Charles Sturt University
Graham Centre for Agricultural Innovation

Autumn 2019

Table of Contents

  • From the Director
  • Congratulations
  • Graham Centre PhD Graduation
  • Grains research on show
  • Where in the world
  • CSU Research: Making the most of water to boost faba bean yield
  • The difficult balancing act in the Murray Darling Basin
  • Re-thinking research approach to deliver impact and practice change
  • Sweet potato yield doubled
  • Investigating new technology to verify beef production systems
  • Combining practical experience with research
  • In the limelight: Michelle Toutounji
  • In the limelight:Saliya Gurusinghe

From the Director

Pictured at the recent 'Practice change in the new environment' symposium are representatives from our farming systems group partners, Cindy Cassidy- FarmLink Research, Kylie Durrant Holbrook Landcare, Diana Fear CWFS, Fiona Hart Riverine Plains, Associate Professor Marta Hernandez-Jover Graham Centre and Stephanie Chappell Southern Growers Inc.I hope you all had an excellent start to 2019. In the first two months of this year, the Centre has been working on the planning of the operations for the coming 12 months, allocating budgets and identifying strategic activities for supporting research growth. We are looking forward to continuing to work with all members as well as Centre stakeholders in the year ahead.

The Graham Centre’s scholarships and internal grants aim to enhance our research outcomes. We have seen some outstanding applications for member support grants, demonstrating the diversity of activity and the quality of research conducted by the Centre members. These grants will support members to conduct pilot projects, provide teaching relief and fund training activities. As you all know the Centre is highly committed to support growth in research capacity, with the aim of training scientists that are well-equipped to contribute significantly to research, development and innovation within the agricultural industries. This year, the Centre has provided four summer internships, 11 full and two partial honours scholarships and two Higher Degree by Research scholarships, and will also support a number of student internships. We thank all members who supervise and support all these students.

The Centre is continuing to work closely with the Industry Advisory Panel, the Farming Systems Groups and key stakeholders to identify how we can collaborate better so our strengths can contribute to increasing profitability and sustainability of our industries. Centre members are busy researching in the area of herbicide resistance and weed control, adding value to grains, nutrition supplementation, management of disease and stress in feedlots, disease surveillance and biosecurity, and dung beetles.

I wish everyone a good start to the academic year and I am looking forward to working with you all in the coming months.

As I write this column I’m conscious that many farmers are doing it tough, while dry seasonal conditions are continuing in the Riverina in other parts of the country farmers are feeling the effects of bushfires and flooding. It’s been heartening to see how our rural communities come together in these difficult times and I urge everyone to look out for one another and to seek help if you need it.

Associate Professor Marta Hernandez-Jover.


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Australia Day honour for CSU agricultural education advocate

Professor Jim PratleyA Charles Sturt University (CSU) academic who has inspired generations of agriculture students, contributed to the development of conservation farming, and shaped education policy has been honoured on Australia Day.

CSU Emeritus Professor Jim Pratley has been awarded a Member in the General Division of the Order of Australia (AM) for his service to agricultural science through roles as an educator, researcher and advisor.

Professor Pratley was the Foundation Dean of the CSU Faculty of Science and Agriculture from 1990 to 2006, and co-founder of the Australian Council of Deans of Agriculture.

In 2013 he completed at Ministerial Review of agricultural education and training in NSW, leading to mandatory agriculture components in the state’s school curriculum.

International recognition for weed scientist

Dr John Broster and Dr Michael Walsh with the awardGraham Centre member Dr John Broster has received international recognition as part of a team awarded the outstanding research paper in Weed Technology by the Weed Science Society of America.

Dr Brosterand his colleagues Dr Michael Walsh (lead author), University of Sydney and Professor Steve Powles, University of WA were recognised their paper titled ‘iHSD Mill Efficacy on the Seeds of Australian Cropping System Weeds’.

Their paper evaluated the efficacy of the integrated Harrington Seed Destructor (iHSD) mill on the seeds of Australia’s major crop weeds during wheat chaff processing. It also examined were the impacts of chaff type and moisture content on weed seed destruction efficacy.

Harvest weed seed control, such as the iHSD is becoming increasing sought after due to the widespread evolution of multi-resistant weed populations and this research provides important information about its compatibility with conservation cropping programs.

Dr Broster and Dr Walsh attended the Weed Science Society of America’s annual conference in New Orleans to receive the award.

