Charles Sturt University
Graham Centre for Agricultural Innovation

Spring 2020

Table of Contents

  • From the Director
  • Back from the drought: hard seeded legumes prove their worth
  • Producers embrace online Livestock Forum
  • Above and below the ground: evaluating weed competitive wheat
  • Research update: Cover crops for weed management
  • Capturing and using precision ag data to make better farm decisions
  • Putting dung beetle identification in the palm of your hand
  • Q Fever: People, animals and the environment
  • Research to protect PNG’S coconut industry from deadly disease
  • Building capacity: Charles Sturt Indigenous Agriculture Initiative.
  • New book highlights the impact of research to restore grasslands in China
  • Research extension in a pandemic
  • Local input Australian Association of Animal Sciences
  • Meat science mentor retires
  • In the Limelight: Thomas Keogh
  • In the Limelight: Jane Quinn

From the Director

Graduation is always a highlight for us at the Graham Centre, and while there’s no formal pomp and ceremony this year due to COVID-19 I want to celebrate the achievements of our higher degree research graduates.

Dr Sajid LatifDr Martin Combs, Dr Neeta Karve, Dr Sajid Latif, Dr Sunita Pandey, Dr Thomas Williams and Dr Cara Wilson have been awarded PhDs and Ashleigh Kilgannon has been awarded a Master of Philosophy.

This represents the culmination of years of study and countless hours in the laboratory, in the field, or at the computer analysing Dr Martin Combsdata and writing a thesis. I commend these graduates on their dedication and know that their research will benefit our grain and red meat industries. I also acknowledge the family, friends and supervisors who have supported these students in their study.

I have also been pleased to see the work being presented by our current PhD and Honours research students at our recent Livestock Forum, in conferences and at the Faculty of Science HDR Symposium.

We’ve also been able to showcase our research to the Executive Leadership Team from the Department of Agriculture, Water and the Environment, during a visit to Wagga Wagga in July. Key researchers spoke about in biosecurity, functional grains, precision agriculture, and ecological approaches to pest and disease management.

Dr Neeta KarveFinally, I wanted to tell you about changes to staff here at the Graham Centre.

Senior administration officer Monique Shephard is leaving the Centre. Monique’s work in managing our internal grants program and in helping researchers to prepare quality grant applications has been highly valued and we wish her well in future endeavours.

Partnerships and Engagement Manager Toni Nugent is also leaving us after almost a decade at the Centre. In that time she has been the driving force behind Centre events such as the Livestock Forum and Science and Agriculture Enrichment Day. Toni’s also played a key role in raising the Centre’s profile, developing our strong links with industry, government, other research organisations and importantly our farming system group partners. We wish Toni well in her new role as Partnerships Director for the Smarter Regions CRC Bid.

Dr Cara Wilson and Dr Thomas WilliamsThe Centre is committed to research to meeting the needs of agricultural industries and our regional communities. We value engagement with our partners and communities so encourage you to contact us via email

Professor Leigh Schmidtke

Photo captions

Dr Sajid Latif is currently working at Charles Sturt and the NSW Department of Primary Industries. His thesis title was 'Performance and secondart chemistry of annual pasture legumes.

Dr Sunita PandeyDr Martin Combs is at the Charles Sturt School of Animal and Veterinary Sciences and was awarded his PhD 'Clinical and pathological characterisation of perennial ryegrass toxicosis and investigation of bromide as a therapeutic intervention.'

Dr Neeta Karve was awarded her PhD 'Impact of germination on yellow Pea flour functionality'

Dr Cara Wilson was awarded her PhD 'The epidemiology and impact of hydatid disease (Echinococcus granulosus) in beef cattle in eastern Australia' and Dr Thomas Williams PhD is titled 'Gastrointestinal nematodes infecting water buffalo: a comparison between Australia and Pakistan assessing species identification, prevalence and farming systems'

Ms Ashleigh KilgannonDr Sunita Pandey completed her PhD 'Conservation biological control in brassica crops using Australian native plants' and has returned to her work in Nepal as a plant protection officer under the Ministry of Agriculture and Livestock Development. Here she's photographed at the Pasupatinath temple.

Ms Ashleigh Kilgannon has completed her Masters 'A practical means to accelerate beef ageing and sustain acceptable eating quality and safety: Chilled storage temperature manipulation' and is now working on a station in Western Australia.


Full Newsletter

Direct article link

Back from the drought: hard seeded legumes prove their worth

Graham Centre researchers have been pleased by the resilience of hard-seeded annual legumes during the drought - now that it’s rained they’re even more impressed.

NSW Department of Primary Industries soils research officer, Dr Belinda Hackney and Charles Sturt University senior lecturer in agronomy Dr Jeff McCormick are investigating the role of hard-seeded legumes as on-demand pasture breaks in cropping rotations.

a photo of the pastureThe project is looking at seed production, sowing time and practices, and the performance of new species and varieties.

“For annual pasture species, the establishment of an adequate seedbank is critical to the ongoing success of the pasture.

A key weakness of traditional annual legumes with shallow root systems, such as subterranean clover, is their inability to maintain growth for long enough in spring to allow seed set, especially under drought conditions.

“In contrast hard-seeded annual legumes, like biserrula and serradella, have rapidly developing, deep root systems and the capacity for extended periods of reproductive growth.

“This means they have considerable potential to form adequate seedbanks, particularly under adverse climatic conditions.”

Dr Hackney said the field trials in 2018 and 2019 were held in a time of severe drought but provided valuable information about the formation of the seedbank.

“Annual rainfall at our trial sites at Ungarie and Kikoira in NSW was less than half the long term average in 2018 and 2019, and the rainfall during the growing season was about a third of the long term average.

“We saw a big difference between species in the amount of seed produced in these trying conditions.

“Biserrula and yellow serradella were superior to subterranean clover in producing seed for subsequent regeneration.”

You can read about the trial results in detail in a paper presented at the GRDC Update in Lake-Cargelligo earlier this year.

After two very tough seasons Dr Hackney is looking forward to seeing trial results this year with a great start to the cropping season.

