How Lockyer researcher crunched code for perfect chip
THE use of the Atlantic potato for making crisp chips can be tracked back to the beginning of Ken Jackson’s career in horticultural research.
The agricultural scientist spent much of his career in the field, testing agricultural crops – one of which was the Atlantic potato.
Commonly found in Kettle chips, it dates back to field work at the Gatton Research Station in the 1980s, where Dr Jackson helped release the potato for the crisping industry.
“It was an American import, but they had to understand how well it would do here, so we did a lot of field trials,” he said.
Dr Jackson’s career in agriculture and horticulture is expansive, which earned him an Order of Australia Medal this year.
After spending countless hours in the field, then at UQ Gatton as a Lecturer, 75-year-old Dr Jackson said it was a “nice way to finish a career”.
“It’s a great privilege to be awarded a medal and to be recognised,” he said.
“I wasn’t aware of it at all and I wasn’t expecting it.”
Born and raised at Mount Whitestone on a dairy farm, you could say agriculture was instilled in his blood from a young age.
He acknowledges the sacrifices his parents made to provide for an education to enable him to pursue a career in agricultural research.
Dr Jackson started as a primary school teacher in Gatton before enrolling at the Queensland Agricultural College in 1968, and walking out with first class honours in 1971.
The four-year course consisted of 40 weeks a year, five days a week.
The first four hours each day were theory, followed by three hours of practical lessons.
That degree took him to the Department of Primary Industries in Biloela where he worked in oil seed crops (safflower) and grain legumes (lupins and guar) for 14 years.
His experiences brought him back to Gatton in 1985, where the focus was heavy vegetables including the first field evaluation of a genetically modified crop in Australia and the release of the garlic varieties Glenlarge and Southern Glen.
“All the field-testing guidelines in the genetic crops today are based on what we developed at the Gatton Research Station in conjunction with CSIRO,” Dr Jackson said.
“This first crop was a potato crop genetically modified by CSIRO scientists in Canberra to resist potato leaf roll virus”.
The research led him to positions including Vegetable Program Leader for Queensland, acting director for the Queensland Horticulture Institute, as well as chair of the National R&D Committee of the Australian onion Industry.
In 2008, he received the prestigious Reg Miller Award, which recognises outstanding contributions to the Australian onion industry.
From there, Dr Jackson took up lecturing at the University of Queensland Gatton campus, teaching students in certificate, diploma, degree and post graduate courses for the next 18 years.
“I really enjoyed working with the younger students and passing on my experiences, especially with the next generation of students that were coming along,” he said.
“When I am supervising masters and PhD degrees, you learn as much as the students do as they go along and achieve their goals.”
The passion for field work will likely never leave Dr Jackson’s blood.
He has a 10-hectare property in Forest Hill where he predominantly grows garlic, pumpkins and fodder in conjunction with a friend.
As for the future of the industry, Dr Jackson said an additional water source was critical.
“Unless we do something about a greater reliability of water, we are limited,” he said.
“We’ve got the soil resources, we’ve got the expertise, but the most limiting factor is lack of water.”
He applauded the water forum for pushing to get Wivenhoe Dam water into the region.
“I see the quality of product that comes out of our region – it’s second to none – but we have a limited underground aquifer,” he said.
“If it’s not replenished on a regular basis we will run into strife.”
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