Charles Sturt University
Graham Centre for Agricultural Innovation

Spring 2018

Table of Contents

  • From the Director
  • Congratulations
  • Livestock Forum and Agribusiness Today Forum
  • Internship shows value of science in beef breeding
  • Meat scientist recognised by ASAP
  • Graham Centre students at the 3MT
  • Where in the world
  • Graham Centre scholars at Crawford Fund Conference
  • Research update: developing ecological approaches to check vegetable pests
  • Mature mothers and maiden ewes don’t always mix
  • Promoting platypus research
  • Boosting the capacity for vegetable production in Lao PDR and Cambodia
  • Project to put dung beetles to work
  • Are we FMD Ready?
  • In the limelight: Dr Abishek Santhakumar
  • In the limelight: Arundhita Bhanjdeo
  • Subscribe to the Innovator

From the Director

Welcome to the spring edition of the Innovator, it’s been a busy time at the Graham Centre engaging with our stakeholders and research partners.

The role of the Graham Centre in delivering industry relevant research and promoting discussion in our rural communities has been highlighted at recent events. Charles Sturt University (CSU) through the Graham Centre was pleased to host the Australian Society of Animal Production’s annual conference in July and it was pleasing to see the quality of research and thought provoking discussion presented at the event. We’ve also enjoyed the opportunity to meet with producers at the Centre’s annual livestock forums and the Agribusiness Today Forum in Parkes.

Professor Michael Friend, Associate Professor Jane Heller and Professor John MawsonI’d like to take the opportunity to welcome Associate Professor Jane Heller as the new Chair of the Graham Centre Board. Jane takes on the role following the departure of Professor John Mawson. Our Research Pathway Leaders are working to develop strategic plans for their respective research pathways, aligning with the Centre’s strategic plan and red meat and grain industry strategic plans. As part of this process, we held a facilitated workshop with the Centre’s Industry Advisory Panel in June to explore the larger research and development landscape, the research opportunities and how the Centre can value add to its research portfolio.

We held a very productive workshop at the end of July with Professor David Lamb, Chief Scientist and Peter Loneragen, Innovation Broker of the Food Agility Cooperative Research Centre (CRC). They met with researchers and to explore project opportunities as part of the CRC.

After little rain during winter and forecasts of a hotter and drier spring producers across eastern Australia are facing drought conditions. I encourage you to take advantage of the assistance on offer and make the most of the information and resources available through the NSW Department of Primary Industries (DPI), Local Land Services (LLS) and through organisations like our farming systems group partners, to help you make decisions on-farm. Of course most importantly look after yourself and those around you.


Professor Michael Friend


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Associate Professor Shokoofeh Shamsi

Election to the University Council

Graham Centre member, Associate Professor Shokoofeh Shamsi has been elected to the Charles Sturt University (CSU) Council. The Council is the governing board of the University, responsible for the proper stewardship and strategic direction of CSU. Professor Shamsi began her two-year term on the Council in July.

Professor Shamsi has also been awarded a CSU Senior Research Fellowship for her research focused on parasites, especially those causing diseases in humans and animals.

More research fellowships

Graham Centre member Professor Jade Forwood was also awarded a Senior Research Fellowship, his research interests are medical biochemistry, molecular biology and pharmacology. Dr Lihong Zheng was also awarded a Research Fellowship.

PhD student success

Cara Wilson receiving her awardPhD candidate Ms Cara Wilson picked up the prize for the best student presentation at the Australian Society of Animal Production annual conference in July. Ms Wilson is researching the impact of hydatid disease on the Australian beef industry.

Graham Centre PhD candidate Mrs Forough Ataollahi is one of three finalists in the NSW International Student Awards for 2018 in the Higher Education category. The ceremony for the awards will be held on Tuesday 25 September.

PhD candidate Ms Shumaila Arif and Mr Shafi Sahibzada have submitted their research and are expected to graduate in December.

Shafaet Hossen successfully completed his EoC in July 2018 for his project, Molecular characterisation of selected parasites from commercially important fish in south-eastern region of Australia.


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Livestock Forum and Agribusiness Today Forum

Conference puts spotlight on innovation in animal production

From a piggery making use of liquid food waste, to new technology, and research to better understand consumer attitudes - the Animal Production 2018 conference showcased innovation.

Charles Sturt University (CSU) through the Graham Centre, hosted the Australian Society of Animal Production’s biennial conference in July.

More than 300 academics, researchers, producers, consultants, students and industry representatives attended the event.

The Graham Centre’s livestock forum was held as part of the conference, highlighting research with practical application on-farm.

Producers were able to hear updates about animal health, including sheep measles, drench resistance, and Ovine Brucellosis.

There was also information about making the most of new technology such as genomics testing and the National Livestock Identification System.

Other presentations focused on livestock supplementation, the economics of mixed farms and how to make the best fodder from cereal and canola crops.

