The United Nations has declared 2020 as the International Year of Plant Health to raise global awareness on how protecting plant health can help end hunger, reduce poverty, protect the environment and boost economic development. Plant health is at the centre of much of our research at the Graham Centre, from increasing the productivity of our crops and pastures through to understanding the complex interactions between soil, plants, insects and livestock in our farming systems. You can read more about that research in this edition of the Innovator.
I have recently enjoyed the opportunity to share some of our research with visitors to the Centre including Federal MP’s from the Agriculture and Water Resources Standing Committee. The Committee visited Charles Sturt University in Wagga Wagga before a public hearing as part of an inquiry growing Australia's agriculture to $100 billion by 2030. In its submission Charles Sturt has highlighted the need for investment in agriculture research and development with a focus on new sustainable farm technology. We also gained an insight into the opportunities for international ag-tech collaboration meeting with a delegation from Innovate UK. The Global Business Innovation Programme, run by Innovate UK and Enterprise Europe Network, helps companies in the United Kingdom overcome global barriers to create international relationships. The delegation enjoyed a tour of the Charles Sturt farm and met with Graham Centre researchers Dr Remy Dehaan and Jon Medway.
Finally I wanted to mention the devastating impact of the summer bushfires on many farming communities, our thoughts are with those affected as they begin the long process of recovery. There was such an out pouring of community support during the bushfire crisis and I’d encourage you to continue to offer that support.
Graham Centre Acting Director Professor Leigh Schmidtke.
When it comes to growing and marketing pulse crops there’s big differences between Australia and Pakistan, but as some Australian farmers discovered, there’s also common ground and much to be gained from sharing experiences.
Graham Centre researchers and three local farmers, Andrew Earle, John Minogue and John Bennett recently travelled to Pakistan.
The visit was part of a project funded by the Australian Centre for International Agricultural Research (ACIAR) that’s working with Pakistani farmers to improve the way lentil, chickpea and groundnut crops are grown.
Mr Earle farms at Mungindi on the NSW and Queensland border and says it was valuable to gain a better understanding of pulse production in Pakistan.
“I was surprised to see that most of the chickpea crop was grown in a much drier region than I was expecting and on poor soil types,” he said.
“It was interesting to learn that Pakistani growers view the crop as a high risk and are reluctant to spend too much money to improve yields.
“The difference between the prices Pakistani farmers receive for their pulses and the retail price is much greater than I had expected, if the farmers were able to store and market during the year rather than accepting harvest pricing they would be much better off.
“We certainly have some similar agronomic challenges growing chickpeas in Australia.
“For example, we also view the crop as being less reliable than the traditional cereals, but with improved management we have been able to make the crop more reliable and profitable.
“The tour also gave me a better understanding of the value of a foreign aid program in terms of maintaining the relationship with Pakistan, which has aspirations of being self-sufficient in pulse production but has major issues with the variable climate.”
FGC Director Professor Chris Blanchard said, the visit to ACIAR pulse trial sites provided the opportunity to investigate interactions between farmers from two very different systems.
“Despite the language barrier, our Australian farmers were able to quickly learn from Pakistani farmers about their production systems and discovered that issues facing farmers in Pakistan are similar to those faced by Australian farmers.
“The Australian farmers were able to make several useful recommendations on future experiments the project could explore to assist in improving the profitability of pulse production in Pakistan.”
Mr Earle said a highlight of the trip was a farmer field day near Islamabad.
“We looked at chickpea crops and trials and were able to interact with growers and discuss the rotations.
“Although there are very big cultural differences we can share the way that farmers and researchers interact to solve problems for growers.
“Including making sure that farmers are the focus when setting research priorities, rather than just presenting information to farmers,” Mr Earle said.
The project involves a multidisciplinary team of researchers from Charles Sturt University, the Pakistan National Agricultural Research Centre (NARC), provincial research institutes and universities in Pakistan, Pulse Australia and a Riverina farming systems group, Farmlink Research.
Recognition for Innovative NSW DPI scientist
Graham Centre member and NSW Department of Primary Industries (NSW DPI) scientist, Dr Benjamin Holman has been recognised for his part in building stronger primary industries through a project that aims to ensure the sustainability of red meat exports to China.