PhD student on stage at evoke AG

Ms Esther Callcott at evoke AGPhD student Ms Esther Callcott was selected to present her research in a five-minute pitch to the AgriFutures Australia evoke AG conference.

“Presenting at evoke AG was a fantastic opportunity to showcase agricultural research to a dynamic audience and highlight the importance of research in the agricultural sector,” Ms Callcott said.

Ms Callcott’s research through the Australian Research Council Industrial Transformation Centre for Functional Grains (Functional Grains Centre) is examining the health benefits of coloured rice, in particular the antioxidant and anti-inflammatory potential.


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Graham Centre PhD Graduation

Two more Graham Centre graduates have been awarded their PhDs by Charles Sturt University (CSU).

Understanding how farmers respond to biosecurity threats

Examining how Australian farmers understand and respond to biosecurity threats was the focus of PhD research by Dr Lileko Lishomwa, who graduated in December 2018.

Dr Lishomwa’s research through the Graham Centre for Agricultural Innovation involved semi-structured interviews with Riverina sheep producers in 2013 and 2014 to investigate how they interpret and practice biosecurity.

A key finding of her research was that government and industry programs for educating farmers about biosecurity are likely to have limited impact unless they engage in a more meaningful way with on-farm animal health priorities and concerns.

Dr Lishomwa found that farmers are already engaged in a range of biosecurity practices and the real issue is how to better acknowledge and build on farmers’ existing knowledge, experiences and practices.

Read her full thesis here.

PhD brings new understanding of circoviruses

Dr Shane Raidal and Dr Shubhagata DasDr Shubhagata Das has been awarded his PhD for research into a virus that impacts one of the world’s most critically endangered bird species, the Orangeā€bellied Parrot.

Dr Das’ research has focused on the evolutionary dynamics and genetic population structure of beak and feather disease virus (BFDV).

BFDV is a virus species under circoviridae and the causative agent of psittacine beak and feather disease (PBFD), which is recognised as a key threatening process for endangered Australian psittacine birds, including parrots and parakeets.

In the infected birds, PBFD causes immunosuppression and chronic symmetrical feather loss, as well as beak and claw deformities leading to death and starvation.

The knowledge gained in Dr Das’ research has potential applications in vaccine development and for bioengineering for drug or gene delivery.

Dr Das is currently working on developing a commercial vaccine against BFDV as a postdoctoral research fellow in the CSU School of Animal and Veterinary Sciences.

Read his full thesis here.


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Grains research on show

Research to improve soil fertility, projects to better understand crop and weed management, and tips to manage drought affected pastures have been presented by Graham Centre scientists at the Grains Research and Development Corporation (GRDC) Update in Wagga Wagga.

More than 270 advisers and producers attended the two-day event in February.

You can also read the CSU News story about Dr Jeff McCormick tips for managing drought affected pastures including over-sowing and using dual purpose crops or read the GRDC Update paper here.

Check out some photos from the day:

Hoang Han Nguyen and Javier Atayde1. Charles Sturt University (CSU) PhD student Mr Hoang Han Nguyen outlined his research examining the surface incorporation of lucerne pellets to ameliorate subsurface acidity, read the GRDC Update paper here, and CSU Bachelor of Science (Honours) student Mr Javier Atayde’s presentation focused on the impact of cold temperatures during grain development, read the GRDC Update paper here.

Dr Hanwen Wu2. NSW Department of Primary Industries (DPI) senior research scientist Dr Hanwen Wu presenting his paper on the biology and control options for wild radish, prickly lettuce and sow thistle, read the GRDC Update paper here.

Dr Jason Condon and Wayne Pitt 3. Dr Jason Condon’s presentation examined the cost and effectiveness of soil sampling options, read the GRDC paper here, and Dr Wayne Pitt explained research at the CSU Rhizolysimeter examining the root growth and water use of early sown canola, read the GRDC Update paper here.

Dr Ehsan Tavakkoli and Dr John Broster4. NSW DPI research scientist Dr Ehsan Tavakkoli presented a paper titled ‘Ameliorating subsoil constrains- new information on testing and diagnosing sodic soil’ . Read the full paper here. Dr John Broster tackled Harvest Weed Seed Control (HWSC) in his presentation. Read the GRDC Update paper here.