“This year we measured 2-4 t DM/ha across our research sites at the end of autumn in regenerating stands of biserrula and serradella that were sown in the drought.

“In contrast, the subterranean clover had produced less than 0.5 t DM/ha. The differences are due to the amount of seed the hard-seeded species were able to produce in the drought.”

The project is supported by an investment from the Australian Government Department of Agriculture and Water Resources (as part of its Rural R&D for Profit program), the GRDC, Meat &Livestock Australia (MLA) and Australian Wool Innovation (AWI).

The research partners include the South Australian Research and Development Institute (SARDI), Murdoch University, CSIRO, the WA Department of Primary Industries and Regional Development (DPIRD), and Charles Sturt, as well as grower groups

Performance on farm also a stand-out

This project builds on more than seven years of research into hard-seeded annual legumes at the Graham Centre.

Dr Hackney said a highlight is seeing how producers are using these hard-seeded legumes on farm and how pastures they had sown in the drought are coming back this year.

“We are very lucky to be working with some really innovative producers in this and previous projects,” Dr Hackney said.

“Their pastures were sown in the drought and provided useful feed when there was little else.

“Based on the way these pastures have responded this season, they produced a sufficient seed bank for outstanding regeneration and growth.

“It is an absolute credit to the producers who had the faith to go ahead and sow the pastures and have managed them through some terrible conditions during previous seasons.”

Paul SinderberryAngus cattle breeder Paul Sinderberry is seeing the benefits of biserrula and yellow serredella on his farm north of Condobolin after dipping ‘his toe in the water’ with a trial block in 2017.

“Along with cropping we run solely cattle and I was looking for an alternative to a traditional pasture break of lucerne and clover that would help reduce the risk of bloat,” Mr Sinderberry said.

2018 and 2019 were extremely dry but he was able to lightly graze the pastures and was impressed at the growth of the biserrula following rain in late 2018.

“After some rain in October the biserrula just kicked, I was grazing it in December and there wasn’t too much other green around that time of the year,” Mr Sinderberry said.

But it’s the recovery of the hard-seeded legumes this year that has proved to be the real winner.

“I sprayed out the paddock and direct drilled oats this autumn,” he said.

“The biserrula and serradella seedbank was there despite the previous two dry seasons and we ended up with a thick population of the legumes in the oats.”

That 85 ha paddock has supported a seven-week grazing of 420 heifers in a backgrounding operation and Mr Sinderberry estimates a gross margin of $400 per hectare from the single grazing event.

With ongoing favourable conditions, it’s hoped the paddock will be cut for hay in spring.

“I’m excited by the potential for incorporating these hard-seeded annual legumes into our rotation, their resilience and the pasture growth compared to traditional species like subterranean clovers is amazing.

“They’re able to make use of a late rainfall event and none of the other annual legumes can do that in our environment.”

Mr Sinderberry plans to introduce more biserrula into the mix in the future.


Full Newsletter

Direct article link

Producers embrace online Livestock Forum

1.Behind the scenes of the 2020 Livestock Forum with Adam from Adam Bannister Event Productions and Graham Centre Partnership and Engagement Manager Toni Nugent. People from across the country logged-on to the Graham Centre Livestock Forum in July to tap into new research, insights from industry experts and first-hand knowledge from producers.

Graham Centre livestock systems research pathway leader, Charles Sturt University Associate Professor Marta Hernandez-Jover said this is the first time the annual event has been held online.

2.Geoff Casburn from NSW DPI was part of a panel discussion on confinement feeding with Martin Preuss from Riverina LLS and Junee Reefs farmer Glenn Curry, and Matthew Martin (not pictured) from Mullengandra.“The Graham Centre has hosted the Livestock Forum for more than 12 years but we weren’t able to host a face-to-face event this year due to the COVID-19 restrictions,” Professor Hernandez-Jover said.

“Moving the Forum online has meant that more than 150 people from five states took part on the day with another 100 opting to check-out the Forum at their leisure.

“Highlights of the Forum were two panel discussions with producers and industry experts, one focused on the opportunities for dual purpose pasture mixes and cover crops while the other discussed containment and lot feeding of sheep.

4.Charles Sturt University PhD student Emma Lynch presented her work on canola meal as a supplement for weaner steersThese sessions prompted some lively discussion and it was great to see producers sharing their views and experiences.

“We were also pleased to give Charles Sturt University Honours and PhD students the opportunity to present their research as they’re the animal scientists of the future.”

The 2020 Forum was supported by Meat & Livestock Australia, Local Land Services Riverina, Animal Health Australia, ProWay Livestock Equipment and Sheep Connect NSW.

If you missed the event you can download the proceedings and watch the recording of the Forum on our website.

Photo captions:

6.The panel discussion on cover crops and dual purpose mixes saw Lockhart producer Brent Alexander share his experience and NSW DPI researchers John Piltz and Colin McMaster outlines their work, pictured with session chair the Graham Centre’s Dr Thom Williams.Behind the scenes of the 2020 Livestock Forum with Adam from Adam Bannister Event Productions and Graham Centre Partnership and Engagement Manager Toni Nugent.

Geoff Casburn from NSW DPI was part of a panel discussion on confinement feeding with Martin Preuss from Riverina LLS and Junee Reefs farmer Glenn Curry, and Matthew Martin (not pictured) from Mullengandra.

3.Graham Centre senior research fellow Jon Medway told the Forum about the Centre’s research in precision livestock.Charles Sturt University PhD student Emma Lynch presented her work on canola meal as a supplement for weaner steers

The panel discussion on cover crops and dual purpose mixes saw Lockhart producer Brent Alexander share his experience and NSW DPI researchers John Piltz and Colin McMaster outlines their work, pictured with session chair the Graham Centre’s Dr Thom Williams.

5.Charles Sturt University PhD student Kayla Kopp chaired the sheep research session.Graham Centre senior research fellow Jon Medway told the Forum about the Centre’s research in precision livestock.

Charles Sturt University PhD student Kayla Kopp chaired the sheep research session.