Meat scientist Dr Holman was honoured with a Science and Innovation Award for Young People in Agriculture, Fisheries and Forestry at the 2020 ABARES Outlook Conference.
The Science Awards recognise young scientists, researchers and innovators with original projects focused on keeping Australia’s rural industries sustainable and profitable. Read more here.
Recognition for meat science research
There’s more well-deserved recognition for Graham Centre researchers from the meat science team at the NSW DPI in Cowra.
The research, ‘Long-term red meat preservation using chilled and frozen storage combinations: A review’ by Cassius Coombs, Dr Ben Holman, Professor Michael Friend and Dr David Hopkins was the 2019 top-ranked paper for the journal of Meat Science, recognising work produced 2017-2018.
The paper was cited 42 times and the senior author Mr Coombs was a Charles Sturt University Masters graduate who worked on a large Australian Meat Processor Corporation (AMPC) funded project as part of his study. Mr Coombs is now undertaking a PhD at the University of Sydney. Read more about his research on Charles Sturt News.
Mr Coombs, Dr Holman and Dr Hopkins were also authors on another top 10 ranked paper ‘Using instrumental (CIE and reflectance) measures to predict consumers’ acceptance of beef colour, which was cited 28 times.
Welcome new student interns
Charles Sturt University students Patrick Anderson, James Connor, Vanessa Angel and Mikayla Liesenberg have been awarded Graham Centre student internships.
The students will be mentored by Graham Centre scientists to gain an insight into research and develop their practical skills.
Dairy research in the spotlight
PhD candidate Veronika Vicic was a finalist in the Young Dairy Scientist Award and spoke about her research examining developing supply chains for male dairy calves the recent Australian Dairy Conference.
Ms Vicic says this has the potential to increase returns for farmers and meet growing consumer demand for greater animal welfare produced products.
"Australia is in the minority of developed countries internationally that still view the practice of slaughtering dairy bull calves as being more profitable than rearing them for meat production," she said.
"For this to change, the industry needs to develop pathways to grow male calves to sizable steers suitable for quality beef production."
Visions for future Food Systems
A collaborative team from the Graham Centre for Agricultural Innovation has participated in the international Rockefeller Food Systems Vision Prize, joining more than 1300 other organisations in proposing ways to disrupt and innovate the Food System for 2050.
The vision proposed by the Graham Centre team focused on transforming the connection between agricultural researchers and producers, with a greater focus on co-designed responsive food systems for rural communities, grounded in a clear ethical articulation of who the food system is for.
Dr Sarina Kilham said there’s many benefits in taking part in an international activities like this.
“This prize allowed us to share our vision for the Riverina food system with a global audience and emphasise the important work we do as a regional University in Australia,” Dr Kilham said.
Dr Kilham said the vision is to:
A survey of beef producers has highlighted the need for more awareness about hydatid disease, which is caused by a parasite and can infect livestock, dogs and people.
It is part of research by Charles Sturt University PhD student Ms Cara Wilson through the Graham Centre for Agricultural Innovation.
“Hydatid disease is caused by a small tapeworm that lives in the gut of dogs and the eggs are spread by faeces,” Ms Wilson said.
“Cattle become infected by eating contaminated pasture, and people can become infected by handling infected dogs or their faeces.
“The infection in livestock causes fluid-filled cysts to form in organs, and contaminated beef product identified at slaughter is either downgraded to pet food or condemned for rendering to meat meal.
“My PhD research has examined the data from 1.2 million cattle slaughtered at an eastern Australian abattoir between 2010 and 2018.
“I found 33 per cent of cattle were infected with hydatid disease costing this abattoir about $94,000 per year due to condemnation and downgrading of infected organs.”
Ms Wilson said the survey of more than 60 cattle producers showed that producers didn’t feel well informed about hydatid disease.
“Almost all the respondents indicated they would take action if they knew their cattle were infected,” Ms Wilson said.
“But a lack of knowledge and information was one of the most common concerns among those taking part in the survey.
“More than three quarters of those who took part in the survey had heard of hydatid disease, and most knew how it was transmitted, but almost half did not know how to prevent transmission.
“The key is preventing and treating the infection of the adult tapeworm in the definitive host, the dog.