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Where in the world

London calling

FGC members in LondonResearch from the Australian Research Council Industrial Transformation Centre for Functional Grains (Functional Grains Centre) was presented at the AACC International conference, Cereals and Grains 18, held in London.

AACCi is a not-for-profit organization dedicated to advancing the knowledge and understanding of cereal grain science through research leadership, education, superior technical service, and advocacy.

PhD student Ms Esther Callcott said, “A common theme at most of the presentations was that human health studies are needed in order to fully demonstrate the potential health benefits of particular cereals, grains or cereal-based products.”

The FGC group also visited the Rothamstead research facility for long-term agricultural experiments as part of the conference.

Honours research: Purslane, antioxidants and diabetes

Graham Centre Bachelor of Science Honours student, Ms Colette Geier, gave a presentation at the 26th Annual Royal Australian Chemical Institute Research and Development Topics Conference in Canberra in December 2018.

Ms Collette GeierHer presentation titled ‘Bioactive compounds in Australian Portulaca oleracea varieties with potential for treatment of Diabetes Mellitus and related conditions’ was well received and attracted a lot of interest from the audience.

Ms Geier has tested three populations of Australian portulaca oleracea (purslane or pigweed).

“One is a local population of common purslane while the other two are unique populations sourced from Kapitany Concepts”.

“All three have showed antioxidant activity and the presence of betalains, which are relatively uncommon coloured compounds found in only one order of plants. They have recently shown the potential to treat a variety of conditions including diabetes.

“I’ve isolated of a variety of betalains and other phenolic compounds previously unknown in purslane and tentatively identified a new compound with the likelihood of antioxidant activity.”

Ms Geier has now completed her Honours project and is planning to continue her chemistry studies with a PhD on medicinal plants of the Wiradjuri nation.


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CSU Research: Making the most of water to boost faba bean yield

Sowing date and irrigation timing are crucial to maximise the yield and water productivity of faba beans, according to research from the Graham Centre for Agricultural Innovation.

Dr Ketema ZelekeFaba bean is a legume used to fix nitrogen in the soil and is also a disease break-crop. But production in the semi-arid areas has been highly variable due to year-to-year rainfall variability.

The research by Dr Keteme Zeleke from the Charles Sturt University School of Agricultural, Environmental and Veterinary Sciences used field experiments and simulation modelling to examine how a mid-flowering faba bean cultivar performed under different sowing dates and watering regimes in south-eastern Australia.

Dr Zeleke said the research shows irrigation during flowering and post-flowering phase is the key for these faba bean cultivars.

“The crop is least sensitive to water stress during the vegetative stage as it can recover and still result in high yield if there is no soil moisture stress during the reproductive stage,” Dr Zeleke said.

“Sowing date had significant effect on the yield of rain-fed faba bean while the effect on irrigated faba bean is less definitive as early sown faba bean can have too much vegetative growth, lodging and disease pressure.

“Faba bean sown in the third week of May can yield as much as the one sown in the third week of April, if irrigated during the reproductive stages.

“Simulation results show that under rain-fed conditions, sowing in the first week of May or in the first week of June, instead of in the first week of April, decreased grain yield by 26 per cent and 52 per cent, respectively.”

Faba bean trialsAs producers struggle with low water allocations, the research also provides some important information about how best to target irrigation in faba bean production in south-eastern Australia.

“Although it received 28 per cent less water, the faba bean crop that was irrigated only during the reproductive stage, resulted in equivalent grain yield of the fully irrigated faba bean crop,” Dr Zeleke said.

“Simulation modelling also showed that supplemental irrigation applied from mid-September to the end of October increased grain yield by 23 per cent relative to the rain-fed treatment while supplemental irrigation from mid-August to the end of September resulted in only 13 per cent increase.”

‘Growth and yield response of faba bean to soil moisture regimes and sowing dates: Field experiment and modelling study” by Dr Zeleke and Dr Claas Nendel has been published in the journal Agricultural Water Management.

Earlier field experiments and modelling studies by Dr Zeleke have also shown the significant role of sowing time, cultivar choice and supplemental irrigation in increasing canola and wheat yield and water productivity.


