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Published: 9 Dec 2020

John McPhee Graduation

Congratulations to Tasmanian Institute of Agriculture's John McPhee, who has graduated with a PhD by Prior Publication.

In his thesis, John extensively investigated ‘Controlled Traffic Farming’, a proven method that helps ensure sustainable soil management in mixed vegetable cropping.

Sustainable soil management in this area can be challenging due to frequently moist soils, significant soil disturbance in some harvest operations, and intensive traffic and cultivation.

CTF assists in managing soil compaction which in turn benefits crop production, machinery operation and the environment.

It can be achieved by ensuring field machinery travels on permanent tracks, and by reconfiguring farm layouts to optimise drainage and operational logistics.

CTF improves soil-water-plant relations, crop yield, and timeliness and economics, while reducing the environmental impacts of crop production.

The PhD by Prior Publication award recognises University staff who have produced a substantive body of work or knowledge in the form of reviewed publications, that merit the award of a Doctor of Philosophy.

John said his history of academic studies fits a neat mathematical progression.

“My BEng and MEng degrees were completed 14 years apart. Now, 28 years further on, I have graduated with my PhD. I’m keen to know what is in store in another 56 years,” he said.

“Although I have worked in research and development for a large part of my career, pursuing a PhD wasn’t on my agenda. When I stumbled across the UTAS policy on PhD by Prior Publication a few years ago, I realised the published papers from a series of projects about controlled traffic in vegetable production would allow me to do my PhD via this pathway.”

John’s published papers covered various controlled traffic farming topics – machinery design and integration, farm layout, the benefits for soil and crop production, economics, and future possibilities for equipment matching to achieve the fundamental goal of controlled traffic, which is to keep traffic-induced soil compaction in one place, not all over the paddock.

What did the process give him?

“Apart from a very thick book, undertaking my PhD allowed (perhaps forced) me to think critically about all the work I had done, how it fitted together and where it left gaps in understanding,” he said.

“The result is a collection that is unusual in the field of controlled traffic research, as the challenges of controlled traffic development in the vegetable industry dissuade most sane people from venturing there.”

“I have also had the opportunity to reflect on the many people who have helped me over my career –colleagues of up to 40 years standing feature amongst my co-authors – and the support of my family. My daughters’ eyes have been known to roll back in their heads when someone asks me about soil compaction and controlled traffic.”