Vale Dr Keppel James Coughlan

Members of the Australian soil science community are deeply saddened by the recent and sudden death of Dr Kep Coughlan while holidaying overseas. Dr Coughlan was a specialist in soil science, sustainable farming systems, natural resource management and climate risk analysis. Many soil scientists will know him as one of the Authors of the “Brown Book”, Soil Physical Measurement and Interpretation for land evaluation. 

Dr Coughlan was an outstanding student at Brisbane Boys Grammar and undertook his tertiary education at the University of Queensland, somewhat surprisingly choosing agriculture, given he had little-to-no experience with the farming life. He obtained a BAgrSc in 1964, followed by First Class Honours, MAgrSc in 1967, and PhD in 1974 under the mentorship of Dr Bill Fox, one of Australia’s more distinguished soil physicists. It was during this post graduate period that Kep developed his life-long research interest in Vertosols. 

After graduating, he joined the Queensland Department of Primary Industries where he spent 25 years, ultimately becoming the Director of Soil Conservation Research Branch. The remit of the Branch was revolutionary for the time, in that it took a multi-disciplinary approach to soil research by combining the skills of agronomists, soil conservationists, soil physicists, hydrologists and modellers to advance the understanding and adoption of conservation agriculture that minimised erosion and maximised crop yield. 

After leaving QDPI in 1991, Kep took his research-management skills to Griffith University and then went on to forge an illustrious career in international agricultural research with roles at ACIAR and with AusAID.  

After Kep’s return to Australian soil in 2006, he was involved in a number of short-term consultancies in SE Asia. Kep was also occasionally called upon for his formidable intellectual skills to assist staff in writing up cogent stories from often “messy” field research results. His remits ranged from effluent disposal to soil erosion to plant available water capacity of Queensland’s wheat-growing soils. 

A country that especially captured Kep’s heart was Cambodia, where he was Team Leader of an AusAID-funded project, responsible for the long-term viability of the Cambodian Agricultural Research and Development Institute.  

Kep and his wife Helen initiated an assistance program for Cambodian orphanages, which they continued to energetically support until Helen’s passing in 2013. Kep is succeeded by his two children, Peter and Sally, and two grandchildren, Calum and Neve. He will be dearly missed.