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The difficult balancing act in the Murray Darling Basin

By Associate Professor Phil Eberbach

The catastrophic fish kills recently in the Darling River system have laid bare the sobering reality of modern day management of an arid zone river basin in a continent which features such a highly variable climate. The recent report by the Australian Academy of Sciences recommends urgent steps to improve water flows and quality in the river system but the reality of providing environmental water without causing detrimental effects elsewhere in the system, during periods of severe water scarcity, will not be easily achieved.

photo of a riverThe 2012 Murray Darling Basin Plan is an extraordinarily complex framework developed to restore environmental outcomes in a river system where other uses for water are hotly contested, and too that extent, politically the Plan is an attempt to satisfy a number of diverse ideological views as to how water should be used in Australia.

How did we get to the Plan?

Over the past nearly three decades, water has evolved as arguably the nation’s most important natural resource. Oddly, prior to 1991, water use in the Basin states was a matter largely ignored by politicians until a 1000 kilometre-long blue-green algal bloom in the Darling River system refocused national attention of the consequence of the development of natural resources on the environment. Between the 1991 algal bloom and the commencement of the Plan, bureaucrats and politicians spent an unprecedented amount of effort understanding the use of and extent of water used within the Basin, the economic and social impacts of water diversions, and the environmental consequences of diversions. The Murray Darling Basin (MDP) Plan was a directive of the Federal Water Act in 2007, and using the expertise contributed by people from many disciplines across the Basin, the MDB Plan was developed and agreed to in 2012. However, like all complex plans, the MDB Plan has imbedded a number of outcomes that it needs to achieve, including improved riverine environmental health, as well as maintenance of the socio-economic viability of rural communities within the Basin.

The Australian irrigated agricultural industry located mainly in the Murray Darling Basin has grown over the past century to such an extent that it now supplies approximately 30 per cent of Australia’s agricultural GDP. Growth in this aspect of agriculture has resulted in the production of a diverse array of food products to both domestic and international consumers and also underpinned the economic and social fabric of many inland communities.  While the intentions of the Plan were to return water from irrigators to satisfy environmental needs and restore environmental health, planners were also mindful of the consequences of removing too much water from irrigation. Not surprisingly, a limit was placed on recovery that compromised the predicted needs for the environment without bankrupting the economies of many inland centres.

Interpretation of the legislation

Recent media attention alleges that the Murray Darling Basin Plan may contravene the 2007 Water Act with suggestions made that the amount of water to be returned to the environment is less than that stipulated through best science. However, it seems likely there is sufficient breadth in the Act to allow for the consideration of social and economic outcomes while making determinations for environmental needs in developing and enacting the plan. The Water Act embeds a number of objectives and a distillation of these implies that water resources of the Basin need to be managed to meet national needs and international agreements, and to promote the use and management of the Basin water resources in a way that optimizes economic, social and environmental outcomes.

However, confusion may occur as subsequent objectives within the Act indicate the need to return to environmentally sustainable levels of extraction for water resources that are over-allocated or over-used, and the need to protection, restoration and to provide for the ecological values and ecosystem services of the Basin; and subject to the above two objectives being met,  to maximize the net economic returns to the Australian community from the use and management of the Basin water resources.

Read from one view point, one could assume that the priority is to achieve environmental returns with remaining water diverted for productive uses, while a second interpretation could conclude the priority of environmental returns in a background where social and economic outcomes are still allowed for. Given the apparent confusion in reading the Act, one solution could be to revisit the legislation and its amendment so that its true intent is clarified.

The return of 2750 gigalitres (GL) of water to the environment from water previously diverted to agriculture was an amount unlikely ever to satisfy all key interest groups. None the less, it is the figure about which the sustainable diversion limits (SDL) in the final Plan were loosely developed and about which the Plan is being implemented. Despite the view of a few to the contrary, most scientists and professionals who have an intrinsic interest in the affairs of the Basin concede that a suspension or rejection of the current Plan and a return to pre-Plan conditions is untenable.

