Award hat trick for AgResearch scientists

An AgResearch scientist has become the third at the institute to win a prestigious pastoral science award.

Emeritus Professor Syd Easton, who is based at the AgResearch Grasslands campus in Palmerston North, was awarded the Ray Brougham Trophy for his significant contribution to grassland farming.

​The award was presented by the NZ Grassland Trust at the recent NZ Grassland Association conference. Trust chair, Gavin Sheath, made the presentation saying the award acknowledges 40 years of leadership in forage breeding and endophyte technology.

“Syd has made an important contribution in the understanding of endophyte and ryegrass interaction, through innovation and leadership,” he says.

After graduating from Massey University, Dr Easton joined DSIR in 1970 as a researcher. He then won an NRAC fellowship to work in France and completed his PhD in plant quantitative genetics at the University of Paris.

Dr Easton’s plant breeding achievement is marked by a succession of successful cultivars, some of them breaking new ground. He bred the first late-flowering New Zealand adapted perennial ryegrass cultivar that improved forage quality in late spring.

He also bred the first New Zealand lucerne cultivar that combined grazing tolerance and resistance to blue-green aphid and bacterial wilt; and tall fescue cultivars that have improved palatability and seedling vigor.

Dr Easton led a multi-disciplined endophyte research programme until his retirement in 2011. Within this programme, he made a key contribution to understanding the genetic interaction between the host plant and endophyte.  He considers this work as the highlight of his career.

“Over a period of five years in the early 1980s everything changed in our field of work as we realised how important endophyte was,” he says.

He also looks back at a career full of support and collaboration from stakeholders and farmers.

“This has been another highlight for me. I’ve been to other countries where very few people care about the work agricultural scientists do. In New Zealand we are blessed with highly supportive farmers and agricultural professionals who critique but also value and use our science.

“It is great to see our work at work on New Zealand farms.”

Dr Easton also acknowledged the work of the NZ Grassland Association.

“They deserve a plug for the work they do bringing researchers, industry and farmers together in one forum. It is an important role in our industry,” he says.

“I worked with Ray Brougham early in my career. I really value the memory of Ray, the man and his science. I am greatly honoured to receive this award in his name.”

As in past years the Trust will be inviting Dr Easton to do a seminar series in mid-2014.

About the award

The Ray Brougham Trophy was instituted in memory of the Dr Ray Brougham, Director of DSIR Grasslands 1970 – 1985. The Brougham family donated a bronze statue of a seed sower to the Trust, which is presented annually.

The 2013 winner was Dr Syd Easton, Emeritus Scientist at AgResearch, for his contribution to 40 years of science and leadership in forage breeding and endophyte technology. Through this work, his contribution to the New Zealand pastoral sector has been significant.

The 2012 winner was Tom Fraser, AgResearch who is well known to many famers around New Zealand for his presentations on forage systems.

The 2011 winner was Dr Greg Lambert, past Agricultural Systems Group leader AgResearch, for outstanding achievements and leadership in hill country pasture research, development of effective sheep and beef forage grazing systems and better educational methods of conveying knowledge and technical information to farmers and industry users.