Full Newsletter

Direct article link

Above and below the ground: evaluating weed competitive wheat

PhD student Pieter HendriksAn experiment at the Graham Centre Field site is examining the competitiveness of wheat genotypes both above and below the ground.

The research is by Charles Sturt University PhD student Pieter Hendriks, based at CSIRO Agriculture and Food in Canberra and Charles Sturt in Wagga Wagga.

“Amongst the tools available in an integrated weed management program, crop competitiveness through cultivar specific choice is an easy to apply, cost effective solution,” Mr Hendriks said.

In his experiment an array of heritage and commercial cultivars, as well as newly CSIRO developed increased-vigour germplasm, were selected and sown in May to assess traits that improve competitiveness against weeds.

“Early canopy closure has proven critical to suppression of weeds in crop,” Mr Hendriks said.

“The heritage cultivars, including Federation, and the new early vigour genotypes have both shown a more rapid and earlier canopy closure than the current commercial wheat cultivars.

“They have also proven to be highly suppressive, and this may be due to above or below ground competition for resources.

“We know that below-ground the competition between weeds and wheat starts earlier and is more intensive than above-ground in most of the cases.

“What we do not know well is how the increased above-ground vigour in CSIRO’s newly developed genotypes affects below-ground traits that might impact the competitiveness of wheat.

Mr Hendriks said the project is therefore taking a closer look at root architecture and potential for allelochemical release by roots in the soil.

“These unique metabolites exuded by seedling wheat plants have previously demonstrated potential to suppress the growth of other plants,” Mr Hendriks said.

This experiment is examining how the visible above-ground performance between current cultivar (left) and high vigour wheat germplasm (right) impact on below-ground root architecture and exudations that might increase their competitiveness against weeds“Early growth assessments have shown some significant differences in root architecture in both controlled environment experiments and also in early field evaluations at the time of canopy closure.”

The COVID-19 pandemic meant Pieter wasn’t initially able to visit the Wagga field site early in the season and he’s grateful to the plant interactions research group in Wagga Wagga for looking after the replicated trial.

He’s now working on establishment of a digital tool to allow people to visit the plot virtually and compare genotype growth.

Field experiment in the Graham Centre field site looking at the competitiveness of wheatThe project is part of a series of larger wheat pre-breeding and weed management projects with CSIRO and Charles Sturt supported by investment from the Grains Research and Development Corporation.

Mr Hendriks is supervised by Charles Sturt Professor Leslie Weston and Dr Greg Rebetzke from CSIRO.


Full Newsletter

Direct article link

Research update: Cover crops for weed management

Graham Centre research is showing that cover crop species that grow rapidly and produce early season groundcover and biomass, can reduce weed emergence and growth.

Dr Saliya Gurusinghe The research, supported by an investment from the Grains Research and Development Corporation, involves Charles Sturt University, the University of Sydney and Queensland Department of Agriculture and Fisheries.

The research aims to quantify the benefits of cover crops in suppressing annual weeds in broad acre cropping in the northern region.

Charles Sturt postdoctoral researcher Dr Saliya Gurusinghe said there’s interest in using cover crops in rotations to suppress weeds and reduce the reliance on herbicides.

“Early adopters have taken to using cover crops routinely but broader acceptance of cover crops has been slow, especially in southern New South Wales” Dr Gurusinghe said.

“This is largely due to the lack of information on suitable cover crop species, planting windows and appropriate termination times.

“We also need to know more about their soil water utilisation, which may impact the moisture availability for the subsequent grain crop, and cost of establishment in various regions.”

Dr Gurusinghe said the research hopes to fill those gaps in our knowledge and provide information about how different cover crops suppress weeds.

“The mechanism of suppression may be through competition for resources such as sunlight, nutrients and water,” Dr Gurusinghe said.

“Or possibly through the production of phytotoxic secondary metabolites produced by the living plant, which may either be exuded by the root system or leached from decomposing cover crop residues”.

The research so far

Field research sites were established in the 2017 and 2018 growing seasons at Wagga Wagga and Narrabri in NSW and Kingaroy in Queensland to assess the suitability of selected winter and summer cover crops.

These species were chosen for their early vigour, competitive or suppressive abilities.

Winter cover crops included forage oats, tillage radish, field pea, purple vetch, albus lupin, arrowleaf clover and biserrula.

Summer crop species selected for evaluation were forage sorghum, Japanese millet, white French millet, sudangrass, tef grass, lablab, cowpea, red clover and forage rape.

Dr Gurusinghe said the trials examined establishment success, canopy light interception of the crop as a measure of groundcover, crop biomass and weed biomass.

“Selected cover crops were then established in subsequent field trials in 2019, as monocultures or several binary multispecies mixtures at various sowing ratios,” Dr Gurusinghe said.

“The aim is to predict which species monocultures and mixtures will perform better in individual regions and determine appropriate cover crop termination times for optimal weed suppression.”

Dr Gurusinghe said while the field experiments are still in-progress there have been some promising results.

“Results to-date have shown that cover crop species that grow rapidly and produce early season groundcover and biomass, drastically reduced the emergence and growth of typical agronomic weeds.

“For most locations, these included the winter cover crops forage oats and tillage radish and summer cover crops sorghum, sudangrass, tef grass, Japanese millet, white French millet, and forage rape.”

He said that due to the prolonged drought, legume cover crop species generally performed poorly on their own with respect to groundcover, biomass accumulation and weed suppression.

But he said their inclusion in binary cover crop mixtures with fast-growing grass species resulted in better cover crop performance overall.

Dr Gurusinghe said that may be due to their ability to fix nitrogen efficiently and to establish and grow under competitive or low light conditions.

“Legumes are of interest for use as cover crops in monocultures and mixtures for other reasons too,” Dr Gurusinghe said.

“In recent experiments by the plant interactions group in both field and controlled environment conditions, certain legume residues such as biserrula, yellow serradella, cowpea and lablab suppressed the early germination and growth of weed seed indicators.

