Keynote speakers within the topic areas. The remaining speakers will be added soon.

Breeding, genetics and physiology
Dr Warwick Stiller, CSIRO

‘Breeding, traits and the future: Perspectives from an optimistic pessimist’

Dr Warwick Stiller has been a member of the CSIRO cotton breeding team since 1995, when he joined to do a PhD examining how to breed cotton to be more water-use efficient. Warwick has lead CSIRO’s Cotton Breeding program since 2013 and over the years has delivered new varieties for all production regions in Australia with higher yield, better disease resistance and with fibre properties sought by spinners.  Additionally, Warwick has developed resilient varieties for dryland production systems with appropriate fibre packages.

His collaborative research efforts have seen Warwick investigate modern molecular tools for speeding up breeding and selection, collecting exotic cotton germplasm to ensure genetic diversity in breeding and discovering new sources of resistance to a range of important diseases.

Fibre quality and processing
Dr Stuart Gordon and Dr Rose Brodrick, CSIRO

A comparative analysis of cotton and hemp production in Australia’

Dr Stuart Gordon is a Principal Research Scientist in CSIRO Agriculture and Food’s Systems Program where he leads CSIRO’s Advanced Natural Fibre Team. He holds wool and cotton classing certificates, a bachelor degree in Agricultural Science and a PhD from La Trobe University. He is also a graduate of the Australian Institute of Company Directors. Stuart has been involved in natural fibre research, manufacture and management for more than 25 years. He currently leads projects in fibre metrology, post-harvest processing and product development.

He is also secretary of the Australian Industrial Hemp Conference organizing committee and has been active in raising the profile of industrial hemp production and processing. Stuart is an elected member of the International Textile Manufacturers Federation’s Committee for Cotton Test Methods and was a Non-Executive Director of the International Fibre Centre between 2010 and 2016. Prior to joining CSIRO, he worked as Technical Manager of Australia’s then largest cotton spinning company, Rocklea Spinning Mills.

Dr Rose Brodrick’s research is focused on developing new technologies and integrated digital systems for the agricultural industry to improve farm productivity. Dr Brodrick has 19 years’ experience in working with irrigators (cotton, tomatoes, sugarcane) to develop management solutions in irrigated agriculture. Her research into crop physiology and agronomy has led to changes in production practices within the Australian Cotton Industry and she has strong collaborations with researcher overseas.

Rose is currently a leader of the CSIRO’s WaterWise Project that brings together a multi-disciplinary team that are developing digital solutions for precision irrigation in high value crops as part of the CSIRO’s Digiscape Future Science Platform. Ultimately, the aim is for these systems to part of a fully integrated irrigation toolbox for growers delivering savings in water that can be used to boost productivity or increase cropping area.

Dr Hazel Parry, CSIRO

Computer simulation models as tools for informing insect management’ 

Dr Hazel Parry graduated from the University of Cambridge (BA Hons) and the University of Leeds (PhD) in the UK, studying Geography.  She joined CSIRO in 2009, arriving as a postdoc and continuing her career with CSIRO to become a senior research scientist based in Brisbane.  Her research seeks to gain knowledge on agricultural landscape features and environmental drivers that increase insect pest and disease vector outbreak risk, in relation to population dynamics and dispersal behaviours.  This knowledge supports more cost-effective and efficient use of a range of insect pest management technologies: from pesticide to Bt and biocontrol.

In cotton, Dr Parry has collaborated with researchers at UQ as well as overseas (University of Wisconsin, USA) to study movement of Helicoverpa spp. In Australia, she constructed an individual-based simulation model of egg-laying behaviour to determine how the spatial and temporal configuration of refuges for Bt resistance management could be optimized.  The recent Annual Review of Entomology paper she published with researchers from Rothamsted Research, UK, takes a global perspective on the movement ecology of pest Helicoverpa and the implications for ongoing spread.

Dr Gupta Vadakattu, CSIRO

‘Harnessing beneficial microbiomes in cotton systems’

Dr Gupta Vadakattu investigates on aspects of genetic diversity, functional capability and resilience of soil biota in agricultural soils and functional microbial diversity of aquifer systems, specifically: genetic, functional and environmental regulators of biological disease suppression in soils; host-microbiome interactions; microbial and edaphic factors regulating free-living nitrogen fixation in annual and perennial crops and turnover to carbon, nutrients and biological health of soils.

Dr Gupta Vadakattu joined CSIRO Plant Industry in Canberra in 1989 following his PhD and postdoctoral studies at University of Saskatchewan in Canada. In Adelaide, he worked with the CRC for Soil and Land Management (1993-98) on microbial-protozoan interactions and their effects on microbial diversity and biological functions. Dr Vadakattu’s research showed the significance of maintaining resilient biological functions including N supply and disease suppression in the low-fertility Mallee soils for sustainable production and environmental health. His research was the first to elucidate the exposure pathways for Bt-proteins with soil biota and contributed scientific evidence to the debate on benefits and risks from GM plants in Australian agricultural systems.