If you missed it, download a copy of the proceedings.

Reg and Rory Menzies, Glenwann Ganmain and Brad Johnston Ag N Vet Ganmain  Professor Fred Provenza  The audience listens to presenters 
Marcus Stacey, Camelot Tumut, Ryan Malone Robin Hill Tumut, Harry Meek CSU student  Michael Gooden, Galore and James Crawford Galimbang, Adelong  Amie and Mel Elworth, Burrenderry Gundagai and Maria and Brooke Anderson Wodalla Tumbarumba. 

Focus on mixed farming technology.

Improving  the efficiency and productivity of mixed farming operations was the focus of the Agribusiness Today Forum in Parkes in August.

Nearly 90 producers attended to hear more than a dozen speakers talk about new technology and the potential benefits for the mixed farming sector.

The Forum was  supported by CSU and Regional Development Australia (RDA) Central West, in partnership with the Graham Centre, Local Land Services Central West and Central Tablelands and Central West Farming Systems (CWFS).

Ben Watts, Nigel Tompkins and Derrick ThompsonParticipants listening to a presentationEmily King AWI, and Megan Rogers, Sheep Connect


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Internship shows value of science in beef breeding

From weighing newborn calves in the paddock to carcass evaluation in the abattoir, two Charles Sturt University (CSU) students have seen the value of scientific data in beef breeding and production.

Georgia Howell, CSU farm manager James Stephens and Jack ShultzCSU Bachelor of Veterinary Science student Ms Georgia Howell and Bachelor of Agricultural Science student Mr Jack Shultz have been undertaking an internship with Angus Australia and the Graham Centre for Agricultural Innovation.

As part of the internship the students have been involved with the Angus Sire Benchmarking Project, which aims to evaluate the current tools used by Angus breeders to select bulls.

The CSU herd is one of the co-operator herds in the project and Mr Shultz has relished the opportunity to be involved.

“For the past fortnight most of my spare time has been spent on the Charles Sturt University farm, monitoring the calving so we can identify and weigh the calves to record the data,” Mr Shultz said.

“After being involved in the benchmarking project I can see the value of having accurate records of cows and calves in genetic selection.

I’ve really enjoyed the practical experience as part of this internship to compliment the theory that I am learning in my university studies.”

Ms Howell says the internship has broadened her knowledge about the industry and how information is collected and used.

“Being part of this internship has helped me see all the work that goes in behind the scenes and the immense amount of data used to create Estimated Breeding Values (EBV), it’s not just a number there’s a sound scientific base behind it.

“One of my placements involved visiting a processor at Warwick, where I was able to see how the data is collected and put together, right from the steers coming in to the carcass data collection, meat samples, intramuscular fat (IMF) and chemical analysis.”

Ms Howell is originally from Amphitheater in central Victoria and Mr Shultz is from Ambrose near Rockhampton in central Queensland.

As part of their internship the students also assisted at the Anugs Youth Roundup in Wodonga in January.


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Meat scientist recognised by ASAP

Graham Centre member Dr David Hopkins has been recognised for his contribution to animal production over a research career spanning more than 30 years.

Dr Hopkins has been awarded a Fellowship of the Australian Society of Animal Production (ASAP) in recognition of his ‘exceptional and sustained contributions to animal production through research and service to the livestock industries in Australia and to the Society’.

Dr Hopkins is a senior principal research scientist at the NSW Department of Primary Industries (DPI) and his research focuses on meat science.

Dr David Hopkins with ASAP President Phil HyndThis includes processing and measurement technologies for sheep meat, development of new lamb cuts and a database on the meat quality of lamb cuts, manipulation of ageing rate in beef and the measurement of meat traits using spectroscopy.

He’s also been involved in research that’s been adopted by the industry, such as VIASCAN®, new generation electrical stimulation, and SMARTSHAPE™.

Dr Hopkins said, “Seeing research and development outcomes adopted by industry is gratifying, as research results that only make it to scientific papers are a lost opportunity.”

In presenting the Fellowship, ASAP also praised Dr Hopkins work in mentoring colleagues and young scientists.

“David has always proven generous with his time and experience, whether discussing practical opportunities and solutions with industry stakeholders or presenting a keynote address at a scientific conference. Moreover, ‘Hoppy’ is an active mentor, supervisor and friend for post-graduate students, his research team members, and visiting or junior scientists alike, and from around the globe,” the Fellowship citation reads.

Dr Hopkins has published more than 500 scientific journal papers, chapters and technical and extension papers.

He is an Adjunct Professor at Charles Sturt University (CSU), University of New England and Shandong Agricultural University (China), and is also a Distinguished Professor of the Chinese Academy of Agricultural Science and is currently the Editor-in-Chief for the International journal, Meat Science.


