health who has developed and delivered numerous field workshops to the cotton production areas of Australia.

Whether zooming into classrooms or kicking the dirt with farmers, Oliver always finds a way to educate and embed learning and understanding of soil health.

In 2014, Oliver reintroduced soil biology into the undergraduate syllabus at the University of New England, where he is an Associate Professor in Soil Systems Biology in the School of Rural and Environmental Sciences.

As the CottonInfo technical lead in soil health since 2016, Oliver has developed and delivered field workshops to the cotton production areas of Australia. Oliver’s engagement with land managers in this role saw him nominated for Cotton Researcher of the Year in 2021 and again in 2022.

Since 2018, Oliver has also driven the Soil Your Undies soil health program in Australia, initially using it as an educational tool with farmers, but with COVID restrictions, the program was adapted to a postal and online citizen science challenge. In the last two years it has been undertaken in around 500 classrooms, educating an estimated 12,000 school children in soil health.

The associated radio, TV and print coverage of the program is thought to have brought the concept of soil health to an audience of over half a million Australians.

In addition to driving workshops and campaigns, Oliver has written numerous industry articles on soil health and land management, which have included how to access state supported soil resources in NSW and Queensland. On the back of this engagement role, Oliver has helped to develop a framework for improving sustainable soil use.

The proposed framework seeks to promote soil health through the life in it. It’s envisaged that most land managers will be able to make improvement under at least one of the framework’s four pillars, thus promoting soil health across the cotton industry.

Oliver’s children’s book, ‘Three little fields and the big bad plough’ received a mention of honour in the FAO 2020 World Soil Day promoting soil biodiversity. The book – as with the Soil Your Undies campaign – reflect Oliver’s commitment to promoting activities aimed at educating the youth, the future guardians of Australia’s soil.

Quote: “It is an honour to be considered for the General Jeffrey award for doing my little bit to help promote soil health. Although my work would not be possible without the farmers, school classes and community groups who are prepared to take a moment to share the magic of their soils with me, so this recognition is for them as well.”

Prof John McLean Bennett East Toowoomba Queensland

John is a committed soil health researcher, advocate and educator who, like General Jeffery, began his career as an Australian Army officer, where he obtained the invaluable leadership skills, he’s used throughout his career to reinvigorate the importance of soil health for the sustainability of humanity.

John’s dedication to the betterment of soil management stems from his experiences as a child on a sheep station near Bourke, NSW, where he developed a deep understanding for landscape change, variable soil health management, and the importance of land stewardship of farmers.

A key challenge John recognised in becoming a soil scientist himself was the lack of soil science capability development to serve Australian industry. This set him on a path dedicated to developing sound and achievable strategy and inspiring those around him to implement that strategy.

For nine years, John served in leadership roles at Soil Science Australia, where he refocused the organisation’s internal strategy to work more closely with government. He also established the Training Board and conceived the Recognised Soil Practitioner as a means to provide professional development in soil management. This was adopted as part of the Government’s National Soil Strategy.

As co-author on the extension discussion paper used to shape the original Australian Government Soil Research, Development and Extension Strategy, and through leading the soil science teaching capability and capacity review for the Australian Soil Network, John identified the need for specialist soil services to be developed.

In 2021, he co-founded The Soil Company to build a trusted soil specialist service that provides both fee-for-service and free direct public benefit and is working directly with farmers on the development of soil health management plans.

For his leadership, John has been recognised as an Australian Institute of Policy and Science Tall Poppy; as the inaugural International Union of Soil Science Jeju Medallist; and is a current Fulbright Future Scholar for diplomatic US engagement on the development of a soil-health-credit.

Quote: “Finding out I’m a finalist for the General Jeffery Soil Health Award is a huge honour that reinforces the value of community service to me and will provide a platform to have greater direct impact with land managers for the betterment of Australian soils.”

Roger Groocock, Bordertown, South Australia

Roger is an innovative farmer who has dedicated more than 40 years to pioneering soil amelioration techniques that have improved the health and productivity of many tens of thousands of hectares of sandy soils across southern and western Australia.

Considered to be an early adopter of technology and a leader in soil modification processes in Australia, Roger has worked tirelessly to design, test and measure the long-term effects of a range of soil amelioration techniques, including clay spreading, deep ripping, delving, inversion, and spading, plus a range of amendments including soil conditioners, organic substrates and nutrient mixes.

He has hosted numerous on-farm research trials, crop walks, assisted in organising many extension activities and contributed to publications that assisted the widespread adoption of retained stubble and minimum tillage, which has reduced erosion and delivered additional benefits such as improved soil structure and reduced the decline in soil organic carbon.

In 2007, Roger won a Churchill Fellowship which took him to Europe and America to explore innovative practices to improve soil health and drive sustainable production increases, including the use of machinery.

Impressed by one of the spading machines he saw, Roger decided to bring one home and test it out on his property. Roger and Sue Groocock established Groocock Soil Improvement Pty Ltd in January 2009.

The company is the only Australian dealer for the Dutch made Farmax Spader, adapted to Australian farming conditions and designed to improve the soil structure on any type of land.

Always experimenting on his own farm and passionate about sharing knowledge, Roger has developed a diverse network, including research, development and extension (R, D & E) specialists from a range of disciplines and organisations, agronomists and farmers from across Australia and overseas.

This has built a community of practice that shares the latest knowledge, new ideas and inspires and encourages other farmers to become involved in advocacy and RD&E to ensure on-ground change to water repellent sandy soils.

Quote: “Modified soil profile for optimum healthy soils, healthy production, healthy people.”

The General Jeffery Soil Health Award is initiated and sponsored by the Office of the National Soils Advocate and is administered by Landcare Australia.

For more information and to register for the National Landcare Conference or attend the National Landcare Awards gala dinner, go to this link.