The also released high levels of certain flavonoids, suggesting their residues may be phytotoxic, once soil incorporated,” he said.

What’s next?

The research will continue to evaluate the impact of cover crop termination time on weed suppression and soil water conservation, and determine the cost of establishment in all three regions under investigation.

The impact of selected cover crop species and their termination time on the carbon: nitrogen ratio will also be investigated.

Dr Gurusinghe says importantly the research aims to quantify the economic benefits achieved through the inclusion of cover crops in rotational cropping systems.

“The true impact of cover crops to growers is reflected in the savings achieved through reduced fallow-herbicide and nitrogen applications as well as conservation of soil water for subsequent crops,” he said.


Full Newsletter

Direct article link

Capturing and using precision ag data to make better farm decisions

There’s a ‘digital revolution’ underway on the farm at Charles Sturt University in Wagga Wagga to harness and use precision agriculture for teaching, research and industry engagement.

Graham Centre inter Joel Costello and Graham Centre student intern Joel Costellow pictured with senior research fellow in spatial agriculture, Jon Medway discuss the soil mapping earlier this year (picture taken before COVID19)The 1600 hectare farm produces 500 hectares of crops including wheat, barley, faba beans and canola with improved perennial pastures supporting an Angus cattle herd with 400 cows, and sheep production focused on 2000 maternal composite ewes.

The Charles Sturt farm is a co-operator herd in the Angus Sire Benchmarking Program and already makes use of electronic livestock identification.

This new project will develop an integrated system of data collection, management and analysis across all aspects of farm operations, including crops, pastures, livestock and environment.

But Graham Centre senior research fellow in spatial agriculture, Jon Medway said it doesn’t stop there.

“The goal is to focus on using the vast array of data and agtech that is now available,” Mr Medway said,

“The project aims to see data from the Charles Sturt University farm used for a range of machine learning and Artificial Intelligence (AI) projects to contribute to the development of new decision support tools.

“It will also put this information and technology at the fingertips of students, who are the next generation of agriculture professionals.”

The first step of the project is the development of a comprehensive Geographic Information System. (GIS) to map the farm resources.

The program will then establish a data collection network as part of specific research projects investigating crop and pasture agronomy, precision livestock management and a diversity of other horticulture, viticulture, environmental and resource utilisation applications.

Mr Medway said building on the functionality of an advanced digital farm record keeping system and data network will benefit research, teaching and industry engagement.

“The digital, online mapping integrated with the farm record keeping system will enable students and researchers to access paddock records to assist with the planning of field activities, streamlining of data collection and greatly improve the documentation of the wide range of activities that occur across the farm.

“There are also plans to include virtual or augmented reality access to the farm for a range of internal and external applications,” Mr Medway said.


Full Newsletter

Direct article link

Putting dung beetle identification in the palm of your hand

There’s a handy new guidebook to help livestock producers identify dung beetle species – thanks to the research team from the Dung Beetle Ecosystem Engineers (DBEE) project.

‘A Pocket Guide to Introduced Dung Beetles in Australia’ has information on all the dung beetles released by CSIRO over the past 55 years.

Charles Sturt University researcher, Dr Paul WestonThe guide’s author, Graham Centre and Charles Sturt University researcher, Dr Paul Weston, said it’s laminated and perfect for work in the paddock.

“This book is important because there's nothing quite like it available at the moment,” Dr Weston said.

“There have been a number of books on dung beetles published in the past, but none of them are as portable or field durable as this copy.”

Each of the species has a page of information and photos that will aid in identification, including a size index, daily activity times and seasonal activity.

The species are arranged from smallest to largest in the book, including an actual size indicator. There is also a pictorial key at the back of the book with a systematic process to identify each specimen.

Dr Weston said the guide will raise awareness of dung beetles and help producers identify any gaps in species distribution that could be filled by the work of the DBEE team.

“By increasing awareness and understanding of dung beetles, we’re more likely to have growers use practices which will increase the number of beetles in paddocks.

“This has a number of benefits including: improving soil in grazing systems; reducing the spread of diseases and insect pests like nematodes and bush flies; improving pasture health; and reducing soil nutrient run-off into waterways,” Dr Weston said.

For more information or to access the guide contact

A dung beetle identification smartphone app (created by the DBEE project team) has also been developed.

The DBEE project is a national research campaign led by Meat & Livestock Australia (MLA) through funding from the Australian Government’s Rural Research and Development for Profit program.

The project aims to fill in the gaps in the distribution of beetles in southern Australia.

It’s introducing new species, while expanding the distribution of existing species and developing a supply and distribution pipeline so more livestock producers can access beetles.

Charles Sturt, through the Graham Centre, is leading the university research with support from eight partner organisations: The University of Western Australia, CSIRO, Manaaki Whenua – Landcare Research, The University of New England, Dung Beetle Solutions International, Warren Catchments Council, Mingenew-Irwin Group and the Western Australian Department of Primary Industries and Regional Development.

For more on the DBEE project visit the project website.


Full Newsletter

Direct article link

Q Fever: People, animals and the environment

Charles Sturt University research unravelling the interactions between animals, people and the environment is showing more people in rural communities need to be aware of the infectious disease, Q Fever.

Associate Professor Jane HellerCharles Sturt Associate Professor in Veterinary Epidemiology and Public Health, Jane Heller from the Graham Centre for Agricultural Innovation said Q Fever is often associated with people working in abattoirs or in livestock production but there’s increasing recognition the disease can affect many other groups in the population.

“Many people infected with Q fever do not become sick or may have only a mild illness, however for others, a chronic form of Q fever will develop resulting in a prolonged and debilitating illness that affects their quality of life and ability to work.

“Sheep, goats and cattle are most often thought to be the source of human infection in Australia and intensive management of these livestock can lead to ongoing spread of Q fever.

“But wildlife, dogs and cats have also been associated with human cases and outbreaks.

“The bacteria shed by infected animals can survive in the environment for a long time and lead to people becoming infected through environmental contamination, even in the absence of animal contact.

Professor Heller said the complex exposure pathways highlights that we need to look at the big picture in developing strategies to control and prevent Q Fever.