“People should treat their domestic dogs with an all wormer containing praziquantel monthly and ensure they don’t feed dogs offal,” Ms Wilson said.
One of the highlights of what we do is sharing our research with farmers, industry and colleagues.
Graham Centre members have been busy doing just that.
Charles Sturt University PhD student Bridgette Logan spoke at the AMPC industry forum in Wagga Wagga in February about her research into new technology, Raman spectroscopy, to verify if beef comes from a grass or grain-fed animal.
Dr Sosheel Godfrey presented his research, ‘Dairying regions in Victoria: Risk profiles using historical data and @RISK®’ at the 64th annual conference of the Australasian Agricultural and Resource Economics Society (AARES). The conference brought together 100 economists, student’s policymakers and practitioners.
NSW Department of Primary Industries senior research scientist Dr Ehsan Tavakkoli shared his thoughts about how we can improve soil health and productivity in a panel discussion entitled 'Are we treating our soils like dirt?' at evoke AG in Melbourne in February.
FGC PhD graduate Rachael Wood has presented her research about the impact of crop management practices on rice quality at the International Temperate Rice Conference in Brazil.
Meanwhile PhD candidate Jhoana Opena presented a poster on her research examining barnyard grass control at the annual Rice Industry Field Day held at the NSW DPI Yanco Agricultural Institute.
Graham Centre researchers, Professor Geoff Gurr, Dr Jian Liu, Dr Syed Rizvi and PhD student Sunita Pandey attended the Australian Entomological Society conference in late 2019. As part of the conference Dr Liu and Professor Gurr organised a symposium of 'Chemical Ecology in conservation biological control'.
Graham Centre Honours research was presented at the recent Grains Research and Development Corporation (GRDC) Update in Wagga Wagga by Charles Sturt Bachelor of Agricultural Science graduate Tom Price, and current Charles Sturt student Anne Maree Farley.
Mr Price’s research focused on subsurface acidity stratification and different methods of applying lime to overcome the problem.
“Subsurface pH stratification is the formation of an acidic layer in the subsurface soil profile, between 5 and 20 cm deep,” Mr Price said.
“It’s also difficult to fix, as it’s hard to get an ameliorant deep into the soil profile.
“Current recommendations are either to apply high amounts of lime to the soil surface and wait for it to slowly leach down the soil profile, or to incorporate surface applied lime to the depth of the acid layer for a faster response.
“But in a no-till farming system many growers are reluctant to incorporate surface applied lime using tillage equipment.
“The introduction of commercially available prilled (pelleted) lime now provides an alternate method to deliver lime deeper into the soil profile when sowing, without whole field incorporation.”
Mr Price’s research compared the plant and soil response to amelioration of subsurface acidity by incorporation of surface applied lime and the banding of prilled lime relative to unamended soil in the field.
His experiment was carried out on red kandosol soil with pH stratification ranging from pH 6.3 at the surface to 4.2 in the 10-12.5cm layer and examined the performance of a faba bean crop.
Mr Price said both lime and prilled lime ameliorated soil pH and exchangeable aluminium concentrations.
“Prilled lime was more effective than incorporated lime at ameliorating the subsurface pH to depth due to the vertical mixing that occurred when prilled lime was applied by ripping in the sowing row,’ Mr Price said.
“However, whilst incorporation of lime ameliorated soil on and off the sowing row, prilled lime only ameliorated soil in the sowing row.”
He also found that accurate diagnosis of pH stratification was shown not to be possible by soil sampling in 10 cm intervals.
“Sampling increments of 5 cm appear to provide a practical optimum definition of the pH stratification that existed in the field,” Mr Price said. “Therefore, it is recommended that 5 cm intervals be used in no-till farming systems where stratification of soil layers is more likely to occur.”
Ms Farley has submitted her research and you can read more in future editions of the Innovator.
Imagine being invited to discuss biosecurity with producers? To anyone in the biosecurity research space, this does sound like a dream but it’s exactly what’s happening in partnership between the Tablelands Farming Systems (TFS) and Graham Centre for Agricultural Innovation.
A chance meeting between TFS Executive officer Tracy Watson, and Graham Centre livestock systems research pathway leader Associate Professor Marta Hernandez-Jover, has resulted in a mutually beneficial partnership project.
