Peter’s career in agriculture started in 1960 when he commenced studying Agricultural Science at the University of Adelaide. Unlike the HECS environment of today, he was actually paid to go to university as the holder of an Education Department cadetship – £6 a week!
After graduating (majoring in biochemistry and entomology) he taught agricultural studies, along with matriculation biology, at Loxton High School from 1964–66, and Murray Bridge High School in 1967.
Following a desire to work more closely to the leading edge of technology, he joined the then Department of Agriculture’s Livestock Division as a sheep and wool extension officer. He was initially based in the old Simpsons Building in Gawler Place – a dark rabbit warren that is now open space just south of Pirie St.
This was better than teaching – he could get involved in the science – and started off by establishing a new departmental publications category – Technical Bulletins – writing a review of the then controversial urea supplementation for sheep and cattle. This was a “hands on” time, and he became a qualified mulesing instructor and acquired a provisional wool classer’s stencil. He classed the wool clip on Struan, Kybybolite, Minnipa and Parndana research centres.
In 1971, he was transferred to Jamestown as the first livestock officer to be sited in that office, and with a mandate to bring population genetics and the merino stud industry together to drive improvements to the SA sheep industry.
In 1974, he was granted an Australian Meat & Livestock Corporation scholarship to Melbourne University to study a post graduate diploma in agricultural extension, following in Graham Trengove’s footsteps from the previous year by being the second South Australian to top that course.
He returned from Melbourne to take up a new position as Senior Livestock Officer at Struan in early 1975. While there, the Government adopted a service-wide strategy of regionalisation, and in the late 1970’s Peter became the Principal Extension Officer – South East, responsible for all the Department’s extension and service activities across that region. It was during this period that he first bumped into a younger Dennis Mutton (later to be PIRSA CEO), in both his forestry role and later in a Public Service Regional Coordination role in the South East.
Things changed in late 1979 when he, together with Don Plowman, Trevor Dillon and Ken Holden were sent to Iraq by Minister Chatterton to identify a site for a large dryland wheat/sheep farming project, and to develop a costed bid for the Iraqi Government’s consideration. The fledgling SAGRIC International got the contract, and Peter returned to Iraq for three months in 1981 to detail the livestock component of the project. Later that year he returned with family for two years as deputy project manager and livestock specialist, living in the northern Kurdish areas, but at times traveling all over Iraq.
In 1984, after his return from Iraq, he was transferred to Adelaide as Principal Officer Extension Policy, reporting to Director John Potter (Trent’s father) and later Geoff Thomas.
In this role Peter started to change the way we managed extension, one innovation being the introduction of an outcome-focused, project-based approach to extension work. Some may remember the Extension Register – the initial pre-computer annual summary of the Department’s extension work. During this epoch he had further overseas work with SAGRIC International as a member of an FAO team reviewing horticultural research and extension (for crops such as white cherries, pomegranates and apples) strategies in the mountainous Pakistan/Afghan border region.
In 1990 he was transferred to the Rural Affairs unit as manager, where he stayed until 1994 – a good spot to hide while the McKinsey review of the agency was undertaken and the subsequent putsch of staff occurred.
Following that assignment he became something of a corporate nomad, with roles in market development under Roger Hartley, including a stint out-posted to the Department of Industry and Trade “Business Centre” on South Terrace. The purpose of this was to better coordinate the business, as distinct from the technical, services PIRSA was seeking to develop along with its emerging whole-of-supply-chain focus. In 1999 he accompanied John Cambridge, CEO of the Department of Industry and Trade, to Dubai on a trade promotion visit, and while there led a separate short trade mission to Beirut.
He then rotated into a period as a Policy Officer on Minister Rob Kerin’s staff, and this was extended after the 1998 elections with a period as Ministerial Liaison Officer. This in turn evolved into a period in CEO Dennis Mutton’s office as Manager, Executive Support, with responsibility for emerging strategic policy issues for the agency. Initially this was for food regulatory policy, and subsequently in 1999 what was to become his signature subject – gene technology policy.
In 2001 he transferred from the Chief Executive’s office to the then Agriculture and Wine Division as the Manager of Biotechnology Policy, but shortly afterwards was appointed to an executive role as Director Strategic Policy in the Division, retaining his involvement with the genetic modification (GM) issue.
In late November 2003 he undertook a study tour on GM canola in Canada, where he found out, amongst other things how cold -16o C actually feels on the ears. His report formed the basis of PIRSA’s input to the Parliamentary Select Committee on GMOs. Under Minister McEwen he developed SA’s initial GM legislation – the GM Crops Management Act 2004 – and after its proclamation he developed and implemented a monitoring and compliance program for GM food crops within SA. He was also the inaugural Executive Officer of South Australia’s statutory GM Crops Management Committee.
Peter played an active role nationally in developing and coordinating a uniform response by states to the setting of new grain standards by Ministers for the levels of GM seed in canola. He was also one of two Australian representatives at the International Conference of Coexistence of GM crops in Montpellier, France. He retired from the Department in December 2005.