Vale Dr Barry White

Leading agroclimatologist Dr Barry White remembered


Queensland and Australia has lost one of their most talented agricultural professionals, Dr Barry White.

Dr Barry White was a leading agroclimatologist who relentlessly pursued the need to provide primary producers with more sophisticated climate indicators.

Dr Barry White was a leading agroclimatologist who relentlessly pursued the need to provide primary producers with more sophisticated climate indicators.

IN December 2018, Queensland and Australia lost one of their most talented agricultural professionals - Barry White, aged 76.

Regarded as the leading agroclimatologist of his era, Barry was instrumental in redefining the quality of climate information provided to the rural sector and many other users which continues to contribute major economic and environmental gains.

An indication of his professional reputation as an agroclimatologist can be gained from his plenary paper in 2000 in an international publication Applications of Seasonal Climate Forecasting in Agriculture and Natural Ecosystems - the Australian Experience. In 2004 he was invited by the United States Academy of Sciences to participate in a workshop on seasonal climate forecasting.

The enduring focus of much of his work with Land and Water Resources Research and Development Corporation (LWRRDC) - in which he showed national leadership - was the highly variable climatic environment in which Australian agriculture operates. He relentlessly pursued the need to provide primary producers with more sophisticated climate indicators to enhance their ability to deal with this variability.

Having joined the Queensland Department of Agriculture and Stock (later Department of Primary Industries), Barry established a reputation for quantitative analysis in soil science and economic assessment of major agricultural projects throughout the state.

During the 1980's Barry began to focus on an issue which would define the rest of his career. In a country in which climate variability represents the greatest challenge facing primary producers he saw the provision of improved and more precise climate information as critical for both economic performance and resource management.

His diverse skill set was recognised within the State Department and over a 10 year period he was appointed Director of four separate professional branches - Biometry, Economic Services, Marketing Services and Consultancies and Market Development. In the latter he played a pivotal role in preparing the ground for the Lao/Queensland Agricultural Cooperation Agreement.

In 1994 he decided to pursue a career as a consultant at the national level. He had prepared the ground well for this career change. Several years before he had been appointed first to the Barley Research Council, then the Wheat Research Council and finally the Grains Research and Development Corporation.

A major Australia-wide project undertaken by Barry for GRDC was the development and implementation of a system for the evaluation of research projects funded by the Corporation. Another early project was a review of Australian applications for seasonal climate forecasting for the Asia Pacific Network for Climate Change. Barry presented the results of this review to the Tokyo Scientific Advisory Committee.

Other projects were the development of the SILO database combining the Bureau of Meteorology's data sets with the delivery capability of the Drought Group in QDPI and the AussieGRASS model which simulated the impact of climate variability on pasture growth.

Barry also recognised the need to harness the synergy of diverse professional groups located in a wide range of organisations. Two projects in particular, Drought Plan and Oceans to Farms, are prime examples of the success of this modus operandi.

In focusing on this issue, Barry cited a seminal paper by H.M. Treloar published in the Journal of the Institute of Agricultural Science as early as 1952. This paper was followed by several CSIRO papers in the 1960's - one of which, by Troup, identified the Southern Oscillation Index (SOI). Decades later the Bureau of Meteorology built on this early work and incorporated El Nino Southern Oscillation (ENSO) cycles in information disseminated.

Barry grew up in Mt Tyson on the Darling Downs and was educated at Downlands in Toowoomba. At 17 his professional life suffered a temporary setback when he lost interest in his second year engineering studies at the University of Queensland (UQ). This was primarily due to his difficulties in technical drawing resulting from being forced to change from left to right handed at a young age. He had also discovered statistics and probabilities which lead to a strong interest in economics as a profession.

Barry's work career began as a cadet in the soil conservation service of the Queensland Department of Agriculture and Stock. He was essentially a 'hole digger' in a team investigating the relationship between soil erosion, soil moisture and crop productivity on the Darling Downs.

Having completed an economics degree at UQ as an external student in 1964, Barry was appointed to the Development Planning Branch of the Department in Brisbane. At this early stage of his career his skills in quantitative analysis came into play. This Branch had been established to coordinate major developments in the state's agriculture which included the brigalow development scheme and several large irrigation schemes.

To add to his skill set Barry completed a PhD, A Simulation Based Evaluation of Queensland's Northern Sheep Industry, at James Cook university in 1978. This research - widely regarded as being well ahead of its time - integrated and modelled the soil/plant/animal/financial systems for a typical wool growing enterprise in the Mitchell grass country of northern Queensland. Modelling and simulation of agricultural enterprises were in their infancy at this time and by comparing model results with observed data Barry was able to analyse a range of management and policy issues.

Away from work, Barry loved rugby. As a young man in Toowoomba he, together with brothers Kerry and Geoff, established the Rangers Rugby Union Club in 1963. He went on to play A Grade rugby for Brothers club in Brisbane and scored two tries in an epic grand final win against University. He played for Queensland on several occasions and was regarded as an outstanding lineout jumper.

He had a keen sense of social justice and was formidable when arguing his case, always evidence based, on any number of issues. Barry is survived by his wife Robyn and sons Andrew and Peter.


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