Charles Sturt University
Graham Centre for Agricultural Innovation

Summer 2018

Table of Contents

  • From the Director
  • Celebrating success at the Graham Centre
  • Graham Centre Graduates
  • Graduation: PhD examines gluten-free choices
  • Graduation: PhD examines sheath brown rot of rice
  • Graduation: Research to improve quality of oilseed meals
  • Graduation:PhD study informs understanding of MRSA
  • Graduation: Research to reduce risks zoonotic disease
  • Graduation: Supporting strategic decision making on mixed farms
  • Graduation: Research in the Mekong Delta
  • Congratulations
  • Answering Q’s about Q Fever
  • National guide for silverleaf nightshade management
  • Internship gives ‘behind the scenes’ view of research
  • National Agriculture Day celebration highlights research and innovation
  • Graham Centre scientist talks lamb at World Sheep Conference
  • Strength in veterinary epidemiology research
  • Parasite research on the program
  • Where in the world
  • In the Limelight: Dr Ehsan Tavakkoli
  • In the Limelight: Kayla Kopp
  • Subscribe to the Innovator

From the Director

As 2018 draws to a close it’s timely to reflect on another successful year of research, collaboration and industry engagement at the Graham Centre.

Associate Professor Marta Hernandez-JoverIt has been a busy year at the Centre and our research income has continued to increase, with significant and impactful research being conducted at a national and international level. The Centre’s members are also working hard to publish and share their findings, with over 180 scientific papers, books and book chapters being published, and with members having presented findings at workshops and conferences in Australia and all over the world.

The Centre is continuing to work closely with our stakeholders to identify opportunities for research that is significant for the red meat and grain industries and that contributes to the development of regional communities. The Centre is fortunate to have the Industry Advisory Panel providing advice on the strategic direction of our research. In addition, the Centre participates in several national bodies and initiatives within the agriculture research landscape, such as the Southern Australian Livestock Research Council and the National RD&E strategies for animal biosecurity and animal welfare. Being involved in these initiatives provides the Graham Centre the opportunity to contribute to the discussions on research priorities for the livestock industries.

We’ve recently celebrated the graduation of six PhD graduates, one Master of Philosophy graduate and six Honours research students supported by the Centre. Their research showed the diversity of the research we undertake, from plant and animal health, zoonotic diseases, grain processing, consumer behaviour and support for farmer decision making. You can read more about their research later in the Innovator.

As you all know, I have been the Acting Director of the Graham Centre since October, when Professor Michael Friend started his role as the Acting CSU Pro-Vice Chancellor, Global Engagement (Research and Partnerships). I have enjoyed working with you all in this role, and I am looking forward to continuing to work with you in 2019. Wishing you a safe and happy festive season.

Associate Professor Marta Hernandez-Jover, Acting Director of the Graham Cetre for Agricultural Innovation


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Celebrating success at the Graham Centre

Members of the Graham Centre for Agricultural Innovation have celebrated another successful year of research and collaboration.

The Centre’s Awards Celebration was an opportunity to network with colleagues and recognise the achievements of our members.

Congratulations to our 2018 award recipients:

Graham Centre Award Winners, Raylene Heath, Michelle Toutounji, Thomas Williams, Adam Frew, John Broster, Leslie Weston and Forough AtaollahiAward for the Highest Research Income

Awarded to the researcher who achieved the Highest Research Income in 2017 (N.B.: this only applies to research income administered by CSU)

Plant Systems Pathway – Dr Ben Stodart

Livestock Systems Pathway – Professor Bing Wang

Grain and Meat Quality Pathway – Professor Chris Blanchard

Award for Highest Number of Publications 2017 (first author)

Awarded to the researcher who achieved the highest number of publications (journals, books and book chapters) during 2017

Dr Benjamin Holman

Award for Highest Number of Publications 2017 (any author)

Awarded to the researcher who achieved the highest number of publications (journals, books and book chapters) during 2017

Professor Chris Blanchard

Outstanding Media Coverage & Research Promotion Student Award

Ms Forough Ataollahi

Outstanding Media Coverage & Research Promotion Researcher Award

Professor Leslie Weston

Engagement Award

Awarded to the researcher or student who has raised the profile of the Centre through research collaboration and outreach activities in 20187

Plant Systems Pathway – Dr John Broster

Livestock Systems Pathway – Dr Shawn McGrath

Grain and Meat Quality Pathway – Dr Michael Campbell

Industry Achievement Award

A special award in 2018 recognising research expertise. Dr Broster's research paper was selected to be the most outstanding paper in weed technology by the Weed Science Society of America Awards Committee

Dr John Broster

Postgraduate Student/Postdoctoral Fellow Service Award

Awarded to the postgraduate student or postdoctoral fellow who has shown outstanding service amongst Graham Centre Research by Higher Degree Students and Postdoctoral Fellows in 2018

Plant Systems Pathway – Dr Adam Frew

Livestock Systems Pathway – Mr Thomas Williams

Grain and Meat Quality Pathway - Ms Michelle Toutounji

Service Award

For the member who has gone above and beyond, showing recognisable contribution to the Centre’s operations in 2018

Ms Raylene Heath


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Graham Centre Graduates

Research to increase our knowledge of plant and animal disease, help farmers make better decisions and give insight on consumer behaviour has been recognised at Charles Sturt University (CSU) graduation ceremonies.