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Graham Centre students at the 3MT

Is white rice naughty or nice? This question captured the judges’ attention and earned PhD student Ms Michelle Toutounji the title in the Charles Sturt University (CSU) Three Minute Thesis (3MT) final in Wagga Wagga.

The finalists in the 3MTIn the competition, students must describe their research within three minutes to a general audience, using only one slide.

Ms Toutounji was also awarded the People’s Choice award for her explanation of her research to alter the starch structure in white rice, using heat and pressure treatments, to produce a diabetic friendly product.

The judges praised Ms Toutounji for being able to make complex research interesting and easy to understand and complemented her on sharing a personal experience also as part of the story.

She will represent CSU at the Three-Minute Thesis Asia Pacific Final at the end of September.

The runner-up in the CSU competition was Ms Esther Callcott for her three-minute thesis about the potential health benefits of coloured rice in combating obesity.

Both CSU students are completing their research through the Australian Research Council Industrial Transformation Training Centre for Functional Grains (The Functional Grains ITTC.

Five of the eight PhD students who qualified for the final were from the Graham Centre, congratulations also to Ms Esther Callcott, Mr Yuchi Chen, Mr Stephen Cork and Ms Shiwangni Rao.


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Where in the world

Sharing our research locally

Graham Centre PhD student Ms Forough Ataollahi has presented her research into the impact of calcium and magnesium supplements on the health and immunity of ewes and their lambs at the Merinolink annual conference in Goulburn. She was one of four Charles Sturt university (CSU) students who presented research at the event.

Photo of Dr Remy DehaanAll eyes were on the sky when Graham Centre member Dr Remy Dehaan from Charles Sturt University’s (CSU) School of Environmental Sciences demonstrated drone technology at the Lockhart and District Ag Bureau’s mid-year rally.

Acid soil focus in Malaysia

Once every three years an international symposium puts the focus on acid soils. Graham Centre PhD student Mr Hoang Han Nguyen was amongst the 200 delegates at the 10th International Symposium on Plant-Soil Interactions at Low pH held in June in Malaysia.

Mr Nguyen presented his research into increasing the subsoil pH by adding lucerne pellets to the surface layer of an acid soil.

“This was a great opportunity for me to share my PhD research to a number of soil and plant scientists,” Mr Nguyen said.

“As most amelioration strategies aim to increase soil pH at the incorporation. My research showed that organic matter can increase soil pH at the layers below placement layer. Interestingly, organic matter in combination with lime increase subsoil pH greater than its application alone.”

The third day of the symposium was a field tour to a palm oil plantation to observe the soil profile up to 130 cm.

“This tour helped me understand and compare soil profile of different countries such as Australia, Malaysia and Vietnam,” Mr Nguyen said.

“I found the whole symposium beneficial and it was interesting to hear the latest research, not only in soil amelioration but also in plant breeding for adapting crops to low pH soils.”

More than 40 speakers presented their research including four plenaries, seven keynote presentations and 33 oral presentations. There were 67 posters displayed during the conference.

Meat science in Kansas

Kansas City in Missouri was the destination for Charles Sturt University (CSU) Master of Philosophy student Ashleigh Kilgannon to attend the 71st Reciprocal Meat Conference and present some preliminary findings from her research.

Ms Kilgannon is based at the Centre for Red Meat and Sheep Development at the NSW Department of Primary Industries (DPI) in Cowra.

Ashleigh Kilgannon and traditional BBQShe is studying the effects of temperature manipulation during the ageing of beef on its quality as part of an AMPC funded project.

Her poster ‘The effect of controlled temperature-time variation during the chilled storage of beef on tenderness characteristics’ detailed findings which indicate that the application of this temperature manipulation had no effect on the shear force or particle size of beef.

The research involved 72 different combinations and found that the application of the temperature-time combinations used, resulted in beef that was of equal tenderness to control samples.

Ms Kilgannon said, “The conference provided an opportunity to network with other students, as well as professionals and company representatives in the US meat science industry.

“This year, RMC had a heavy focus on the sustainability of meat production within the US domestic market as well as globally.

“There was also much discussion about the production and classification of cultured meat, amongst other discussions surrounding animal health and human nutrition.”

Ms Kilgannon’s travel was supported by the Graham Centre.

Sunita Pandey in ItalyEntomology in Italy: Graham Centre PhD candidate Ms Sunita Pandey presented her research into ecosystem services for agriculture from native Australian plants at the XI European Congress of Entomology Conference, held in Italy in July.

“The conference saw around 1000 delegates from more than 65 countries with both oral and poster presentations,” Ms Pandey said.

“My oral presentation presented the results from my studies of Australian native plants for beneficial effects on natural enemies. The research also measured the strength of different ecosystem services.

“The conference was a great opportunity to enhance my knowledge of research in Agricultural entomology, network with other students and researchers working in the area of conservation biological control and to experience Italian culture.”