TFS members own or manage over 65,000 hectares of farm land in the NSW Southern Tablelands, supporting around 300,000 sheep and 13,000 cattle.
They were concerned by the potential increase in biosecurity risks brought about by the prolonged drought conditions, and subsequent increased animal and supplementary feed movements.
Ms Watson saw an opportunity to tap into the research expertise at the Graham Centre to help them better prepare for this challenge.
“TFS members are interested in locally-relevant, applied research and sustainable best practice agriculture,” Ms Watson said.
“The Partnership Project with the Graham Centre provided the direction and framework our producers needed to proactively re-assess their individual biosecurity activities and collectively gain a better insight into issues across the region.
“The experience, expertise and approach of the Graham Centre team has not only enabled our producers to meet their own objectives, but hopefully to contribute to the Centre’s research objectives.”
The partnership did work both ways.
The Graham Centre team of Professor Hernandez-Jover, Dr Jennifer Manyweathers, Ms Lynne Hayes and Bachelor of Veterinary Science Honours student Ms Hannah Gardner, was successful in using data from the TFS members to validate Bayesian Network (BN) models designed to predict the vulnerability of sheep and beef producers to an outbreak of foot and mouth disease (FMD), based on their likelihood of exposure and their capacity to respond.
This was part of the FMD Ready Project, a national research project aiming to strengthen Australia’s preparedness against emergency animal diseases.
“The partnership with TFS meant that our proof of concept was tested, both in approach with a survey and farm visits, and the output which was the model validation for us and the farm assessments for them,” Dr Manyweathers said.
“It reminded us of why we do what we do and how important it is to maintain connections with the actual user of the research.”
With nine personalised on-farm biosecurity assessments for TFS members, a region level assessment and two validated BN models, this is just the beginning of a strong and mutually beneficial relationship.
Vegetable growers took time to ‘smell the flowers’ at field walks last month demonstrating Graham Centre research to boost beneficial insects to keep pests in check.
The events at Bathurst NSW and Hay Valley in South Australia were showcasing field trials growing flowering plants like sweet alyssum, buckwheat, and cornflowers amongst brassica vegetable crops.
The research is funded by Hort Innovation and aims to provide vegetable growers with an additional tactic for use in their integrated pest management (IPM) strategies.
The ecologically-based approaches being researched aim to boost the impact of naturally occuring beneficials, such as ladybirds and parasitic wasps, to provide an approach that is simple, cost-effective and fits readily with mainstream farming.
Charles Sturt post doctoral researcher, Dr Syed Rizvi said the preliminary results are promising.
“Early trial results show a strong association between the flowering plants, high numbers of beneficial insects and low numbers of pests,” Dr Rizvi said.
“Most of the beneficial insects found in our flowering strips are ladybeetles, lacewings, red and blue beetle, carabid beetles, damsel bugs, and parasitoid wasps.
“We’ve measured a significant drop in pest numbers up to 15 metres from the flowers.”
Growing complementary vegetation, such as these flowers, supports beneficial bugs and insects by providing shelter, nectar, alternative prey and pollen.
It’s hoped these beneficial insects can keep outbreaks of vegetable pests in check, especially diamondback moth, reducing the need for the use of synthetic insecticides.
The research is led by Charles Sturt University, with partners cesar, the University of Queensland, NSW Department of Primary Industries and IPM Technologies.
Five days, more than 1,600 kilometres of travel and 10 farm visits in 40 degree heat – a group of international researchers certainly got a taste of the Australian harvest during a recent tour of the Western Australian wheat belt.
The tour, led by Graham Centre member Dr John Broster and Associate Professor Michael Walsh from the University of Sydney, focused on Harvest Weed Seed Control systems.
It brought together nine researchers from American universities, two from the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) and a representative from Rothamstead Research in the United Kingdom.
Dr Broster said this kind of collaboration is invaluable in shaping international approaches to weed control.
“The aim of this tour was for these researchers to see these systems in action, but more importantly to hear from Australian farmers as to why they have chosen the system they have and all the steps in that decision making process,” Dr Broster said.
“This will help them better inform farmers in their country of the different systems available.”
The tour included a visit to the Australian Herbicide Resistance Initiative (AHRI) at the University of Western Australia.