Graham Centre Graduates and supervisors TuesdayThe Graham Centre was pleased to celebrate the achievements of six PhD graduates, one Masters student and six Honours students who have completed their research through the Centre.

Acting Graham Centre Director, Associate Professor Marta Hernandez-Jover said, “Graduation is often the culmination of years of research, dedication and commitment.

The PhDs Master and Honours research demonstrates how the Graham Centre is working to increase the capacity within the grain and red meat industries and to improve the sustainability of these industries and the lives of farmers in Australia and overseas.”

  • Dr Nirodha Weeraratne’s PhD focused on a bacterium responsible for sheath brown rot of rice and her research can be used to develop tools for quarantine and to breed disease resistant wheat and rice. Read more here
  • Dr Kyah Hester’s PhD has uncovered new information on why people without a diagnosed condition choose to avoid gluten in their diets. The study will inform industry and the medical profession. Read more here
  • Dr Lauren Howard’s PhD examined extension support for strategic decision making on mixed farms, recommending better interaction between information providers to help farmers adapt to change. Read more here
  • Mr David Gale was awarded a Master of Philosophy for his research carried out in the Mekong Delta in Vietnam to investigate composting of acid sulfate soils to boost crop production and food security in this developing country. Read more here

Graham Centre graduates and supervisors Tuesday

  • Dr Rebecca Heim was  awarded a PhD for research investigating the nutritional and digestibility characteristics of canola meal. Read more here
  • Dr Shumaila Arif’s PhD has improved our knowledge of brucellosis in Pakistan, recommending a new structure of diagnostic testing and strategies to reduce the risks to smallholder farmers. Read more here
  • Dr Shafi Sahibzada’s PhD has improved our understanding of the bacteria Methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus (or MRSA), providing important information for the pig industry and public health authorities. Read more here

Congratulations also to our Honours students Matt Champness, Jessica Hardie, Madalyn Hobbs, Tabetha Kempe, Keeley Warren, and Simon Wong


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Graduation: PhD examines gluten-free choices

A Charles Sturt University (CSU) PhD graduate, Dr Kyah Hester from the Australian Research Council (ARC) Industrial Transformation Training Centre for Functional Grains hopes her research will provide doctors with insight on why people without a diagnosed condition choose to avoid gluten in their diets.

Dr Kyah HesterDr Hester’s PhD titled ‘Gluten avoidance – trendy food fad, or insight into complex psycho-physiological interactions?’ helps to identify the drivers of non-prescribed gluten avoidance.

“Up to 20 per cent of the population is estimated to take part in gluten avoidance behaviours, far exceeding the number of people with gluten-related disorders such as coeliac disease,” Dr Hester said.

“My research involved an in-depth study of non-prescribed gluten avoiders to measure participants’ perceptions, determinants of food choice, interpersonal experiences relating to their diets and a wide range of psychological variables, including personality traits.”

“This research is the first to establish clear and distinct symptomology relating to non-gluten foods, indicating that this population is more accurately characterised by their response to all foods, not just gluten alone.

”Gluten avoiders also exhibited distinct personality features that are likely to manipulate their attention to and interpretation of internal sensations. These findings are particularly important for health practitioners to consider both in the diagnosis and treatment phase of these individuals.”

Research supervisor, Professor Anthony Saliba from the CSU School of Psychology said the research points to an underlying mechanism that is an interaction between food consumption and psychology.

“This is further evidence that different people need to consume different foods, there is no ‘one size fits all’ advice you can give people on what to eat.

“Avoiding gluten does not reduce symptoms, suggesting that further research is needed on the causes of these uncomfortable symptoms that some people experience. We will be continuing this work by looking into whether Psychological treatment might assist.

“This work has been vital to show that people who avoid gluten are not currently being supported and given the seriousness of the symptoms and prevalence, continuing work in this area is a priority,” Professor Saliba said.

Read more here


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Graduation: PhD examines sheath brown rot of rice

Dr Nirodha Weeraratne has been awarded her PhD for her five years’ of research into a bacterium responsible for sheath brown rot of rice.

“Bacterial sheath rot disease of rice is actually a complex disease, which has shown significant yield loss, quality and quantity wise,” Dr Weeraratne said.

“My research found strains of the bacterium Pseudomonas fuscovaginae from Australian rice plants were pathogenic to wheat. Importantly the strains isolated from wheat from other countries could cause disease on Australian rice cultivars. All the strains were genetically diverse allowing adaptation to multiple host plants.

"Though sheath brown rot is considered a minor disease at the moment, it is imperative that we keep screening our rice and wheat crops regularly, given the changing climate.

"My study provides information that could be used to develop tools for quarantine and also to breed resistant rice and wheat cultivars."

Dr Weeraratne continues to pursue her interest in studying rice diseases in northern Australia as a Postdoctoral Research Fellow at University of Southern Queensland.

