Michael Braunack is best known in the cotton industry for the lasting impact his research on controlled traffic has made in terms of demonstrating better soil conditions in the crop row and a response in crop yields, and consequently influencing grower adoption of the strategy and improving environmental conditions. His contributions to science and evidence-based farming management strategies in the Australian cotton industry were recognised with an Australian Association of Cotton Scientists life membership in 2019.
Michael Braunack graduated with a B Ag Sci. from the University of Adelaide in 1974 and a B Ag Sci (Hons) in 1975 and received a Doctor of Philosophy in soil science and agronomy from the University of Adelaide. In 1978. He undertook a 12-month Post Doc at The University of Reading in 1979.
On returning to Australia, he gained employment (1980/81) with (the then, CSIRO Div. of Soils) in Adelaide to develop strategies in reducing seepage from earthen farm dams, resulting in the use of clay liners as one solution. He continued his career with CSIRO in the Division of Land & Water (1981/1983), working on a Defence funded project developing land management strategies for Australian Army training areas (Puckapunyal, Tin Can Bay and Shoalwater Bay) to minimise degradation from armoured vehicle damage.
He had two stints working for the Queensland Department of Primary Industries, first 1984/1991) at Ayr to develop alternative farming opportunities to sugar cane. This provided the opportunity to consider controlled traffic as an option to minimise the impact of infield traffic and the growing of row crops other than sugar. The second period with QDPI was from 2005/2006 at Emerald, which was his first foray into cotton research, exploring the possibility for controlled traffic to minimise soil compaction within the crop rows.
Throughout his varied research career, he has also made considerable contributions to the sugarcane industry in Queensland and the vegetable industry in Northwest Tasmanian. Projects with these industries expanded what was known about the relationship between soil compaction and sugarcane crop yields (1991/2001) strengthening the argument for the use of controlled traffic farming practices, and identifying management strategies that reduce the issue of soil loss through erosion on steep slopes to improve the sustainability of the vegetable industry (2002/04).
Michael’s final job was with CSIRO (2006/2019) at Narrabri working on cotton farming systems. He strongly advocated for the uptake of controlled traffic after appreciating the incompatibility between wheel track width and cotton row spacing. He was also involved in the use of biodegradable plastic film in cotton to reduce soil water loss and improve crop establishment. He was part of the first CSIRO acceleratiON program as part of the team developing a new sprayable biodegradable polymer.
In 2012 Michael was invited by Cotton Incorporated to talk to American researchers and cotton growers in North Carolina and Texas on the Australian experience and benefits of controlled traffic.
In retirement, Michael is involved in STEM activities mentoring students at a Secondary and a Primary school in Tasmania, and continues to contribute to the science community through refereeing manuscripts prior to publishing.