Farm visits showcased three commercial chaff impact mills - machines attached to harvesters which destroy the weed seed during harvest operation, chaff lining and one impact mill that’s still in development.
Dr Broster said many farmers spoke about the evolution of harvest weed seed control on their farms.
“At Mullewa grain grower Andrew Messina spoke about how his practices have changed over time,” Dr Broster said.
“From burning over 15,000 ha of narrow windrows, he now runs two harvesters with chaff carts and a third with an iHSD (integrated Harrington Seed Destructor), one of the impact mills.
While he was in the west Dr Broster also recorded a module for the latest course being offered by Weed Smart’s Diversity Era focusing on herbicide resistance and crop competition, look out for it soon.
Position: Research Agronomist (Pulses)
Organisation: NSW Department of Primary Industries (NSW DPI).
I started my career after completing a Bachelor of Science at Charles Sturt University and working as a technical officer at the University’s environmental and analytical laboratories. From there I completed Honours with the School of Environmental Sciences, before joining the Charles Sturt weeds research team, led by Professor Jim Pratley, conducting chemical analysis and assays of potentially novel herbicides.
This lead to a PhD with Jim in 2013, studying genetic testing of annual ryegrass for herbicide resistance detection. During this time, I was awarded the 2015 ABARES Science and Innovation Award in the Grains Research and Development category. Whilst finishing my PhD I joined the NSW DPI in 2016 under the Southern Cropping Group led by Deb Slinger as a Research Agronomist, where I continue to work today.
Research and Teaching Activities and Interests
My current research is focused on improving pulse agronomy and pulse breeding evaluation, but I still maintain interests in various aspects of weed science including herbicide resistance, changes in weed ecology and the development of new herbicides
Member of the Australian Agronomy Society
A typical day for me includes …
Wake up, go for a short morning walk and then make some breakfast and read the headlines. Then I feed the pets (cat, dog and chickens) before I’m off to work. Once at work it’s a quick check of emails, followed by a review of the calendar and my ‘to-do’ list before I work out what needs doing before I try to eat a live frog (see Mark Twain for details), sometimes successfully, sometimes not.
My main project at the moment is …
Finalising tenders, getting the operating plans for this year’s experiments sorted, analysing data and trying to write!
My favourite part of my job is …
The people, I’m surrounded by hard working and dedicated people, who love a laugh and chewing on new research ideas.
When I am not in the office I like …
Painting, gardening and hanging out with friends and family
When I am driving I like to listen to …
Whatever has caught my ear, but mid 2000s alt-rock/punk is a pretty solid fallback.
Supervisors: Associate Professor Asgar Farahnaky, Professor Chris Blanchard and Professor John Mawson
Thesis title:The effect of processing on pulse flakes.
Funding body: Australian Research Council Industrial Transformation Training Centre for Functional Grains
Relevant Current Employment: Sessional academic with the Charles Sturt University School of Agricultural and Wine Sciences (Chemistry).
Career and studies till now
I grew up on a dairy farm in northern NSW. I completed a double major in chemistry with Honours in natural products and had an opportunity to work in the Sydney Olympics Australian drug-testing laboratory.
I moved to the Riverina to work at large scale feedlot and abattoir between Leeton and Narrandera at Yanco in their NATA certified laboratory monitoring feed, meat, and water to HACCP, EPA and MRL standards. I gained an appreciation for the vast scope of Riverina’s agricultural industry by developing commercial testing services and teaching at TAFE. I was recently the quality manager at Riverina Oils and Bioenergy in Wagga Wagga during its first three years of production.
Final year of my PhD candidature at Charles Sturt.
I am currently a member of the Australasian Grain Science Association. I have had links in the past with the Cereal and Grains Association, the Australian Oilseeds Federation, TAFE and National Association of Testing Authorities (NATA).
A typical day for me includes …
A bike ride through the local forest, wrangling kids, writing my thesis and participating in Charles Sturt endeavours.
My main project at the moment is …
Writing up my PhD thesis.
My favourite part of my studies is …
Applying research with an entrepreneurial mindset to impact industry and academia.
When I am not studying, I like to …
Spend time with my family, community and to ride lost lane ways and trails with friends.
When I am driving I like to listen to …
Podcasts like All in the mind, Conversations and Download this show.