European study tour broadens view of agriculture

A European study tour has allowed Graham Centre PhD student Mrs Jane Kelly to develop her research and tap into international expertise at an international symposium.

The first stop for Mrs Kelly was Harper Adams University (HAU) in the United Kingdom. Ms Kelly was able to work with her supervisor, Professor Karl Behrendt on a seed contamination model as part of her research into the impact of weed seeds, such as barley grass, on sheep production.

From there Mrs Kelly attended the 18th European Weed Research Society Symposium in Ljubljana, Slovenia.

Mrs Kelly said the focus of the conference was ‘New approaches for smarter weed management’ and most of Europe, Africa, South East Asia, Australia and New Zealand were represented.

“Topics for discussion included crop diversity and mixture effects on weed suppression, chemical weed management, and new technology such as image analysis, computational technologies and the use of mobiles for weed identification,” said Mrs Kelly.

Mrs Kelly said that another keynote presentation focused on artificial intelligence (AI) in weed management.

“Technology is  available in the United States is being used to identify weeds from crops and specifically spray individual weeds, reducing the cost and usage of herbicides,” Mrs Kelly said.

“Farmers are now looking at ways to incorporate this technology into their farming systems, although the cost and the limitations of the technology were not discussed during the presentation.

“This experience has opened my eyes significantly to the weed control strategies and challenges faced across Europe and has provided wonderful opportunities for me to develop some great networks with other researchers across the world.

“I have not only achieved a pivotal step in my PhD whilst working in the UK, but have also been able to view my research with a new perspective and consider the future post-doctoral work in Australia and collaboration with others in European countries.”

Mrs Kelly’s travel was supported by the AW Howard Memorial Trust and the Graham Centre for Agricultural Innovation.


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Graham Centre scholars at Crawford Fund Conference

The challenges of meeting the nutritional needs of a growing global population have been explored at the Crawford Fund’s annual conference held in Canberra in August.

Support from the Graham Centre allowed two Charles Sturt University (CSU) scholars to take part in the event, Post Doctoral Research Fellow Dr Jian Liu and Bachelor of Agricultural Science Honours student Mr Matt Champness.

Nutrition: the global challenge

Graham Centre scholars, Dr Jiam Liu (far left) and Matt Champness (2nd from the right) at the conference The Crawford Fund Conference brought together international researchers, students and government representatives to discuss the theme, ‘Reshaping agriculture for better nutrition – the agriculture, food, nutrition, health nexus’.

Mr Champness said the conference showed the different nutritional challenges faced by the global community.

“Globally, since 1969, we have halved the number of people going to bed hungry, however the conference highlighted that food in the belly doesn’t signify proper nutrition,” said Mr Champness.

“Two billion people are considered malnourished, lacking key micronutrients like iron and vitamin A.  151 million children are stunted and 52 million are wasted, affecting brain development and life expectancy. Simultaneously, 2.1 billion adults and 38 million children are overweight or obese, costing $2 trillion annually.”

Dr Liu said, “The discussion explored the complex issues human kind is facing globally. This was thought provoking for me, as an agricultural researcher.

“I having been focusing on improving pest management in a few crop systems and hadn’t previously fully appreciated the link between my work and the global nutrition problem.

“Scientists focusing on research should broaden their world-view, rather than focusing solely on their specific discipline. The conference has shown me that the world really needs more multi-disciplinary efforts.”

The scholarship program

The 2018 Crawford Fund Scholar program brought 44 young researchers to network and learn more about international agricultural research and development.

The program also pairs scholars, who are students and early career researchers with mentors.

Dr Liu was mentored by value chain economist Dr Dale Yi from Plant & Food Research.

“The mentors shared their experience, success, challenges and tips in global agriculture research.”

Mr Champness said, “I was lucky enough to be paired with Professor Peter Wynn, an adjunct Professor of Animal Production at Charles Sturt University who has a CV longer than I could ever image, with a research background in sheep, dairy and pig physiology and beef and sheep meat production.”

Mr Champness was also inspired by presentations to the scholars by Crawford Fund Chairman, the John Anderson AO and by Foreign Minister the Hon Julie Bishop MP.

“In a time of great hardship for farmers across NSW and Queensland, it is easy to call cuts to funding for international agricultural development and invest it locally.

“However, as a country, we have an obligation to help our neighbours in the Pacific who don’t have the mechanisms, systems or education to bring them through times of adversity.

“I was interested to hear that for every dollar Australia invests in foreign aid, we receive seven back in benefit,” Mr Champness said.

Final thoughts

Dr Liu said, “This experience has illuminated the pathway ahead for my international agriculture research adventure.”

Mr Champness said, “The conference and scholarship program not only opened my eyes to the severe nutritional issues we are facing, it inspired me and gave ideas about how to continue postgraduate studies and work collaboratively with international and Australian farmers to help solve malnutrition in an environmentally, socially and economically sustainable manner.”


