Bob Lawn has >55 years’ experience in tropical crop improvement and sustainable tropical agriculture, and has published c. 300 scientific articles on these topics. During the period 1995-2015, he was Professor of Tropical Crop Science (P/T) at JCU. He was also Director of the CRC for Sustainable Sugar Production 1994-2003 and, before that, led the CSIRO Tropical Crops Program. Bob’s main research focus has been the physiological basis of genotype x environment interaction in crop plants and the implications for agronomy and breeding, with particular emphasis on tropical grain legumes and sugarcane. His primary environmental focus has been climate (photoperiod, temperature, water, radiation). He has worked on many projects for various national and international agencies in Asia, including in India, Indonesia, Thailand, Vietnam and the Philippines.

 Current research interests

Bob Lawn’s main research focus is the physiological basis of crop yield and adaptation to the environment, and the implications for crop improvement though breeding and management.  Key current research interests include:

  • The effects of photoperiodism and the implications for varietal adaptation to latitude and sowing time;

  • Physiological responses to drought stress, and the implications for breeding drought resistant varieties;

  • The potential utility of wild crop relatives as a source of traits to improve crop tolerance to climatic, edaphic and biotic stresses.

 Industry contributions

 Bob has assembled and described a collection of several hundred accessions of wild relatives of Vigna crops from across northern Australia and nearby islands. These accessions grow in harsh environments from the coast to the inland deserts, and so provide a unique source of natural adaptations to climatic, edaphic and biotic extremes. When Bob and his students first started this research, the wild mungbean was considered an introduced species. However, their research has shown that not only has wild mungbean had a long history in northern Australia, the Australian accessions are arguably the most authentically wild mungbean germplasm anywhere in the world. The region is now recognised as a centre of diversity for wild mungbean with a number of unique adaptations. Vigna is an agriculturally important genus throughout tropical regions of southern and south-eastern Asia and sub-Saharan Africa, where pulse crops like mungbean (V. radiata), black gram (V. mungo), ricebean (V. umbellata), adzuki bean (V. angularis) and cowpea (V. unguiculata) are major sources of dietary protein. The Australian Native Vigna Collection represents an invaluable germplasm resource for future plant breeders in tropical Australia and internationally. 

During the period 1994-2003, Bob led the Cooperative Research Centre for Sustainable Sugar Production (CRC Sugar). While based at James Cook University, CRC Sugar involved research staff from the University of Queensland, Central Queensland University, the Queensland Department of Natural Resources, the CSIRO Divisions of Tropical Crops & Pastures and Land & Water, the Bureau Sugar Experiment Stations, four milling companies and Canegrowers. During its ten years of operation, CRC Sugar provided the first comprehensive scientific assessment of the Australian sugar industry’s ‘environmental footprint’ and developed and promoted farm management practices aimed at minimising off-farm impacts and sustaining soil and water resources, while enhancing crop productivity.

  During the period 1970-94, Bob’s research underpinned the establishment and development of soybean and mungbean production in Australian agriculture. His research findings on the physiological basis of crop yield and environmental adaptation provided the basis for the crop variety and agronomic management recommendations distributed to farmers by organisations like the Queensland Graingrowers Association and the Australian Mungbean Association. He released three crop varieties for commercial production: black gram cv. Regur (1976), mungbean cv. Satin (1988) and tropical soybean cv. Leichhardt (1992). He is an Honorary Life Member of the Australian Mungbean Association.

University Education 

B Agr Sc (University of Queensland, 1968)

M Agr Sc (University of Queensland, 1971)

Ph D (University of Minnesota, 1973)

D Agr Sc (University of Queensland, 2004) 

Professional employment history

2016-present Adjunct Professor, James Cook University

2000-2022 Honorary Fellow, CSIRO Agriculture

1995-2015 Foundation Professor of Tropical Crop Science, James Cook University (P/T)

1994-2003 Chief Executive Officer, CRC for Sustainable Sugar Production

1993-2000 Chief Research Scientist, CSIRO

1973-1992 Research Scientist-Senior Principal Research Scientist, CSIRO

1971-1973 Graduate research assistant, University of Minnesota

1969-1971 Graduate research assistant, University of Queensland

Other appointments

1979-1980 Expert Advisor, Technological Change in Australian Agriculture, Forestry & Fishing, Committee of Inquiry into Technological Change in Australia (The Myers Inquiry)

1970-71 Expert Advisor, soybean production, Queensland Graingrowers Association. 

Overseas projects

>50 overseas assignments for national (CSIRO, AIDAB/AusAid, ACIAR, AAUCS, Department of Foreign Affairs) and international (ICRISAT, AVRDC, FAO) agencies

Main countries of experience are Canada, India, Indonesia, Thailand, USA, UK and Vietnam

Leader of three international projects for the Australian Centre for International Agricultural Research (ACIAR) 

Current external role

Queensland Coordinator, the Crawford Fund

 As Honorary Coordinator of the Crawford Fund (2017-present), oversees the recruitment, assessment, approval of funding and reporting for the annual Crawford-in-Qld International Engagement Awards and the Crawford-in-Qld Student Awards, made to staff and students variously associated with six Qld universities, the CSIRO and state government departments.

Supervision of Postgraduate Research Students

Supervisor for > 35 students from four Australian universities, at post-Doctoral, PhD, Masters and Honours levels, and more than a dozen students at universities in Thailand & Vietnam.


Research Disciplines
Socio-Economic Objectives
  • 1992 - Australian Medal of Agriculture
  • 1986 - International Science Index Citation Classic
  • 2011 - Australian Academy of Technological Sciences & Engineering
  • 1996 - Australian Institute of Agriculture
  • 1987 - Royal Society of Biology

These are the most recent publications associated with this author. To see a detailed profile of all publications stored at JCU, visit ResearchOnline@JCU. Hover over Altmetrics badges to see social impact.

Journal Articles
Book Chapters

ResearchOnline@JCU stores 69+ research outputs authored by Prof Robert Lawn from 1999 onwards.

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