Read more here:


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Graduation: Research to improve quality of oilseed meals

Charles Sturt University (CSU) PhD research has shown refining oil-extraction techniques could improve the quality of Australian oilseed meals used as a supplement in feed for livestock.

Dr Rebecca Heim and supervisor Associate Professor Gaye KrebsDr Rebecca Heim's research through the Australian Research Council (ARC) Industrial Transformation Centre for Functional Grains (FGC) at CSU, investigated the nutritional and digestibility characteristics of canola meal for livestock providing  new information for processors who produce canola meal as a by-product of oil production.

Dr Heim said the research is also set to benefit livestock producers, such as dairy farmers, who use the meal in feed for their cows.

“The PhD included a benchmark quantitative survey of general and digestibility characteristics of protein for ruminants in Australian produced oilseed such as canola, soybean, cottonseed, and flaxseed meals,” Dr Heim said.

“The research found that the ruminal digestibility of protein differed between oilseed types and oil-extraction techniques including cold-press, expeller and solvent-extraction, and that crude protein content in canola meal consistently varied between cultivars.”

Dr Heim hopes that the information can be used by meal producers and end-users to enhance feed ration formulations and provide better indications of animal performance.

“The studies also highlight opportunities to improve the quality of Australian oilseed meals by refining oil-extraction technique conditions,” Dr Heim said.

Dr Heim’s research was funded by the Australian Government through the ARC Industrial Transformation Training Centres scheme and was supported by industry partner MSM Milling. Dr Heim was based at CSIRO in Werribee, Victoria.

The FGC is administered by Charles Sturt University and is an initiative of the Graham Centre for Agricultural Innovation

Read more here


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Graduation:PhD study informs understanding of MRSA

Charles Sturt University (CSU) research has improved our understanding of the bacteria Methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus (or MRSA), providing important information for the pig industry and public health authorities.

Dr Shafi Sahibzada Dr Shafi Sahibzada from the Graham Centre for Agricultural Innovation and CSU School of Animal and Veterinary Sciences was awarded his PhD funded by Australian Pork Limited in a ceremony in Wagga Wagga on Tuesday 11 December 2018.

Dr Sahibzada’s research identified and characterised a new strain of MRSA that had been introduced by humans into a single piggery. “Staphylococcus aureus, also known as Staph, are carried by many people on their skin and in the nose. These bacteria are usually harmless but can sometimes cause infection and illness”, Dr Sahibzada said.

Some strains of staph are resistant to the antibiotic called methicillin and these are known as MRSA. MRSA infections are often difficult to treat due to the limited number of antibiotics available to effectively treat them.

This research identified MRSA as a possible occupational risk for workers in close contact with pigs; however, there is no public health issue to the broader community. “Through sampling and modelling techniques my research has quantified the presence and limited impact of MRSA in the Australian pig industry,” Dr Sahibzada said.

The findings and recommendations outlined from this research could be used as a reference point to advocate for and develop relevant strategies and interventions to limit the spread of MRSA among pigs and piggery workers in Australia.


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Graduation: Research to reduce risks zoonotic disease

Dr Shumaila Arif's PhD demonstrates the value of research to improve the health of farmers in developing counties.

Dr Shumaila ArifDr Arif’s research through the Graham Centre for Agricultural Innovation and CSU School of Animal and Veterinary Sciences focused on brucellosis in smallholder farming systems in Pakistan.

“Brucellosis, is a zoonotic disease that can be transmitted from livestock to people and is of particular concern in countries where the disease is endemic and in farming systems where people have frequent contact with animals.” Dr Arif said.

“My research has improved our knowledge of the presence and distribution of brucellosis in Pakistan, and has recommended a new structure of diagnostic testing for the disease.

“In addition, the presence and distribution of the disease was recorded and research working closely with smallholder farmers identified the level of risk and methods to reduce that risk.

“I found that most people were not aware of the risk of zoonotic diseases being transmitted from domestic animals to humans, especially from cattle and buffalo,” Dr Arif said.

Although awareness of brucellosis in animals was high, farmers did not think they could get the same disease from their animals.

“Findings from this study also showed a high level of risky practices being undertaken on farm and at the household across a number of regions.

“Farmer perceptions about brucellosis were also guided by cultural and religious beliefs which could be ill-informed and inappropriate.

“For developing countries like Pakistan, targeted and culturally appropriate health education is required to increase the awareness of not only brucellosis but other zoonotic diseases.”

Dr Arif’s research was supported by an Australian Centre for International Agricultural Research (ACIAR) John Allwright Fellowship.

She is continuing her interest research for development working as a Project Manager in an ACIAR funded project in Pakistan which aims to enhance small ruminant health and production to benefit smallholder farming families.

Read more here


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Graduation: Supporting strategic decision making on mixed farms

Graham Centre PhD graduate Dr Lauren Howard hopes her research will lead to more support for long-term strategic decision making on mixed farms.

Dr Lauren HowardDr Howard was awarded her PhD during a ceremony on Monday 10 December for research examining the complex nature of extension services available to farmers.