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Research update: developing ecological approaches to check vegetable pests

Dr Syed Rizvi and Dr Dr Ahsanul Haque Research through the Graham Centre for Agricultural Innovation aims to develop ecological approaches to boost beneficial insects to check pest build up in vegetable crops.

The project is led by Charles Sturt University (CSU) Professor Geoff Gurr and is funded by Hort Innovation.

“Pressure is mounting to reduce reliance on insecticide spraying to control vegetable pests,” Professor Gurr said.

“Our research aims to help growers by developing methods that are simple to implement, compatible with mainstream farming operations and can help drive down costs.”

Surveys provide insight

The project team, including CSU Post Doctoral Research Fellows, Dr Syed Rizvi and Dr Ahsanul Haque has been busy surveying insect pests and beneficials (predators and parasites of pests) in corn, lettuce, carrot and brassica crops across South Australia, Western Australia, Tasmania, Queensland and New South Wales.

Professor Gurr said early results are providing useful pointers to what factors influence the abundance of beneficials and the pests they attack.

“First, among the sites that were under organic production, beneficials were much more numerous than in conventional crops where synthetic insecticides were used.

“This enhancement of beneficials kept pests in check as effectively as insecticide spraying in the conventional crops, it shows the potential of biological control.”

Fig. 1 Numbers of pests and beneficials in vegetable crops under ‘inorganic’ management, i.e. with use of synthetic insecticides and organic production. Pests are no more common in the organic crops than in inorganic crops, largely as a result of the significantly greater numbers of beneficial insects (predators and parasites). Here the average numbers are shown for a survey of 149 crop fields in Australia. Stars show where averages are statistically significantly different when comparing ‘inorganic’ and organic beneficial insect means. Numbers in brackets show the numbers of sites of each type of management.

Land use is important

Professor Gurr said organic farming is not for everyone and a key part of the research is examining what else might farmers try as a more integrated pest management approach.

“The second major finding from the field surveys is that the type of land use immediately adjacent to the crop strongly influences numbers of pests and beneficials in the crop itself; sometimes to the benefit of growers, sometimes to their detriment,” Professor Gurr said.

This is an important finding because other work, recently published in the American journal, Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, showed that simply having lots of natural vegetation in the wider landscape was no guarantee of lower pest numbers. Read more on CSU News here. (link to CSU News story)

“It seems that local management may be a more important influence on pest numbers than landscape scale vegetation patterns.

“This is actually good news for farmers because it implies that the things directly under their control, like pesticide use patterns, the layout of crops in relation to each other, and features like roads and dams,  are what really matter. “

Further work is required to get to the bottom of these types of effects; and that’s exactly what the team will be doing in the next phase of the Hort Innovation project.

Graham Centre researchers working on the project include Professor Gurr, Dr Syed Rizvi, Dr Ahsanul Haque and Ms Annie Johnson and NSW Department of Primary Industries senior research scientist Dr Olivia Reynolds.


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Mature mothers and maiden ewes don’t always mix

What’s the impact on lamb survival of lambing maiden ewes with mature mothers? The results of new research from the Graham Centre for Agricultural Innovation may surprise you.

Dr Susan RobertsonA paddock-scale trial run by Dr Susan Robertson, from the Charles Sturt University School of Agricultural, Environmental and Veterinary Sciences, has found putting mature ewes with maiden ewes reduced the survival of lambs from the young mothers.

Dr Robertson said, “We wondered whether putting maiden ewes with experienced mothers would allow them to learn from observing the maternal behaviour of the mature ewes.

“Our research compared lamb survival rates from maiden ewes that were exposed to mature lambing ewes before lambing, with maiden ewes that had not been exposed to mature ewes.

"We found the survival of lambs from maiden ewes may have been reduced by eight per cent when lambing occurred in the same paddock with mature ewes, who had lambed up to two weeks before the maidens," Dr Robertson said.

In a second study, where maiden ewes were exposed to mature lambing ewes and then lambed in a separate paddock, we found lamb survival was reduced from 81 per cent to 73 per cent in comparison to non-exposed maidens.

"We are not sure why this occurred. It is not clear if the maiden ewes didn't learn from observing mature ewes, if maiden maternal behaviour was changed in some way - perhaps with maidens showing more interest in lambs other than their own, or if another factor reduced lamb survival from exposed maidens," said Dr Robertson.

“This research indicates that producers may increase lamb survival from maidens by avoiding grazing mature lambing ewes with maidens either before or during lambing.”

Other factors which could be managed by producers include minimising the impact of severe weather events, managing nutrition and maintaining optimal body condition score.

The study was conducted with the approval of the CSU Animal Ethics committee.


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Promoting platypus research

Graham Centre member Dr Joanne Connolly has been presenting her research into mucormycosis, a fungal disease that affects Tasmanian platypus and frogs and toads on the mainland.

