Vale John Allen Ronalds

February 1st, 2022

Born in Brisbane, John Ronalds completed his undergraduate degree part time while working for the CSIRO Veterinary Parasitology Laboratory. He transferred to the CSIRO Wheat Research Unit at North Ryde in 1964 after graduation. Following further part time study while working at North Ryde, he completed his Masters degree in biochemistry at UNSW.

John developed a rapid (15 min) direct distillation method for determination of wheat protein content which was adopted as “Protein Determination by Direct Alkaline Distillation” in the Official Testing Methods of the RACI Cereal Chemistry Division.  It was used at harvest receival in southern NSW in the period 1972-1982 and resulted in estimated hard wheat premiums to growers of $12 million. Despite being a wet chemistry method involving hazardous chemicals, a team of operators was trained each year at the Wagga Agricultural Research Institute, and up to 45 units in bespoke safety cabinets were operated at grain receival sites without major safety incidents.  The Ronalds alkaline distillation method was commercialised as the Tecator Kjeltec DD system which was used widely in Europe.

A pioneer of NIR testing and research in Australia, John was able to demonstrate reasonable calibrations for protein and moisture content in wheat and barley with a loan instrument which had arrived in Australia via an American trade fair in 1973. This paved the way for the subsequent introduction of NIR testing at harvest.  He worked with one of the first commercial fixed filter instruments (Neotec GQA II) in Australia and was among the first to use a scanning NIR (NIRSystems 6250) and a wholegrain NIT instrument (Grainspec).   Because of his wide knowledge in the field, John undertook two major GRDC funded reviews on the accuracy of grain testing in Australia, the first in 1990 with Margaret May and Di Miskelly; and the second in 1996 with Brian Osborne. When the Australian Grain Industries Centre was set up in 1996, John became a Component Project Leader for a project on individual load testing of grain at receival and whether falling number could be successfully predicted.

John’s career spanned over 40 years, mainly in the rapid quality evaluation of wheat, barley, canola and rice. His wider research encompassed characterisation of wheat protein bodies in developing endosperm, rapid quantification of red wheat contamination, image analysis, grain sampling and storage and the heritability of wheat quality. He was co-editor, with Rob Henry, of the book “Improvement of CereaI Quality by Genetic Engineering”, the proceedings of a Cereal Chemistry Division symposium. He authored a number of plain English newsletters on wheat quality and utilising his interest in movie making, produced a video on wheat milling for the Quality Wheat Co-Operative Research Centre.

John’s first cereal conference was at Terrigal in 1965, and he became a regular attendee and presenter at conferences. He served as Secretary (1983-1986) and Treasurer (1987) of the Cereal Chemistry Division and chaired the successful Guthrie Centenary Conference in 1993, as well as playing a role in a number of conference committees. His contribution to the cereals industry was recognised with a Founders Award in 1998.

John had many research collaborations outside CSIRO and was always helpful to those in the industry. He was a good friend to many, and despite ill health in recent years, he kept up contact with those he had worked with after his retirement in 1999.  John was a principal organiser of this informal group, calling themselves “The Codgers”.   He kept up his reading of the scientific literature and frequently shared articles from his reading with its members.

John will be remembered for his scientific integrity.  He was meticulous in the collection of data from his experiments, and equally as careful in processing these results.  One knew that his results would always be reliable.  His dry sense of humour also featured prominently at lunch and coffee breaks.

John passed away on 16 September, 2021 and is survived by his wife Elspeth, their children Joanne and David and their families.

Ian Batey

Di Miskelly