“Infection is difficult to detect in animals because it is usually asymptomatic or symptoms are non-specific,” Professor Heller said.

“Without methods of monitoring animal health, levels of environmental contamination and distribution of the disease among animal populations, it is not possible to mitigate the risk of transmission of Q Fever from animals to humans.”

Professor Heller, Ms Lynne Hayes and PhD student Tabita Tan from Charles Sturt are part of a national project, ‘Taking the “Query” out of Q fever’ project.

The three-year project is supported by funding from the Australian Government Department of Agriculture, Water and the Environment as part of its Rural R&D for Profit program and university and industry partners.

Project funding is administered by AgriFutures Australia and the national project team includes animal health and infectious disease experts from the University of Melbourne, University of Adelaide, the University of Queensland, the Australian Rickettsial Reference Laboratory, Goat Vet Oz and Meredith Dairy.


Full Newsletter

Direct article link

Research to protect PNG’S coconut industry from deadly disease

Bogia coconut syndrome (BCS) is a plant disease that has caused severe losses to coconut palms in parts of Papua New Guinea (PNG), putting at risk the livelihoods of smallholder farmers and communities that depend on the industry.

stakeholders meeting in PNGGraham Centre researchers, Professor Geoff Gurr and Anne Johnson have been involved in a five-year project that has discovered more about the biology of the disease, the vector insects and how it is spread.

The project has been funded by the Australian Centre for International Agricultural Research (ACIAR) and will inform strategies to contain and manage BCS.

Early in 2020 Mrs Johnson attended a stakeholders meeting in PNG where results were presented and potential BCS management strategies discussed.

She said it was staggering to see the impact of the disease on the Madang region.

“Drone surveys resulted in preliminary estimates of 190 000 palms lost over the last 10 years,” Ms Johnson said.

“More than 270 000 people in this area rely on coconuts for food and a cash income.

“We visited an area close to Madang that three years ago had a healthy coconut plantation of 40 palms and saw that now there’s only five palms left and all of these were sick. In some areas they are losing one to five palms a month.”

Understanding BCS

Bogia coconut syndrome (BCS) is a plant disease that has caused severe losses to coconut palms BCS is caused by phytoplasma, a bacterium that blocks the phloem, typically leading to yellowing, shedding of the nuts and often eventually kills the host plant.

Managing phytoplasma disease means you have to understand the range of plants species it’s found in and the insects that can spread the pathogen.

The findings

  • DNA of BCS and the closely related banana wilt associated phytoplasma (BWAP) were found in coconut, betel nut, native wild banana and in samples of cultivated banana.
  • Several crops appeared to be free of BCS/BWAP and other phytoplasmas including cassava, cocoa, sugarcane, and pawpaw.
  • Non-host crops may play a role in BCS management by serving as barriers around areas of susceptible plants, or for replanting efforts in areas where coconuts have been killed by BCS.
  • The research also identified one insect species in particular, Zophiuma pupillata (Lophopidae), is a competent vector for the disease. Future surveillance and monitoring could be directed against this insect.
  • The research findings also suggest that quarantine measures need to include de-husking of coconuts prior to movement from BCS-affected areas and that planting material for other crops such as bananas, need to be subject to restricted movement.
  • PNG authorities are already planning to establish a check point on the highway leading from the affected area to restrict movement of plant materials that could spread BCS to other parts of the country.
  • Given the extent of the spread of BCS, significant sanitation measures, including cutting down when palms first show symptoms need to be taken to prevent further spread.

Key research partners include Charles Sturt University and the University of Southern Queensland, Ramu Agri-Industries (New Britain Palm Oil Ltd), Oil Palm Research Association the National Agriculture Quarantine Inspection Authority and National Agriculture Research Institute and Kokonas Indastri Kooresen in PNG.


Full Newsletter

Direct article link

Building capacity: Charles Sturt Indigenous Agriculture Initiative.

Worimi man Joshua Gilbert has a cultural connection to country stretching back tens of thousands of years and a vision for the future of Indigenous leadership in agriculture.

He’s the first research higher degree student in the new Charles Sturt Indigenous Agriculture Initiative.

The Initiative aims to support Indigenous students in pursuing a career in agriculture and contribute to research about Indigenous agricultural and land management practices.

Mr Gilbert was Australian Geographic 2016 Young Conservationist of the Year, among other achievements which can be found here.

He said higher education is vital to building the capacity for Indigenous people in agriculture.

“As significant (40 per cent) land owners still of this country today, I see my role through my study at Charles Sturt University to provide our perspective on agriculture, while defining Indigenous agriculture into the future,” Mr Gilbert said.

Professor Jim Pratley and Joshua Gilbert“There’s the saying that ‘you can’t be what you can’t see’ and this program will help inspire Indigenous people to be part of the agricultural industry.”

The driving force for the initiative is the Graham Centre for Agricultural Innovation's Professor Jim Pratley who decided to champion the issue after his research showed Indigenous people are under-represented in the agricultural sector.

“Australia-wide there were very few Indigenous graduates in agricultural science, and while Charles Sturt University was the leader in both Indigenous student enrolments and in agricultural graduates, it had few Indigenous agriculture graduates.

“I also recognised that just one scholarship was not enough and there needed to be a systematic approach, to create a continuous cohort of Indigenous undergraduates leading to industry employment and in some cases research higher degrees,” he said.

“To this end, with the assistance of the Charles Sturt Foundation, we have developed a proposal and are actively seeking additional financial support for the initiative beyond the initial contributions we have received from Indigenous organisations and other benefactors.”

The University seeks others who are passionate about agriculture and Indigenous outcomes to support this important initiative.

For more information and to contribute contact the Charles Sturt Advancement Office on (02) 6933 2067 or email


Full Newsletter

Direct article link

New book highlights the impact of research to restore grasslands in China

Two decades of research to improve the sustainability of the vast grasslands in in China has been outlined in a new book produced by Graham Centre member, Charles Sturt University Professor David Kemp.

photo of Professor Kemp and Dr Pematso discussing issues with Tibetan herders near Namshto lake (5500m) on the Tibetan Plateau as part of Dr Pematso’s PhD in Anthropology. Professor Kemp led a team of grassland scientists from research institutions in China and Australia to support the restoration of degraded grasslands through better management and improve the incomes of herders.