Dr Joanne ConnollyDr Connolly was an invited speaker at the national conference of the Australian Society for Microbiology (ASM) in Brisbane in July, giving a symposium on Mucormycosis in the platypus and the amphibian.

The conference featured eminent scientists from Australia and around the world. There were over 160 oral presentations and 400 poster presentations on a diverse range of topics.

Dr Connolly also presented two posters at the 64th Australian Mammal Society (AMS) meeting, also held in Brisbane. She presented a poster on Haemolytic anaemia associated with Theileria sp. in an orphaned platypus, which was co-authored by Dr Geoff Dutton, Associate Professor Robert Woodgate, Associate Professor Shokoofeh Shamsi, Dr Andrew Peters and Allan Kessell, and a poster on Mucormycosis in the platypus and the anuran co-authored by Dr Ali Ghorashi and Dr Benjamin Stodart.

The fungus, Mucor amphibiorum, is the only disease agent known to cause significant morbidity and mortality in the free-living platypus.

Dr Connolly said, “This fungus was responsible for eight per cent of 25 Tasmanian platypus deaths recorded in one year and distribution of disease has expended to at least eleven catchments since the first case in the Elizabeth River at Campbell Town.

“The progressive and fatal nature of mucormycosis and the infection of multiple animals in different populations suggest the disease may impact Tasmanian platypuses at both the individual and population level.

“There is currently no threat abatement plan currently in existence for mucormycosis in the platypus and little or no coordinated monitoring of platypuses for this deadly disease.

“Surveillance and risk analysis for mucormycosis in the platypus, especially in currently disease-free zones, is highly recommended.

“These conference presentations were an effective way of increasing awareness in mainland Australia of the risk of mucormycosis to the platypus, promoting increased surveillance and making new research contacts,” Dr Connolly said.


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Boosting the capacity for vegetable production in Lao PDR and Cambodia

Graham Centre researchers are contributing to a project to improve production, management and marketing of vegetables in Cambodia and Lao PDR.

The project is a partnership brokered by the Australian Centre for International Agricultural Research (ACIAR) involving collaborators in Australia, Cambodia and Laos.

Dr Nicola Wunderlichwith workshop participants at CARDI, Phnom Penh, Cambodia.Dr Ben Stodart and Dr Nicola Wunderlich from the Charles Sturt University School of Agricultural, Environmental and Veterinary Sciences are focusing on the crop protection and integrated pest management.

The vegetable industries in Cambodia and Lao PDR face a number of shared challenges including low yields, high post-harvest losses, increased pest and disease pressure, particularly during the wet season, product that does not conform to quality demands of consumers and meeting market demand during the wet season, Dr Wunderlich said.

It’s been identified that ineffective pest management programs also lead to an over-reliance on chemical control, which is exacerbated during the wet season.”

The project encourages farmers to still try and meet market demand by growing these crops under the less favourable conditions during the wet season, with the help of protected structures, which are a similar set up to our glasshouses but are made from locally available materials.

Dr Wunderlich recently travelled to South-East Asia to facilitate three-day workshops with project team members and other representatives from partner organisations.

“The workshops aimed at increasing knowledge on Integrated Pest and Disease Management (IPM) concepts and methods, so the participants have the confidence in promoting these methods to extension staff and farmers,” Dr Wunderlich said.

“We also wanted to find out the potential constraints for farmers in adopting these practices so we can develop action plans to overcome them in our extension activities.”

Small group exercise with workshop participants analysing the constraints for farmers to adopt crop rotations on a pinboard Workshops were held at the Cambodian Agricultural Research and Development Institute (CARDI), Phnom Penh and the Horticultural Research Centre, Vientiane, Laos.

The project is titled 'Improving market engagement, postharvest management and productivity of the Cambodian and Lao PDR vegetable industries'.

Project partner organisations and collaborators include The University of Adelaide, CSU, the University of Newcastle, the General Directorate of Agriculture, Cambodian Agricultural Research and Development Institute, Royal University of Agriculture, International Development Enterprises, the Horticultural Research Centre in Laos and the National University of Laos.

A personal perspective on research for development

Dr Wunderlich is a postdoctoral research fellow at the Graham Centre and has a background in plant pathology.

She has worked as an agronomy extension specialist at the International Rice Research institute (IRRI) in the Philippines, a consultant for ICON Group International, Inc. and curator for TotoAg/TotoGeo information dissemination platform, a Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation funded project headed by INSEAD.

“My original interest in International Agricultural Development stemmed from training and working with East Timorese Plant Pathologists here at Charles Sturt University and in East Timor on a previous ACIAR project almost 10 years ago,”Dr Wunderlich said.

“This experience lead me to shift my involvement with science from being purely laboratory research based to focusing more on the link between research outcomes and innovations and their practical implication for farmers, and in particular adoption and the constraints to adoption by farmers”.