The way forward

The aspiration of returning the environment to health will not be easily achieved and will in all probability be only achieved in part; the fish kills in the Darling system reflect this view. The recent fish deaths in the Darling system came about when a number of unlikely events occurred simultaneously. Reduced water levels in the Menindee Lakes, coinciding with high water temperatures due to unseasonably hot conditions and sufficient nutrient loads in the water column led to an algal bloom. An abrupt cold change following the heat wave led to the death of the algae and their decomposition led to depleted levels of dissolved oxygen which precipitated the fish kills. Hence, the combination of low water levels, and climate can be attributed as the cause of this event and in the absence of substantial inflows, it seems likely that more fish kills will occur as the summer proceeds. Ironically, the low water level came about as the MDBA elected on fairly rational grounds to source this water for an environmental watering further downstream. Additionally, the risk of further fish kills will continue in subsequent summers with similar antecedent conditions, particularly in an environment of negligible inflows

While there may be a tendency for certain sectors to apportion blame, in reality this event highlights several key issues. Primarily, this emphasises the difficulty in managing a complex system to redistribute water during periods characterised by extremely low inflows - which emphasises the urgent need to develop models to guide how and where to source water to provide for environmental water in a way that minimizes the risk of causing detrimental events elsewhere in the system. Secondly, it raises the needs to review water use practices and infrastructure higher up in the system to increase inflows. This point has been raised recently in the media, particularly with respect to reviewing water interception by earth works on floodplains.

While the recent fish kills in the Darling system are tragic, this event illustrates the need for the public to realise that we are now in the implementation phase of the Plan and in the phase of developing functional administrative protocols and arrangements to manage rivers according to the structure of the plan, while mindful of the need to mitigate risk to other environmental assets. The bedding-in of these protocols will take time to refine so that the risk of unintended environmental occurrences is minimised. However, it is important to realise that the Plan will not return the Basin to a predevelopment state but to a state where the riverine environment becomes a highly managed entity. Walking away from the Plan at this stage of its implementation is not an option.

The article was first published in Open Forum.

About the author

Charles Sturt University (CSU) Associate Professor Phil Eberbach is a soil scientist with the CSU School of Agricultural and Wine Sciences and has a strong teaching and professional interest in the development of water policy and management of water and in the agricultural use of water. His involvement with water policy in the Basin is substantial and he has done a considerable amount of work with the NSW Government in the determination of groundwater policy in southern NSW and with the MDBA through the Living Murray Project. He is a member of the Graham Centre for Agricultural Innovation and his research interests include the water balance of agricultural landscapes. Professor Eberbach’s research has investigated opportunities for perennial wheat in Australia, crop rotations using lucerne to control groundwater recharge, improved water management through understanding plant responses and adaptation in native vegetation to water availability, and projects to help improve sustainability of farming systems in DPRK Laos PDR and Cambodia.


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Re-thinking research approach to deliver impact and practice change

photo of crowd at the symposiumThe Graham Centre is taking a lead role in an initiative to make research, development and extension more effective – and it’s putting participation at the centre.

The Centre hosted a ’Practice change in the new environment’ symposium in February bringing together more than 70 people including researchers, representatives from funding organisations and extension groups and farmers.

The symposium discussed collaboration for practice change, how producers make decisions and adopt change, issues that advisors should consider when working with farmers and research design and practice.

Dr Nivedita Narain, PhD student Arundhita Bhanjdeo and Associate Professor Gavin RamsayOrganiser Associate Professor Gavin Ramsay said, “The world is changing rapidly and what we do takes place in this constantly changing complex environment. We can operate more effectively if we collaborate so that we take away the divisions between research, development and extension such that they become an integrated and dynamic whole.”

This initiative builds on some innovative approaches to research that were developed in India and Pakistan as part of ACIAR funded projects.

“Community Based Science (CBS) or Participatory Action Research (PAR) enables communities to develop their own locally relevant research in collaboration with trained researchers. The approach needs to enable the cooperative and collaborative development and application of new knowledge by communities.

the symposium brought together researchers and extension“This kind of approach has been successfully integrated into international research projects and we were pleased to have Dr Nivedita Narain from PRADAN, India attend the symposium and share her experience of projects working with women’s self-help groups.”

The project aims to produce a framework and process to link research to practice change under Australian conditions and to develop the capacity of our researchers and partners.

“Research impacts are now an integral part of research projects but there is limited understanding of what this means and how to achieve and demonstrate those impacts,” Professor Ramsay said. “The current top-down, linear extension processes have limited impacts on practice.”

networking opportunity“Importantly we’ll be working with partners including farming systems groups and Riverina Local Land Services to work with farmers to establish pilot groups to develop small participatory research projects,” Professor Ramsay said.

The symposium was supported by the Institute for Land Water and Society, the National Wine and Grape Industry Centre and the Australian Research Council (ARC) Industrial Transformation Centre for Functional Grains.