The book, ‘Sustainable Chinese Grasslands’ brings together the outcomes from a large research program in China, supported by funding from the Australian Centre for International Agricultural Research (ACIAR).

Professor Kemp said the research in the book was focused on the 400 million hectares of Chinese grasslands but the principles could be applied to the management of grasslands in many other developing countries.

“After centuries of grazing much of the Chinese grasslands are considered degraded with considerable off site impacts such as soil erosion,” Professor Kemp said.

“More than 16 million livestock herders and their families depend on these grasslands for their livelihoods.

“The research delivered evidence based practices to improve grazing management of the grasslands and herder household incomes.

“Chinese herders have been adopting sustainable management practices which will reduce grazing pressures and improve net financial returns from livestock.”

Those research outcomes and policy briefs presented to Chinese National and Provincial officials are included in this new book.

“This has been a great effort and it was important the main, applied program results were recorded in one place for easy reference,” Professor Kemp said.

“The briefs aim to help officials to understand the grassland/livestock system.”

For his contributions to development in China, Professor Kemp has been awarded by the Governments of Inner Mongolia and Gansu.

He’s also received the Friendship Award by the Chinese Government, the highest honour given to foreign experts.

The book is available on the ACIAR website

Earlier this year the group published another book ‘Common Grasslands in Asia’ edited by Colin Brown from the University of Queensland and published by Edward Elgar.

That includes the current recent work on developing improved systems for payments for environmental services in both Mongolia and China.

There’s more information about the positive impact of this project on the Charles Sturt research website.


Full Newsletter

Direct article link

Research extension in a pandemic

Online conferences, webinars and live workshops- the coronavirus pandemic hasn’t stopped Graham Centre scientists from sharing the research and expertise.

Biosecurity – you might have seen the black and red sign on farm gates but what does it mean in practice? Associate Professor Marta Henandez-Jover and Dr Jennifer Manyweathers gave an overview of in a webinar hosted by the Future Farmers Network (FFN), Charles Sturt University and RuralBiz Training.

Associate Professor Shokoofeh ShamsiAssociate Professor Shokoofeh Shamsi, Dr Di Barton, Dr Xiaocheng Zhu and Michelle Williams gave people an insight into their parasite research- making the link between science and art in a live from the lab workshop hosted by the Australian Society of Parasitology for National Science Week. You can watch here.

Graham Centre and Functional Grains Centre research featured on the program at the Rice Research, Development and Extension online forum.  Professor Chris Blanchard outlined the work of the Functional Grains Centre in developing a rapid method for ranking rice genotypes for their starch digestibility properties. This will help in selecting and breeding low GI, healthy rice varieties that will attract a premium in domestic and international markets. PhD candidate Jhoana Opena gave an update on her project investigating if pasture legumes can be used to reduce the seedbank of barnyard grass- a major weed rice production systems.

Meanwhile Dr John Broster has presented his work at the GRDC Updates.

Dr Siong Tan and Stephen Cork behind the scences at AGSA 2020The online conference of the Australasian Grain Science Association featured presentations by Functional Grains Centre members: PhD students Nancy Saji and Allister Clarke; postdoctoral researcher Dr Siong Tan; and visiting scholar Mr Ximing Xu. PhD student Michelle Toutounji also shared her experience at the careers panel discussion at Conference.

You can also read about the Graham Centre Livestock Forum which went online with more than 250 people taking part.


Full Newsletter

Direct article link

Local input Australian Association of Animal Sciences

A group of Graham Centre researchers passionate about animal science and keen to support others working in the field are playing a key role in the local branch of the Australian Association of Animal Sciences (AAAS).

AAAS branch secretary Dr Cara Wilson The AAAS was established from the Australian Society of Animal Production (ASAP) following a review by the Society’s Federal Council in 2018 and 2019.

Graham Centre member and AAAS President Dr Michael Campbell said, “The review of the society found that professionals often felt isolated once they left a university or government department, and animal science students felt like they didn’t have a professional home after graduation.

“The Society aims to provide an inclusive environment for people studying and working in the broad field of the animal sciences to exchange knowledge and have professional development opportunities.”

Members of AAAS are from a broad range of animal sciences including, but not limited to: agricultural science; animal science; biomedical science; vet science; vet nursing; zoology; wildlife conservation; and equine science.

The AAAS Southern NSW branch recently held its first webinar (, with attendees from across Australia and from a range of animal science fields.

Graham Centre member and branch secretary Dr Cara Wilson said, “Being a member driven organisation, at the local branch level, we aim to conduct events and workshops that are requested by, and of value to our members.

“The southern NSW branch is currently planning a social media competition and another webinar – so keep an eye out for these events on our website and social media pages.

“We are hoping to establish a mentoring program and a knowledge hub – where people will be able to find someone who is working in a particular area, or information shared by other members easily.

“The Southern NSW branch has a strong Graham Centre representation and we encourage more people who are involved in the Animal Sciences to become members.”

In addition to Southern NSW Branch events and activities, members also have access to events hosted by other AAAS branches throughout the country.

The AAAS will also continue to hold a bi-annual conference – scheduled (due to COVID 19) in February 2021 in Fremantle, WA.

For more information or to join visit the website or contact Federal and branch President, Michael Campbell (, or Southern NSW branch Secretary, Cara Wilson (

You can also follow on Instagram @aaassouthern Twitter @AAAS_sthNSW or Facebook @AAASsouthern


Full Newsletter

Direct article link

Meat science mentor retires

After a career spanning 35 years, Graham Centre member and NSW Department of Primary Industries (DPI) senior principal research scientist Dr David Hopkins has retired.

Dr David HopkinsDr Hopkin’s research began with the Tasmanian Department of Agriculture where he worked for six years.