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Project to put dung beetles to work

Flip over a cow pat this spring and you might see the work of dung beetles.  Look out for the small tunnels where they’ve buried the dung into the soil, disturbing the manure and improving the flow of water and nutrients.

Graham Centre researchers are part of a national research effort to develop producer knowledge and capacity to enable dung beetles to deliver on-farm benefits.

The $23 million project will be led by Meat and Livestock Australia (MLA) with the research being led by Charles Sturt University (CSU) through the Graham Centre.

Graham Centre Director Professor Michael Friend said, “This project aims to build our knowledge of the role that native and imported dung beetles provide in farming systems such as improving pasture and soil health and reducing the spread of flies and parasites.”

A CSIRO run program from 1964 to the mid 1990’s introduced dung beetles from southern Africa and southern Europe, with 23 species established in Australia.

CSU Professor Leslie Weston said this new project will develop information and pathways for dung beetles to be incorporated more widely into livestock production systems.

“A key part of this research is developing a regionally specific dung beetle service to farmers supported with extension and monitoring activities,” Professor Weston said. “We’re also going to investigate the importation and mass rearing of three new species and two endemic species that should be more suited to conditions encountered across inland Australia.”

The five-year project is supported by Meat & Livestock Australia (MLA), through funding from the Australian Government’s Rural Research & Development for Profit program.

Professor Geoff Gurr, Professor Leslie Weston, Doug McNicholl and Professor Michael FriendMLA’s Sustainability Innovation Manager Mr Doug McNicholl said the project would enable producers to gain greater knowledge of and access to dung beetles that can provide significant productivity and environmental benefits on-farm.

“Dung beetles play a critical role in grazing ecosystems. By burying dung in the soil, the beetles improve the flow of water, nutrients and carbon into the root zones of pastures, which improves pasture productivity. And by disturbing the dung, they prevent build-up of flies and worms which in turn improves animal productivity.

“In addition to investigating new beetle strains and giving some existing species a population boost, the project will quantify the economic and environmental benefits beetles provide to the red meat industry. We’ll also learn more about how to look after these little critters so that they can continue to do their good work into the future.”

The research is led by CSU with eight partner organisations: The University of Western Australia, CSIRO, Manaaki Whenua – Landcare Research, The University of New England, Dung Beetle Solutions International, Warren Catchments Council, Mingenew-Irwin Group and the Western Australian Department of Primary Industries and Regional Development.


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Are we FMD Ready?

The FMD (foot-and-mouth disease) Ready Project is an innovative project looking at different ways Australia can effectively prepare for, control and contain an FMD outbreak as efficiently and quickly as possible.

In particular, FMD Ready sub-projects involve studying vaccine options, demonstrating the value of farmer-led partnerships in animal health surveillance, improving outbreak modelling capability and developing tools that would assist in determining how farm-to-farm spread is occurring.

Our part in the project

The Graham Centre for Agricultural Innovation is involved in the Farmer-led Surveillance sub-project, examining ways to improve partnerships on the ground between all livestock industry stakeholders including producers and vets.

The goal of the subproject is to enhance regular monitoring of animal health and reporting of unusual signs of disease through these improved partnerships. The goal is to assist with early detection, and a rapid and effective response to the introduction and spread of significant diseases.

Listening to producers

As part of the FMD Ready surveillance subproject, survey data is being collected from producers in the major livestock industries potentially affected by an FMD outbreak. This allows the research team to better understand the vital role rural communities play in biosecurity and the potential role improved partnership might play in improving the effectiveness of surveillance systems.

The sheep, beef and goat surveys have already provided a large amount of data concerning practices and beliefs of Australian livestock producers around animal disease management.

There’s still time for pork producers to complete a survey and for dairy producers to complete a survey.

“This online survey aims to build our knowledge about Australian livestock producers, their animal health management, and attitudes towards surveillance for emergency animal diseases,” Dr Hernandez-Jover said.

“We want to investigate how pork and dairy producers can be better supported to improve on-farm profitability and animal health management, through innovative communication and extension approaches.”

The Project is supported by Meat & Livestock Australia (MLA), through funding from the Australian Government Department of Agriculture and Water Resources as part of its Rural Research & Development for Profit program, and by producer levies from Australian FMD-susceptible livestock (cattle, sheep, goats and pigs) industries and Charles Sturt University (CSU), leveraging significant in-kind support from the research partners.

The research partners for this project are the Commonwealth Science and Industrial Research Organisation (CSIRO),   CSU through the Graham Centre for Agricultural Innovation, the Bureau of Meteorology (BOM) and the Australian Department of Agriculture and Water Resources, supported by Animal Health Australia (AHA).