“Twenty years ago it was mostly the state departments of agriculture providing extension services to farmers,” Dr Howard said.

“Today those services have changed and there are a lot more stakeholders who provide extension services, including private providers.

“There’s also different relationships and partnerships between providers such as research and development corporations.

“Farm decision making is complex, particularly in mixed farming situations when different enterprises influence one another. I found that the extension environment makes this decision making even more difficult.”

Dr Howard’s research as part of the Future Farming Cooperative Research Centre also found few farmers are seeking out strategic planning advice.

“While there are extension providers who provide day-to-day support, for example what herbicide to spray, or advice on annual decisions such as crop rotations,  there are not many advisors who provide strategic support,” Dr Howard said.

“One of my recommendations is to provide more support to the service providers so that they are better equipped to provide strategic decision making support to farmers.

“My research also examined the sustainability of mixed farming, finding that being resilient and able to adapt to change is really important and that strategic decision making helps farmers to be in a position to adapt their business.”

Dr Howard completed her PhD while juggling the demand of being part of a small family business and raising four children.


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Graduation: Research in the Mekong Delta

Graham Centre graduate Mr David Gale's research took him to the Mekong Delta in Vietnam to investigate composting of acid sulfate soils to boost crop production and food security in this developing country. Mr Gale has been awarded a Master of Philosophy.

Mr David Gale"Vietnam has a land area less than half the size of NSW but a population of 95 million," Mr Gale said. "Acid sulfate soils are common in the Mekong Delta of Vietnam where mangroves have been cleared to expand the land area planted to crops.

"These soils become extremely acidic on drying (pH <4), inducing aluminium toxicity and phosphorus deficiency which limit crop growth.

"The research evaluated the impact of different composted materials, coffee skin compost from Da Lat (Lam Dong province), cow manure compost from Can Tho and sugarcane filtercake compost from Vi Thanh (Hau Giang province) to alleviate these problems."

Supported by a 2014 Prime Minister's Australia Asia Endeavour Outgoing Postgraduate Scholarship Mr Gale spent 18 months at Can Tho University in the south of Vietnam carrying out field and laboratory experiments.

"I led a team of six undergraduate students and a Masters student in the project which presented many capacity building opportunities," Mr Gale said.

"The research found the compost made from the locally sourced bi-product of sugarcane processing decreased aluminium and increased available phosphorus concentrations resulting in increased corn yield for growers in Vietnam."

Mr Gale's research is available here:


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NSW International Student of the Year

Graham Centre PhD student Ms Forough Ataollahi was named 2018 NSW International Student of the Year in the higher education category.

Ms Ataollahi was recognised for her work as the inaugural Women’s Officer for the Council of International Students Australia, the national peak body for international students, and for helping refugees settle into the community. (Video by Study NSW)

Dr John BrosterAward for weeds researcher: Dr John Broster and his colleagues Dr Michael Walsh, University of Sydney and Professor Steve Powles, University of WA have been awarded the outstanding research paper in Weed Technology by the Weed Science Society of America for their paper titled ‘iHSD Mill Efficacy on the Seeds of Australian Cropping System Weeds’. Dr Broster will travel to New Orleans to receive the award in February 2019.  

Summer Scholarships

Congratulations to CSU students Jordan Bathgate, Claire Hibbert, Daniel Kingham and Mohammad Mahbub who have been awarded Graham Centre Summer Scholarships.

The Scholarships are designed to encourage undergraduate students to engage in research activity aligned with the Centre's Research Pathways.


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Answering Q’s about Q Fever

Graham Centre researchers are playing a key role in a national research project that aims to understand the risk of Q Fever and develop emergency response plans for an outbreak of the illness in people.

Q fever is a debilitating illness, caused by the bacterium Coxiella burnetii that can be spread from animals to humans.

Associate Professor Jane HellerCharles Sturt University (CSU) Associate Professor in Veterinary Epidemiology and Public Health Jane Heller said,  “A number of outbreaks of Q Fever in humans have occurred nationally and internationally. The most noteworthy being a recent outbreak in the Netherlands that occurred between 2007 and 2010, which resulted in 4000 cases and 30 deaths in humans, along with the destruction of numerous dairy goats in order to contain the outbreak.

“The recent increase in intensive dairy goat production in Australia, along with an understanding that the causative agent of Q fever (Coxiella burnetii) is present in and shed by many other species inclusive of macropods, highlights the need for improved understanding of this pathogen, disease and appropriate control measures for the Australian situation.”

The big picture

The project ’Taking the Q (query) out of Q Fever: developing a better understanding of the drivers of Q Fever spread in farmed ruminants’ is a multidisciplinary research collaboration.

It is funded by the Australian Government Department of Agriculture and Water Resources as part of its Rural Research & Development for Profit program.

Project partners include CSU, University of Melbourne, University of Sydney, University of Adelaide, University of Queensland, Australian Rickettsial Laboratory, Meredith Dairy, Got Veterinary Consultancies, Agrifutures, DEDJTR and QDAF.