Dr Duy Le, NSW Department of Primary Industries

Alternaria leaf spot of cotton: a re-emerging disease associated with a new pathogen’

Dr Duy Le completed his PhD, partly supported by the ginger industry, at the University of Queensland (UQ) in 2016 and followed by a year postdoc at UQ with support from the avocado industry. Duy joined NSW DPI in July 2017 as a cotton pathologist and currently coordinates a CRDC funded project to investigate novel solutions, including chemical and biological approaches, to manage some of the major disease of cotton such as Black root rot and Alternaria leaf spot. In addition to this project, he is involved in the National Disease Survey project led by DAF and with support from both these projects, coordinates a free diagnostic service for the cotton industry in NSW.


Dr Alison McCarthy, University of Southern Queensland

Dr Alison McCarthy is a Senior Research Fellow in mechatronic and irrigation engineering within the Centre for Agricultural Engineering at the University of Southern Queensland in Toowoomba. Her key research interests are improving water productivity using real-time, automated irrigation informed by sensors and data analytics, and reducing labour in crop scouting using crop monitoring machine vision systems. Alison was a co-recipient of the 2018 Cotton Seed Distributors Researcher of the Year Award, and received a 2015 Young Tall Poppy Queensland Award, two 2014 Science and Innovation Awards for Young People in Agriculture, Fisheries and Forestry, and a 2014 Queensland Government DSITI Early-Career Accelerate Fellowship.


Rick Horbury, Bayer CropScience

Working at Bayer CropScience since 2007 firstly with the Development team specialising in pre and post-emergent herbicides. Rick then moved into a technical field extension role working with growers, industry and researchers through trials and demonstrations throughout Western Australia trialling and demonstrating a range of herbicide, fungicide and insecticide innovations. For the last 2 ½ years Rick has moved out of a field trial role and has been guiding the Bayer Market Development trials team in Broadacre, cotton and horticulture.

With Bayer and Monsanto coming together Rick now leads a team of 16 across Australia and New Zealand including the Locharba research station at Narrabri and a team of 8 people engaged directly in cotton to bring new traits and crop protection products to market. Previous to his career at Bayer he had far more hair and studied aphids, mites and lepidopteran pests in broadacre cropping with CSIRO Entomology.

Michael Mills (aka Professor Flint), HeapsGood Productions

It’s the story, stoopid: Rising to the challenge of science communication in an age of fake news.’ 

Michael Mills is an award wining science communicator, writer, producer, and performer. He regularly produces experiences for cultural institutions, engaging communicates with the science and stories of their collections. As singing palaeontologist, Professor Flint, Michael has become a favourite in many Museums around Australia whenever there are stories to be told about the prehistoric past. He has developed a series of community engagement projects, with communities around Australia that have engaged those communities with the prehistoric plants and animals of the place where they live. “In order to truly understand who are as Australians,’ he says, “we need to understand all of the stories of this ancient land upon which we dwell, and the footsteps of all of those who have come before us.”  Michael has written more than 50 shows and performed to hundreds of thousands of young people and adults over more than 20 years. He has worked in radio, wrote and performed the songs for the final year of Chanel 7’s “The Book Place”, and in recent years, has become a regular presenter at conferences, and a trainer front-line public engagement staff at cultural instutions in how to better engage with the public. In all of this, it is story that that has defined what he does. In all this, it is the creation of an engaging narrative that has underpinned everything.

Michael understands that if people aren’t getting the message you want them to get, it’s your job to find another way. It is never an effective strategy to demonise those who don’t understand, or haven’t engaged in what you are trying to say. If people don’t “get it”, it’s not their problem. It’s ours!

Michael will also be conducting a free science communication workshop on Thursday morning. Read more about his talk and the workshop.

Health and Wellbeing
Annette Stevenson and Gwen Shumack, University of New England

How to ‘cotton on’ to what wellbeing is in 30 minutes!’

Annette Stevenson is Manager of UNE Student Counselling and Psychological Services (CAPS) which comprises a team of five other registered psychologists. Annette has been with CAPS off and on since 1992 and became full time in 2004. She came to that role having previously coordinated the Armidale Sexual Assault Service for three years in the early 90’s. Annette was also a supervisor within the former Armidale Child Sexual Assault Service for over ten years. She was also Secretary on the Armidale Women’s Shelter Management Committee for six years until the end of 2015. Prior to her work as a practicing psychologist, Annette worked in research, primarily in the road safety area with human factors psychologists and traffic engineers.


Gwen Shumack has worked as a psychologist within UNE Student Counselling and Psychological Services (CAPS) for three years. Previously she worked as a psychologist for FaCS for nearly six years and worked with children and young people, foster carers, parents and prepared reports for the Children’s Court. She covered rural and remote areas from Inverell, Moree, Glen Innes, Tenterfield and Tamworth. Since October 2018, Gwen has been accredited to deliver animal assisted therapy with her psychotherapy dog, Percy. This work involves using the human animal bond to develop emotional resilience, behavioural activation and relationship skills.