For more information about The Project visit


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In the limelight: Dr Abishek Santhakumar

Position: Lecturer in Haematology, School of Biomedical Science; Chief Investigator and Discipline Leader (Health), ARC ITTC for Functional Grains

Organisation: Charles Sturt University

Career Brief

Dr Abishek SanthakumarDr Santhakumar completed his Doctor of Philosophy at Griffith University in 2014. He started his academic career in Medical Laboratory Science (Pathology) at Griffith University in 2011. In 2014, he was appointed as a lecturer in Haematology in the Pathology discipline at Central Queensland University. Abishek is currently a lecturer and researcher in Haematology and Blood Banking at the Charles Sturt University (CSU) School of Biomedical Sciences. Dr Santhakumar’s research investigates the role of natural dietary antioxidant compounds in reducing the risk factors of cardiovascular and metabolic diseases. During his research tenure, he has led nationally registered human clinical trials investigating the feasibility and efficacy of natural antioxidant compounds as therapeutic alternatives in diverse pro-thrombotic and at-risk populations.).

Research and Teaching Activities and Interests

Research activities

  • Investigating the effect of cereal and pulse bioactive compounds in modulating risk factors of cardiovascular disease, diabetes and obesity
  • Exploring the preventive role of dietary antioxidant polyphenols on haemostasis and platelet activity in thrombosis during oxidative stress
  • Cereal and pulse polyphenol characterisation and antioxidant profiling

Teaching activities

Course coordinator and lecturer (Bachelor of Medical Science).

Professional Links

A typical day for me includes …

Addressing emails (which has become a 11/7 business), catching up with my students, abusing coffee, checking into Researchgate/Twitter, sneaking out to play tennis

My main project at the moment is …

To investigate the health benefits of the consumption of bioactive compound-rich grains and pulses in at-risk population

My favourite part of my job is …

That it helps me give back to the community through teaching and research. It gives me immense satisfaction to impart the little I know to my students. Someone once said that “If gaining knowledge is the first step to wisdom, sharing it, is the first step to humanity,” and this is something I strongly believe in. My research allows me to work with people and impact their lives positively.

When I am not in the office I like …

To play tennis or badminton and go out fishing

When I am driving I like to listen to …

Songs that mostly include Bollywood. I play my favourite songs on loop until I get bored.


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In the limelight: Arundhita Bhanjdeo

Supervisors: Dr Gavin Ramsay and Dr Marta Hernandez-Jover

Thesis title: Evaluating outputs and outcomes: A study in transformation

Funding body: Australian Centre for International Agricultural Research (ACIAR)

Currently studying: Doctor of Philosophy (PhD) through the School of Animal and Veterinary Sciences, Charles Sturt University, Wagga Wagga.

Career Brief

Arundhita BhanjdeoI completed my Bachelors and Master in Philosophy from the University of Delhi and then a second Masters in Public Administration from the School of Social Sciences, all in India. Before starting my PhD, I worked as a researcher in an agricultural research and development project (ACIAR) with indigenous women in India, volunteered and played activist in social guarantee schemes, teaching children in government schools as impostor where there were no teachers.

Research Interests..

My current research interests are reading about multiple perspectives and transdisciplinary approaches to research. Having worked in a multi-actor developmental and agricultural project had triggered my interest in the inter-relatedness and communication between the several actors in a system which then can be used to enhance the outcomes for themselves as well as a/the (?) larger system. I am also keenly interested in studying and working on learning outcomes and personal development of individuals working in a project or an organisation.

A typical day for me includes...

My approach to waking up in the morning is season centric, mostly not early. My usual (ideal) day starts and ends with some yoga or running. Currently, I am writing new chapters, editing old ones, stalking journals and doing data entries. I am recently back after my last phase of field work in India, so I’m busy with post data entry, data analysis and further writing. My office day finishes pretty late and so does sleep.

My main project at the moment is...

In studying and mapping how the multiple participants involved in a project perceive the nature of the project and the outcomes from the same. Considering how a project is defined affects how it is implemented, and how the outcomes are perceived affects the development as a result of the project, the project aims to arrive at a systemic process of evaluation focussing on learning and transformation of the participants as well as of the system

My favourite part of my studies is...

What I like the most is the access: to be able to read diverse literature, to be able to read anything and everything. For instance, a couple of days back, I came across a paper which was talking about farming in Space! Sometimes that creates fluidity in the idea of actually doing a PhD which brings me to my next favourite part that is conversations with my supervisors. It has been a profound exercise for me as it makes me practical and disciplined.

When I am not studying I like to..

When I am not studying, I either paint, read Hindi literature or go for a run or cycle. But mostly, it is conversations, over phone with different people. Living a parallel life in a different country can be exciting and taxing too. Sometimes I unwind with Netflix too.

When I am driving I like to listen to...

I have never driven out of Wagga, while in Australia, so my short distance playlists are always Amy Winehouse, Doors and Coke studio Pakistan


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