The project is divided into three activities. 1 focuses on determining the factors influencing Q fever transmission within and between commercial dairy goat herds, activity 2 will result in the description of the spatial distribution of Q fever seropositivity in macropods.

The CSU team, led by Professor Heller and including Graham Centre member Ms Lynne Hayes, is focusing on the development of a Q fever research strategy and emergency response to be implemented in case of future Q fever outbreaks.

Our role

Professor Heller says stakeholder workshops will identify the current and potential mechanisms and process of reporting of Q fever cases or outbreaks in both humans and animals.

“This is particularly important for a disease such as Q fever, where both animal health and human health outcomes are possible and the disease is only notifiable for one species- humans,” said Professor Heller.

“We’ll also explore the knowledge, attitudes and practices (KAP) of key stakeholders and the people who influence them.

“We also want to identify reporting and communication within and between sectors.

“Our goal is to build the capacity for identification and recognition of Q fever illness or clusters of disease across different species.

“The next step will be to develop an appropriate emergency response plan that’s targeted at the channels of reporting and communication identified in the research.”

More information about the project is available here


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National guide for silverleaf nightshade management

The first national guide to managing one of Australia’s worst weeds, silverleaf nightshade, has been developed with input from scientists, farmers, industry and community groups.

Dr Hanwen WuGraham Centre member, NSW Department of Primary Industries (DPI) principal research scientist, Dr Hanwen Wu co-authored the new guide.

Dr Wu said the highly persistent summer-active perennial invades crops and pastures and has caused yield losses of up to 75 per cent in the eastern states.

“The good news is silverleaf nightshade can be managed through timing and persistence in applying the controls,” Dr Wu said.

“We have developed a dual action approach to weed management, which offers improved long-term control options to deliver economic benefits for farmers and environmental outcomes for the community.

“The key element in managing silverleaf nightshade is to target both seeds and roots.

“An equal emphasis is given to preventing seed set, reducing the seedbank and controlling the extensive root system, which is a major source of new growth.

“Grazing, slashing or herbicides can help prevent up to 100 per cent seed set and must occur in late spring or early summer when plants are at early flowering, before green berries form.

“Later in the season roots are targeted in a second action, based on research which shows herbicide impact on roots is greatest when plants begin to shut down in autumn.”

As part of the national project, Dr Wu and his team established more than 350 on-farm trials across Australia, covering a total area of 95,000 hectares with 150 trials in NSW, from Nullamanna in the far north of the state to Culcairn in the south.

Silverleaf nightshade is a Weed of National Significance (WoNS), with widespread infestations in NSW, Victoria and South Australia, with localised infestations in Western Australia and Queensland.

The new Silverleaf Nightshade: Australian best practice management manual 2018, a collaborative project between NSW DPI and Primary Industries and Regions South Australia (PIRSA), is available online.

Produced with funding from NSW DPI, PIRSA, Meat & Livestock Australia, Australian Wool Innovation, South Australian Grains Industry Trust, the Australian Government and Victorian Department of Economic Development, Jobs, Transport and Resources, the best practice management guide was supported by Murrumbidgee Landcare and the Graham Centre.

This article was first published by NSW DPI


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Internship gives ‘behind the scenes’ view of research

Taking part in a Graham Centre internship program has given veterinary science student Michelle Bye practical field and laboratory skills, and new insight into research.

Ms Michelle ByeThe program aims to encourage undergraduate students to engage in our research activities and learn more about the types of projects and potential supervisors available through the Centre.

Ms Bye was one of five students undertaking the program in 2018.

“One of the most interesting experiences during my internship has been working closely with staff on a current project involving industry-level Foot and Mouth Disease preparedness,” Ms Bye said.

“This ‘behind the scenes’ look into how research projects are actually conducted on a practical level has been invaluable and is something I would not have gained through my course work.

“I have gained a lot of hands-on experience working with sheep and also a lot of laboratory experience-very relevant to me as my Honours project is in this area.”

Ms Bye is now undertaking her Honours research and hopes to gain experience in clinical practice before one day specialising or pursuing research in a PhD.

“I'm very grateful to the Graham Centre for offering such a unique opportunity for undergraduates.

“I think veterinary students are sometimes so focused on getting out to practice the opportunities for a research career can be overlooked.”

Applications for the 2019 Graham Centre student internship program are open until Thursday 28 February and more information is available here.


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National Agriculture Day celebration highlights research and innovation

The role of research and development in supporting the growth of primary industries was highlighted on National Agriculture Day on Wednesday 21 November.

AgriFutures Australia, the Graham Centre for Agricultural Innovation and Regional Development Australia (RDA) Riverina hosted a free BBQ in Wagga Wagga attended by 100 people.

National Agriculture Day is an initiative by the National Farmers’ Federation and the theme for 2018 was  ‘Grow for Good’.

Acting Director of the Graham Centre, Associate Professor Marta Hernandez-Jover said, “We wanted this event to shine a light on the importance of agriculture while making a positive difference to those who are experiencing drought,” said Professor Hernandez-Jover.

Gold coin donations collected on the day were given to the NSW Country Women’s Association drought relief effort.