He then moved to a new position created with NSW DPI at Cowra where he established the Centre for Red Meat and Sheep Development with a major focus on meat science.

This has included processing and measurement technologies for sheep and beef meat, development of new lamb cuts and a database on the meat quality of lamb cuts, extensive work on the creation of MSA for sheep meat, evaluation of feeding systems for lambs in terms of meat quality and the measurement of meat traits using spectroscopy.

Dr Hopkins has also been involved in research that’s been adopted by the industry, such as VIASCAN®, new generation electrical stimulation, and SMARTSHAPE™, amongst many technologies designed for objective carcass evaluation.

He’s been an Associate Editor for three journals, an Editorial Board Member of four journals and is the first Australian Editor in Chief of the international journal, Meat Science. Over seven years in this role Dr Hopkins has assessed more than 7,000 papers.

International collaboration

Dr Hopkins has published more than 750 scientific journal papers, chapters and technical/extension papers.

He’s co-authored papers with Australian, Italian, Chinese, Irish, Brazilian, NZ and Norwegian scientists, based on lamb, beef, alpaca, pigs, chickens and lately even ducks!

Dr Hopkins holds academic positions in Australia and overseas, conducting joint projects with scientists from Germany, China and NZ.

He’s supervised many Australian postgraduate students and students from around the globe, including from Namibia, Morocco, France, Italy, China and Brazil.

Dr Hopkins was recognised by a Rotary Vocational Excellence award in 2012 ‘In recognition of the outstanding contribution made to your profession and the wider community, and for promoting the highest standards within your career’.

He was awarded a Fellowship of the Australian Society of Animal Production (ASAP) in 2018 for ‘exceptional and sustained contributions to animal production through research and service to the livestock industries in Australia and to the Society’.

Best wishes Dr Hopkins!


Full Newsletter

Direct article link

In the Limelight: Thomas Keogh

PhD student Tom KeoghSupervisors: Dr Shawn McGrath, Professor Bruce Allworth, Dr Hutton Oddy

Thesis title: Understanding the constraints on lamb growth in intensive feeding systems.

Funding body: MLA Donor Company

Relevant Current Employment: I manage a small farm near Holbrook which has approximately 600 breeding merino ewes.

Career and studies until now:

Bachelor of Animal Science (Honours) - Graduated 2017

Farm Manager- Holbrook Vet Centre and Keogh Agriculture

Currently studying:

Doctor of Philosophy

Research Interests:

Sheep nutrition, management and genetics.

A typical day for me includes ...

I usually get up nice and early and do as much study as I can until my dogs start annoying me for a walk. There’s often a meeting or two and at least once a week I go for a drive to check on my own sheep and the ones I manage. My trials are seasonal and I’ve just spent the last three weeks catching lambs daily at birth and weighing them for a trial starting in spring.

My main project at the moment is ...

Writing about the results of my last trial is my main priority at the moment before the commencement of my next trial shortly. I’ve also had to do a lot of reading to design this coming trial to make sure I’m not repeating previous work and it seems to be changing weekly.

My favourite part of my studies is ...

I really enjoy how unpredictable this journey has been. Every time I think I have had a major breakthrough to solve some problem I usually find that another five people have tried what I was thinking and it didn’t work, so I’m back to where I started albeit slightly more confused.

When I am not studying I like to ...

Do anything outside. Walking the dogs, gardening or going for a bike ride.

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

Whatever the radio is playing, although I prefer classic rock – I’ve spent too long in shearing sheds. Since COVID a few people have started some farming podcasts that if I’m doing a longer journey on my own I quite enjoy.


Full Newsletter

Direct article link

In the Limelight: Jane Quinn

Associate Professor Jane QuinnPosition:

Associate Professor Veterinary Physiology, and Associate Dean Research – Faculty of Science


School of Animal and Veterinary Science, and Faculty of Science Executive Office

Career Brief

I began my research a career in London, working as a laboratory animal technician in a major neurology research institute before heading to University to undertake a Bachelor of Science in Biomedical Science. Having undertaken an Honours project on neonatal gut pathology I decided that research was my thing and I worked for a year in primary health services while looking for a PhD.

I finally landed a scholarship to undertake a PhD in developmental genetics at the University of Edinburgh investigating the role of a gene called Pax6 in eye and brain development. After that I undertook a couple of post-docs, one on epigenetic regulation of metabolism in Edinburgh, and another working on 4-D modelling of brain development in Glasgow.

On the basis of my PhD research and experience I was then awarded a UK Medical Research Council post-doctoral Fellowship to carry on working on development of the cortex. This work involved both primary cell culture, work with embryonic stem cells and a whole gamut of molecular techniques. I worked under Professor David Price as a senior post-doc and then group leader at the University of Edinburgh until moving to Charles Sturt University to be part of the emerging vet school in 2008.

In the middle of all this I had two children, working mostly as a single mother as my husband was in the UK military, and juggling research and family life day by day. Not an easy task!

In 2008 an opportunity arose and I moved countries to come to Charles Sturt as a teaching / research academic in the School of Animal and Veterinary Sciences.

From that date my research had to change completely. Charles Sturt was not known for its basic molecular sciences but had unique access to large animals, specifically horses, sheep and cattle, so I took my interest and expertise in the brain and applied it to questions related to large animal health. From this emerged a strength in ruminant toxicology and I was able to invest my time and efforts in understanding the plethora of toxicities impacting livestock health in Australia.

This developed into a wider research portfolio focussed on finding novel solutions, be that technology, pharmacological or management, for those ‘wicked problems’ faced by the Australian livestock industries – weed contamination of animals and pastures, complex health issues such as bovine respiratory disease, and developing therapeutics that could assist producers to achieve better and more well-being focussed production outcomes.

My work has been largely funded by Meat & Livestock Australia and has produced both traditional publication outputs as well as a number of awarded patents.

Most recently, I stepped into the position of Associate Dean Research for the Faculty of Science. This is a Faculty Executive administrative role that oversees governance of research for both laboratory and field-based operations as well as HDR students. In this role I work closely with Faculty and University leadership to drive research productivity and quality for Charles Sturt, as well as all staff across the whole of the Faculty of Science.