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Sweet potato yield doubled

A sweet potato grower in the PNG highlands inspecting his cropA project through the Graham Centre for Agricultural Innovation is working with farmers in the highlands of Papua New Guinea (PNG) to develop integrated pest and disease management options for sweet potato.

Sweet potato is a staple food crop of PNG and is becoming increasingly commercialised in the highlands, where it is beginning to rival coffee as a source of cash income.

On-farm trials have used a combination of clean seed, pheromone trapping of sweet-potato weevils, and crop hygiene measures such as the removal of crop residues before planting and establishing new crops at least five metres away from older crops.

Project leader, Charles Sturt University (CSU) Professor Geoff Gurr said, “Yields in the on-farm trials have shown amazing benefits for growers.”

Across multiple farms in two districts, average marketable yields have doubled to around 10 tonne per hectare compared with control areas in which standard farming practice has been used.

According to the farmers, the quality of the storage roots, the ‘sweet potatoes’ has also increased leading to additional advantages in quicker sale and higher price.

“The really exciting thing about this result from trials in the first two years of work is that we are just getting going,” said Prof Gurr.

“The project has more than two years to run and we have several additional tools ready to roll out to growers.

These are based on entomopathogenic fungi that attack weevil pests and on the use of particular local plants that can be used as living barriers around the edge of crops to prevent weevil immigration, as well as other plants that can be harvested locally and used as pest-repellent mulches.”

The research is funded by the Australian Centre for International Agricultural Research (ACIAR).


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Investigating new technology to verify beef production systems

A road trip vising abattoirs across five states might not be everyone’s idea of fun but for Charles Sturt University (CSU) Master of Philosophy student Bridgette Logan it’s an essential part of her research.

Miss Logan’s research is focused on verifying the production system of origin for grass- and grain-fed beef, in a project led by NSW Department of Primary Industries (DPI).

Making use of Raman Spectroscopy

Ms Bridgette LoganAs part of this research cattle from different production systems need to be sourced and the subcutaneous fat on the carcase scanned using Raman Spectroscopy.

Raman Spectroscopy is able to provide a chemical fingerprint of the fat, enabling its use to characterise the fatty acid composition.

Through the known changes in fatty acid composition the Raman is being used to differentiate between production systems for beef cattle.

Currently auditing is the sole way of confirming the production system of origin. Raman spectroscopy may provide an alternative method that can be used in the abattoir at grading to confirm the origin of beef.

This research is funded by Meat & Livestock Australia and NSW DPI and Miss Logan’s research is supported by the Graham Centre and the Australian Meat Processor Corporation (AMPC).

Drought provides challenges for research

For this research grass-fed, supplemented grass-fed, long-term grain-fed and short-term grain-fed carcases are needed to provide a calibration model for the Raman device.

The recent drought has influenced the feeds available for cattle across the country and supplementary feeding has become necessary to finish cattle.

Solely grass-fed cattle have been difficult to source and that’s resulted in sampling from across multiple states.

Despite this challenge Miss Logan is well on her way to meeting to goal of more than 1000 samples needed for this stage of her project.

She’s collected samples in Melbourne, Wagga Wagga and at Biloela and Beenleigh in Queensland.

“Our recent sampling at Teys Beenleigh (Brisbane) involved very early starts as our cattle were first to be processed  through the boning room at 4 am, requiring a 2 am start to sample before our carcases disappeared,” Miss Logan said.

“The trip to Biloela in northern Queensland was interesting and provided a chance to see northern grass fed carcases. The humps from those cattle certainly provided an interesting challenge when trying to manoeuvre in the chiller.”

With more trips planned for other locations across Queensland, South Australia, NSW and Tasmania there will be a lot more time on the road for Miss Logan.


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Combining practical experience with research

Dr Liz JonesA love of animal reproduction and breeding, discovered in high school and nurtured through university drew Dr Liz Jones to Charles Sturt University’s Doctorate of Veterinary Studies program.

The Doctorate of Veterinary Studies is a professional doctorate, combining clinical training with high level research.

For Dr Jones, this means no two days are the same. She’s as likely to be breeding horses or on a dairy farm performing reproductive health checks as she is to be at her desk planning research or in the lab.

Dr Jones said the great draw of animal reproduction is that it’s the foundation of all animal-based systems, whether that be prime lamb production, dairy farming or puppy production.

“Improving the efficiency and success of reproduction has an immediate impact on the bottom line,” Dr Jones said.