The event was also supported by the Junee Rotary Club and Big Springs Natural Spring Water.


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Graham Centre scientist talks lamb at World Sheep Conference

The challenges of producing bigger, leaner lamb carcases and still meeting consumer expectations were discussed by Graham Centre member and Senior Principal Research Scientist with NSW Department of Primary Industries (DPI) Dr David Hopkins, at the recent 2nd World Sheep Conference.

Dr David HopkinsDr Hopkins was invited to present the keynote paper ‘Australian lamb meat – recent developments and the challenges’ at the Conference in Nanjing, China.

“Since the 1980’s improved farm practices and increases in genetic gains have increased the average carcase weight of slaughtered lambs,” Dr Hopkins said.

“This has significantly aided Australian lamb exports to regions such as North America and helped to increase the amount of lean meat and decrease fat in lamb retail cuts.

“But it has created a challenge for the industry to utilise the larger carcases and extra cuts, and also to ensure eating quality is not decreased.

“This has reinforced the need for an effective eating quality grading system and thus Meat Standards Australia is further developing the system to provide eating quality of selected cuts.

“At the same time geneticists have been focusing on creating balanced breeding objectives for stud breeders that account for the antagonistic relationship between increased lean and decreased eating quality.”

Dr Hopkins’ presentation outlined this latest work and presented results on a recent large consumer survey which confirmed that one to two person households, which are the dominant size now in Australia, prefer lighter lamb roasts than those traditionally produced.

“To address this issue a new cut has been developed called the compact shoulder roast and this along with new packaging methods is designed to provide consumers lamb which meets their needs,” Dr Hopkins said.

New data on the nutritional value of a range of lamb cuts was also presented at the conference which attracted 350 Chinese scientists and also featured scientists from 10 countries.

While in China Dr Hopkins also gave lectures at Nanjing Agricultural University and Shandong Agricultural University (SDAU) attended by more than 200 post-graduate students. These lectures on how to on how to write and publish a scientific paper stem from his role as the Chief Editor of the International journal Meat Science.

As an Adjunct Professor at SDAU Dr Hopkins also met with a number of students to discuss their research programs, give advice on direction and experimental design and delivered two lectures to postgraduate students in the College of Food Science.  The NSW DPI Meat Science team at Cowra supervises a number of Masters students at SDAU and the Department has a Memorandum of Understanding with SDAU for scientific exchange.


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Strength in veterinary epidemiology research

The Graham Centre’s research expertise in veterinary epidemiology was on show during an international conference in Thailand recently.

The team in ThailandAssociate Professors Jane Heller and Marta Hernandez‑Jover, Drs Jennifer Manyweathers and Viki Brookes, along with Ms Lynne Hayes and PhD student Ms Cara Wilson attended the International Symposium on Veterinary Epidemiology and Economics 15 (ISVEE15), in Chiang Mai. Also present were Graham Centre students and old friends Dr Shafi Sahidzaba, now at Murdoch University, WA, and Dr Shumaila Arif (ACIAR, Pakistan).

The Graham Centre and Charles Sturt University representatives presented 10 papers and five posters across the five days with plenty of interest in and networking around our current projects.

Dr Manyweathers said, “Held every three years, this international conference brings together veterinarians, epidemiologist, social scientists and economists to present their work tackling some complex problems in the world of animal and human health, including foot and mouth diseases in endemic and free countries, food safety and antimicrobial resistance.”

The Australian and New Zealand team were successful in a bid for hosting ISVEE17 in 2024 in Sydney, with Professor Marta Hernandez-Jover co-chairing the committee presenting the bid and Professor Jane Heller and Dr Viki Brookes also part of the committee.


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Parasite research on the program

Posters, presentations and networking – the annual conference of the Australian Society of Parasitology in St Kilda, Victoria in September provided an opportunity to share Charles Sturt University (CSU) and Graham Centre research.

Shafaet Hossen presenting at the conferenceHDR students, Cara Wilson who is supervised by Dr David Jenkins, and Shafaet Hossen and Michelle Williams, Thomas Williams, Louise Sproul and Eleanor Steller, all supervised by Associate Professor Shokoofeh Shamsi, submitted abstracts to the conference. Each student was granted one of the much coveted conference presentation time spots to talk about their research.

Louise Sproule, supervised by Professor Shamsi, participated in the three-minute speed dating presentation and introduced humour into the area of parasitology with her original dialogue. Thomas Williams although not present in person was well represented with a poster which was on display.

Eleanor Stellar, who completed her Honours in Animal Science at CSU, is now employed as a scientist by Elanco Australasia Pty Ltd. Eleanor, who was supervised by Shokoofeh for her Honours, gave a wonderful talk and some valuable advice at the early career researcher breakfast.

Ms Williams said, “The conference was a wonderful opportunity to showcase the depth and diversity of parasitology research at Charles Sturt University in Wagga Wagga. It was also a valuable opportunity for students to establish contacts with experts in their chosen field and to develop presentation skills.”