Research and Teaching Activities and Interests

Research activities

My current research activities focus on two specific questions: Can we mitigate stress in livestock production systems to reduce health and welfare impacts for producers both in Australia and globally, and, can we use new technological approaches to better diagnose and investigate disease?

My major collaborators at Charles Sturt are Martin Combs, Scott Edwards, Michael Campbell, Chris Petzel and Thom Williams in the School of Animal and Veterinary Sciences, as well as Paul Cusack, Adjunct Professor and ruminant veterinarian and consultant.

Training the next generation of researchers is really important to me. I currently have three PhD students, Veronika Vicic who is doing amazing work on consumer perceptions of dairy beef, Rebecca Barnewall who is undertaking ground-breaking work in molecular diagnostics of BRD, and Yuchi Chen who is understanding the toxic nature of panic grasses to livestock. One of my students, Jane Kelly, has her thesis under examination, and Martin Combs is accepted for graduation. I also have a Master of Research student Jess Dodd who I have helping to complete her thesis on effects of magnesium supplementation in horses with Marie Bhanugopan.

Teaching activities

Sadly I don’t have any teaching responsibilities at the moment. My role as Associate Dean Research takes up the vast majority of my time with no space for teaching. I do hope I’ll return to undergraduate teaching in the future as I do miss the interaction with undergraduate students (although not all the teaching administration!).

Professional Links

I’m a member of the British Society for Animal Science, the NSW chapter of the Australian Association of Animal Science, and the Society for Neuroscience.

I’m also a member of Knowledge Commercialisation Australia and use this network both for professional development in technology transfer and commercialisation as well as to talk to like-minded professionals about research across the University sector.

I sit on various external committees including the MLA Strategic Partnership for Animal Welfare, the Food and Agriculture Research organisations Network, the Spinifex Rural Health Network, the Open Arms Neurocognitive Health Steering Committee as well as various committees inside the University.

I am an elected member of the Professoriate on Academic Senate as well as being a member of the University Research Committee, Faculty of Science Faculty Board and Chair of the Faculty of Science HDR and Research Committee.

A typical day for me includes …

I generally am at my computer by 8.30am and sign off around 7pm. There isn’t really any such thing as a ‘typical day’ unless you consider hours of Zoom meetings to be typical! At the moment I might spend up to 6 hours in Zoom meetings, and then have to fit everything else in-between.

I might have meetings with my HDR students and post-doc Thom Williams about our research projects, talk to staff about commercial research contracts or research funding applications, review documents and minutes for any of the various committees that I participate in, review documents related to thesis examinations, approve submissions of funding applications to the Research Office, and meet with executive teams in the University including the PVCRI, the other Faculty ADRs and the Research Centre Directors. I might have a meeting with a capital investment firm about investing in Charles Sturt research, talk with commercial companies about research opportunities, or discus patents and contracts with our internal and external Charles Sturt legals. The devil is always in the detail and I spend a lot of time digging in and solving problems, or better still, heading them off before they occur.

I’m always on the lookout for funding opportunities for staff across all disciplines in the Faculty, and making connections between researchers across the Schools and Faculties to generate new research collaborations. A lot of my time is spent developing training and research opportunities for staff and students, in conjunction with the Sub Dean Graduate Studies Sandra Savocchia, and managing budgets for these activities in conjunction with the other ADRs.

Although COVID has changed all our worlds, I still manage to devote time to my research although this is now often via zoom meetings rather than face to face. We are planning more feedlot site collections for later in the year so I am hoping I’ll get out from behind a computer and back ‘on-farm’ at some point!

There are some exciting times ahead on campus too as we are in the final preparations for installation of a GrowSafe ruminant feeding system at the Charles Sturt cattle feeding facility – a $700,000 investment by the University in agritech to allow us to investigate feed efficiency in cattle (and sheep my minor modification). We already have commercial partners waiting to gain access so things are looking positive for more cattle work on the Wagga Wagga campus in the coming months and years.

My main project at the moment is …

My current funded research projects are investigating novel molecular diagnostic approaches for real-time, on-farm, point of decision diagnostics for the beef feedlot industry and mitigation of stress in livestock production systems using bromide as a mood stabiliser in livestock. Our BRD work is being undertaken in collaboration with colleagues at the NSW State Veterinary Laboratory at EMAI, Menangle. Both of these projects are funded by MLA and the latter now has 5 patents awarded globally with more jurisdictions pending.

My favourite part of my job is …

Looking for opportunities and making connections. Although I’m naturally an introvert by nature, I love working with people, and putting people and ideas together. I love seeing research ideas emerge and projects come to fruition. I want to be able to provide the best opportunities to expand the research horizons and opportunities for my students, and all our staff.

I find commercialisation a really exciting process and love working with innovative ideas that could find their way into commercial hands. That’s what makes me get up every morning and do it all again tomorrow despite all the ups and downs of being an academic researcher.

When I am not in the office I like …

I love to visit my eldest daughter who is a student at the Australian National University in Canberra and visit the galleries and museums. My favourite weekend pastime is to watch my youngest daughter, who is a student here at Charles Sturt, play first grade soccer for Junee or Wagga. I’m generally pretty happy hanging out with my dogs, pottering about on the tractor slashing paddocks, or attempting to manage my acre of garden into something presentable.

When I am driving I like to listen to …

I am an 80’s kid who learnt classical piano, and my father was an amateur jazz musician, which means I have an eclectic taste in music. I love 70’s R&B, gospel, 80’s house music, hip-hop (original east coast not the current stuff), old-school soul and classic Blue Note jazz.  However, I’ll pretty much listen to anything once so there can be the odd bit of Katy Perry, Ed Sheeran or country and western thrown in too.

When I run out of favourite tunes I’ll listen to podcasts on toxicology and emergency medicine or lectures from Melbourne and Stanford law schools. I figure you are never too old to listen to something young or learn something new.


Full Newsletter

Direct article link