“It’s also an area of science which is rapidly changing – available technologies and discoveries are constantly increasing.”

Dr Jones’ research incorporates these factors and explores the relationship between nutrition and reproduction in ewes.

Specifically, she is looking at a recently discovered hormone, GLP-1, which is produced in the intestine of mammals in response to food intake.

Dr Jones says the research is examining the impact this hormone has on reproduction.

“I find it so surprising that we have known there is a relationship between nutrition and reproduction for centuries, however know so little about the underlying physiology. My research hopes to place another piece in the jigsaw and improve our understanding.

“The better we understand the specifics of how nutrition affects reproduction, the better placed we are to manipulate it. Recent drought conditions highlight the importance of this, with farmers in some areas reporting pregnancy rates of zero to sixty percent in their ewes as a result of the drought,” Dr Jones said.


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In the limelight: Michelle Toutounji

Ms Michelle ToutounjiSupervisors:

Professor Chris Blanchard, Professor Asgar Farahnaky, Dr Vito Butardo, Dr Prakash Oli

Thesis title:

Factors affecting rice digestibility

Funding body:

Australian Research Council Industrial Transformation Centre for Functional Grains

Career and studies till now:

Bachelor of Science (Nutrition and Food) Bachelor of Science (Honours) and Master of Science (Research)

Currently studying:


Research Interests

In vitro digestion models, cereal chemistry, biopolymer characterisation (specifically starch)

A typical day for me includes…..

Two strong cups of coffee and digesting rice in the lab

My main project at the moment is:

Understanding the factors affecting rice starch digestibility. I study a wide range of factors, including rice growing practices, post-harvest storage conditions and commercial food processing. Initial work involves a rapid in vitro starch digestibility assay to screen the potential postprandial glycaemic response of the different sample sets. Of course, some factors have a greater effect on rice digestibility than others. A big part of my project is to characterise the macro and macromolecular structure of the rice to understand what is driving these changes. Hopefully my research will allow for improved breeding and production of diabetic friendly rice and rice products.

My favourite part of my studies is…

Putting on the white coat, drudging through the drudgery and seeing what I can discover.

When I am not studying I like to…

Run around the Murrumbidgee Turf Club or jump in the Murrumbidgee River.

When I am driving I like to listen to …

Almost anything (depends on my mood) but you can’t go wrong with The Beatles.


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In the limelight:Saliya Gurusinghe

Dr Saliya GurusinghePosition:

Postdoctoral Research Associate


Graham Centre for Agricultural Innovation, CSU, Wagga Wagga

Professional links:

Member of the NSW Weeds Society

Member of the International Society of Root Research

Career Brief

Sal who is originally from Sri Lanka, moved to Australia in 2008 as an international student and obtained a Bachelor of Biotechnology from Box Hill Institute in Victoria (2010). He then moved to Wagga to complete a Bachelor of Medical Science (Honours) from CSU in 2011 focussing on the role of transcription factor Barx2 in chondrogenic differentiation of adult mesenchymal stem cells. In 2012, he was awarded a CSU Faculty of Science COMPACT postgraduate research scholarship which facilitated his PhD research in the School of Biomedical Sciences on gene modification of adult stem cells and dedifferentiated chondrocytes to produce functional cartilage tissue, in an equine model. In 2016, he joined the School of Animal and Veterinary Sciences as an academic within the anatomy/ physiology and microbiology disciplines. He is currently embedded in the Plant Interactions Research Group within the plant systems research pathway of the Graham Centre as a postdoctoral researcher.

Research and Teaching Activities and Interests

Research activities

Postdoctoral research activities include the evaluation of the weed suppressive potential of leguminous and non-leguminous cover crops and mulches in mixed farming and broad acre cropping systems. This research also extends to the study of plant secondary metabolite-microbial interactions that impact bioactivity of crop residues and root exudates.

Teaching activities

Saliya delivers guest lectures at the School of Biomedical Sciences within the subject BMS346: Genomics, Proteomics & Bioinformatics.

My main project is ...

Sal is currently working on a Grains Research and Development Corporation project titled ‘Innovative Crop Weed Control in Northern Region Cropping Systems’ with Professor Leslie Weston.

My favourite part of my job is …

The opportunity for new scientific discoveries that benefit the public.

When I am driving I like to listen to …

The Eagles


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