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Where in the world

Meat industry networking

Harry Meek (UG), Thomas Williams (PG), Emma Fallon (UG), Rebecca Owen (UG), Emma Lynch(PG), Cara Wilson(PG), Dr. Michele Allan (CSU Chancellor Chair of MLA), Alex Shanley (UG), Michael Campbell.Charles Sturt University and Graham Centre students attended Red Meat 2018 in Canberra. Pictured are Harry Meek, Thomas Williams, Emma Fallon, Rebecca Owen, Emma Lynch, Cara Wilson, CSU Chancellor and MLA Chair Dr Michele Allan, Alex Shanley, and Dr Michael Campbell.

CSU students at BeefExGraham Centre and Charles Sturt University students attended the Australian Lot Feeders Association (ALFA) conference, BeefEx in Brisbane in October. PhD student Emma Lynch and Master of Philosophy student Ashleigh Kilgannon also presented posters at the event.

Livestock production under the spotlight in France

Dr Shawn McGrath, Professor Michael Friend and PhD student Lucinda Watt were among the 500 delegates attending the International Symposium on the Nutrition of Herbivores (INSH) in France in September.

Dr McGrath said, “The conference highlighted the different focus and funding environment in Europe compared to Australia. Greenhouse gas measurement and mitigation remains a large focus in Europe, but the projects in Australia are largely completed or are winding up.

Experimental farm at Laqueuille, France“A visit to the experimental farm at Laqueuille, France, was a clear demonstration of this. Two experiments were presented; the first was attempting to measure CO2 levels in the field under different stocking rates.

“The other was a systems experiment with beef cattle to demonstrate the potential for finishing of weaners on farm. The approach rather than the experiment itself was of interest – firstly it was unreplicated, therefore what we would consider a ‘producer demonstration site’ rather than an experiment.

“Secondly, the product– finished weaners on farm – rather than vealers (smaller) or sending cattle to Italy for feedlot finishing (larger) – had no clear market in France, with the supply chain requiring smaller or larger animals.”

All the small things

Dr Adam FrewDr Adam Frew presented his research on how mycorrhizal fungi alter plant-herbivore interactions below-ground at the International Society of Root Research conference in Jerusalem, Israel in July. Dr Frew said, "The conference allowed me to showcase my research on the international stage, facilitating networking with other researchers working within the field of below-ground interactions. Attending the conference also allows for foundations to be built for future collaborative work between the Graham Centre (CSU) and international institutions".

Sunita PandeyPhD student Sunita Pandey attended the Australian Entomological Society 49th annual general meeting and scientific conference in Alice Springs in September to present her work on the multiple ecosystem services for agriculture from native Australian plants.

Ms Pandey said, “The conference not only provided understanding of current entomological research especially in Australia but also provide insights in the cultural and medicinal use of insects.”

The conference was attended by 120 delegates from Australia and overseas and the theme was 'Insects as the centre of our world'.


A group of producers and agricultural engineers from Argentina spent the day with Graham Centre members in November, to find out more about our research and agriculture in the Riverina. The tour included a visit to the sale yards and to the Culcairn farm of Graham Centre Industry Advisory Panel member Murray Scholz.

The Graham Centre and Charles Sturt University hosted Mr Takanori Itsuka, Industry Advisor, Austrade Japan and Mr Wayne Murphy, Tradestart Adviser, NSW Trade and Investment, in November showcasing our research in beef agritech and production, data-mining and remote sensor technologies.

Mr Takanori Itsuka, Industry Advisor, Austrade Japan and Mr Wayne Murphy, Tradestart Adviser, with Graham Centre membersThe delegation from Argentina at the saleyards


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In the Limelight: Dr Ehsan Tavakkoli

Dr Ehsan TavakkoliPosition:

Research Scientist (Soils)


Soils Unit, NSW Department of Primary Industries

Career Brief

Dr Tavakkoli holds a PhD in Agricultural Sciences from The University of Adelaide (2011). Prior to that, he undertook a Master of Science in crop nutrition and soil chemistry from the University of New England and a Bachelor of Science in Soil Science from Ferdowsi University, Iran. After completion of his PhD, Ehsan moved to The University of Southern Queensland (USQ) to take up a joint research-consultancy position focusing on beneficial use of coal seam gas associated water. In July 2011, he made a strategic shift in research direction and returned to Adelaide to commence a postdoctoral position at University of South Australia (UniSA). At UniSA he worked on an ARC discovery project to develop novel techniques for functional characterisation of the fate and behaviour of contaminants (inorganic and organic) as influenced by the interactions with environmental nanoparticles. In 2013, he joined the Waite Research Institute to lead a project funded by DAFF aiming to increase carbon storage in alkaline sodic soils. In 2014, Dr Tavakkoli was appointed as Research Scientist at the Soils Unit (NSW DPI Wagga Wagga Agricultural Institute) where he leads projects in soil:plant interactions, nanogeochemistry and soil based constraints to grain crops in farming systems.

