On arrival as an academic in Wagga Wagga, Jim produced the standard text on Australian agronomy (“Principles of Field Crop Production”, 1980) and became involved in the conservation agriculture movement through his tillage and weed management research. The book “Tillage – new directions in Australian agriculture” (Cornish and Pratley 1987) became a key publication. Its sequel “Australian Agriculture in 2020 – from conservation to automation” (Pratley and Kirkegaard 2019) reviews agronomic research in Australia over the previous 30 years.
Jim’s weeds research involved weed biology, management and herbicide resistance. He established in the 1990s the CSU Herbicide Resistance Unit which has served the industry for over 25 years. This led to a world first record of glyphosate (Roundup) resistance in ryegrass in 1996.
His team undertook the first and only GM canola experiments in Australia just prior to the GM moratoria. That research contributed significantly to the moratoria being lifted in three states. Jim was awarded the Council of Weed Societies CAWS) Medal in 2010.
Jim and his team looked at the capabilities of crop varieties and weeds to control weeds themselves through exudates, a process called allelopathy. Focus on the science led to the Molisch Award (2008) for continued excellence in the field of allelopathy research by the International Allelopathy Society.
In 2007, Jim embarked on a crusade to address the parlous state of agricultural education in Australia. His research and promotion resulted in a substantial improvement: industry re-imaging, career paths constructed, increase graduate remuneration and general community respectability resulting in being commissioned to undertake a Ministerial Review into Agricultural Education and Training in NSW, 2012-13. He was awarded the Cameron Archer Medal (2019) for outstanding service to agricultural education.
Jim was awarded a Fellow of the Australian Society of Agronomy (2017) and became a Member of the Order of Australia (AM) in 2019 for services to agricultural education, research and advisory.