Research Activities

Dr Tavakkoli currently leads a significant research program worth over $8 million that includes a range of projects from studies on amelioration of subsoil constraints through to projects which investigate nutrient management, colloidal movement of nutrients and soil nutritional chemistry issues. These projects are funded by GRDC, ARC, the Australian Synchrotron and NSW Department of Primary Industry. He is also involved in the development of various approaches that employ synchrotron techniques in soils which allow highly spatially-resolved in situ analyses to be performed.

Professional Links

Australian Society of Soil Science

International Union of Soil Science

Australian Society of Agronomy

Verterra Ecological Engineering

CSIRO Land & Water (Visiting Senior Research Fellow)

Waite Research Institute (Adjunct Senior Research Fellow)

A typical day for me includes …

The alarm goes off at 6:45 so that I have one hour before having to get out of the door. I usually begin work at 8 am (with a double espresso) and if we have planned field work, sometimes we hit the road at 6 am. After checking emails, I catch up with my staff and assess progress on various projects. I like to meet first thing on Mondays to discuss the priorities for the week. The day would continue with brainstorming coffee catch up with my research colleagues that I have found very useful for leading to potential breakthroughs in research. During my lunch break, I scroll through news and social media and when 6 pm finally rolls around, I head to CSU gym to play indoor soccer with my friends (only three times a week!). Usually, I get home around 7:30pm and after dinner I often work on scientific paper writing or interpretation and analysis of data. And that’s it, a typical workday.

My main project at the moment is …

My current research program is to develop knowledge and techniques that contribute to the advanced management of crop nutrition, soil fertility and subsoil constraints in agriculture that will consequently provide both environmental and economic benefits to agricultural industries. For example my collaborative work on improved management of fertiliser application will enable grain growers to better control input costs and reduce risk exposure through new knowledge on soil test critical values. Another example of my research is on improving crop production in poorly structured soils which is estimated to cost the Australian grains industry $1330 million in lost production annually.

My favourite part of my job is …

The most interesting part of my job is that there is no ‘typical’ day. I wake up genuinely excited to get to work (most days), and rarely two days are the same. My favourite thing about research is exploring the unknown. With research, you almost always never know what is going to be the result. Certainly, there are outcomes that you hope for, but you can never truly know the result until the end. With the unknown, there are no limits and that is what makes research most exciting. I consider myself very fortunate to work in a field that is always changing and growing with new technologies, capabilities and ideas.

When I am not in the office I like …

3-4 times a week I play indoor soccer, I also like cooking and creating new recipes, I love gardening and in the weekends sometimes I go for a long road trip.

When I am driving I like to listen to …

For me, it is a good blend of old, recent, and new music. The Beatles, Celtic Thunder, Coldplay, U2, Adele, Ed Sheeran, Elton John and Bon Jovi are just a few to name…oh and I also love Persian and French accordion music.


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In the Limelight: Kayla Kopp

Kayla KoppCurrently studying:

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

Supervisors: Professor Michael Friend, Dr Susan Robertson, Dr Angel Abuelo

Thesis title: Immunity transfer to lambs: Altering pre-lambing nutrition to impact immunoglobulin and milk production in ewes and transfer of immunity to twin lambs

Funding body:

Australian Research Training Program Scholarship

Career and studies

I completed my Bachelor of Animal Science (Honours) through Charles Sturt University, Wagga Wagga. Following completion of my Bachelor’s degree, I worked in merchandise sales providing animal nutrition advice with Elders and Landmark. I am now in my second year of my PhD.

Research Interests

I aim to undertake research which will benefit producers. My main interests are within animal production and animal nutrition focusing on aspects to increase productivity on-farm. My current study focuses on sheep production however I also have a keen interest in beef and dairy production systems.

A typical day for me includes ...

Most mornings I wake up early, spend some time with my dogs before coming to the office. Currently I am designing another experiment and also working on some papers to hopefully publish next year from two field-work experiments undertaken earlier this year. The end of my day usually includes taking the dogs for a walk, some gardening, the all-important housework and finally a bit of chill-out television.

My main project at the moment ...

Currently I am between projects working on publishing two projects: one looking at niacin supplementation to late gestation ewes and the other looking at supplementing ewes with protein and starch in late gestation. Both projects are looking at the effects on colostrum and milk production and immunoglobulin production in colostrum and transfer of immunity to lambs. I am also in the early stages of developing another project also focusing on lambing ewes, whilst spreading my time to also design a producer based questionnaire on lambing and supplementation.

My favourite part of my studies is ...

My favourite part of my studies is doing field work as I love animals and being outdoors. I enjoy working with the sheep collecting samples and getting to see all the new lambs born – even when most are born though the night because sheep couldn’t possibly have their lambs at more convenient times – lucky I thrive on no sleep.

When I am not studying I like to ...

When I am not studying, I enjoy working with my own cattle on my parent’s farm and helping Dad out on the farm – preferably if he is doing sheep work rather than tractor driving or fencing! I also enjoy helping my tradie partner with his tiling work. Most weekends in summer are spent water-skiing with my family. I also enjoy relaxing weekends at home chilling out with my beagles.

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

When I am driving (which I do most weekends) I prefer just listening to the radio – with a bit of Spotify (usually pop hits) in between!


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