As we near the end of the year many of us are probably keen to see the back of 2020, a year that began with devastating bushfires and then saw a global pandemic that’s changed the way we live and work.
In a year filled with challenges there is also much to celebrate. Here in southern NSW farmers are harvesting a record grain crop or filling haysheds - something that is most welcome after years of drought.
At the Graham Centre we’re also celebrating the achievements of students who despite the challenges of COVID have completed their research and have graduated.
Congratulations to Dr Jane Kelly (pictured top) who's PhD research examined the prevalence, management and economic impact of seed contamination in sheep carcasses by barley grass.
Dr Pingyang Zhu has been awarded his PhD for research, ‘Ecological engineering for pest suppression: promoting parasitoid wasps using nectar plants’.
Dr Annie Riaz's (pictured below) PhD through the Australian Research Council Industrial Transformation Training Centre for Functional Grains has investigated protein composition and baking characteristics of Australian wheat varieties released between 1860 and 2015.
Honours students Jane Nelson, Liam Mowbray, Rhys Powell, Madeline Paley, Erin Stranks, Anne-Maree Farley, Kate Webster, Maryam Barati, Haben Melke and M Raiyan Mahbub have also graduated in 2020.
Many other research students have completed their studies and we look forward to celebrating their ‘official graduation’ once the University Council has conferred awards. It’s also important to acknowledge the dedication of their supervisors who have supported these students during such difficult times.
Indeed all our scientists have done an outstanding job to ensure their research could continue and to secure new projects that will advance our grain and red meat industries. One of these is the Cool Soil Initiative, a $2 million investment over three years that will work with 200 farmers to investigate opportunities to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.
A special mention to Professor Geoff Gurr who won the Engagement Australia Award in the category Outstanding Engagement for Research impact for his work on novel pest management programs. Recognition of this work is well deserved and exemplifies the world class and impactful research undertaken by Graham Centre members.
So as we say goodbye to 2020 I wish you a safe and happy festive season.
Professor Leigh Schmidtke, Acting Graham Centre Director
Farmers across NSW are seeing a bumper harvest and as the header moves through crops on the Charles Sturt University farm our researchers are collecting data to inform precision agriculture research.
Graham Centre senior research fellow in spatial agriculture Jon Medway said an on-combine whole grain analyser is providing great detail about the variation in production within each paddock this harvest.
“The sensor is able to collect and analyse a sample every six to 12 seconds and is connected to the harvesters GPS equipment to record the location of each measurement.
"It’s measuring grain moisture and protein and oil content in Canola.”
Mr Medway said the information gathered this harvest will be matched with detailed landscape soil mapping and satellite data collected throughout the growing season.
“Yield data by itself can be incredibly valuable but it increases in its value if you can match that with other pieces of information to actually understand and explain why one part of the paddock has produced differently to another part of the paddock. Understanding the soil is a starting step for understanding yield variability.”
“What we are interested in is how we can use this information for the management of the subsequent crops. Is there something we can do around fertiliser management utilising soil moisture to achieve the optimum, yield, protein or oil content mix.
“The yield variability in Canola ranged from 1.7 tonnes to 3 tonnes per hectare while the oil content ranged from 42 per cent to 48 per cent.
“The highest oil content grain also came from the highest yielding areas of the paddock which also corresponded with the lowest conductivity, lightest textured soil of the paddock.
“It’s going to be really interesting to go back after harvest and look at the residual moisture in different parts of the paddock and look at how we might use that information.”
Barley and wheat harvest is now underway and Mr Medway said data about protein content of the grain will allow for a more detailed understanding of the Nitrogen use.
“It’s fairly common for growers to use yield maps to try to estimate what the Nitrogen requirements for the following season will be.
“This year having the protein content means we can generate Nitrogen removal maps.
“We can look at how many kilograms of Nitrogen has been removed from each hectare, then we can look at residual moisture and Nitrogen in different parts of the paddock to give us a much more complete view of the Nitrogen use cycle.
Mr Medway said repeating the research over multiple seasons will be critical.
Thanks to Charles Sturt farm manager James Stephens, CNH’s Precision Solutions and Telematics Business Unit precision farming specialist Daryn Higgins and harvest contractor Ben Beck for their support in this research.
The research is part of the creation of a ‘digital twin’ of the 1,600 hectare Charles Sturt Farm for teaching, research and to develop decision support tools for farmers to make better use of data and precision agriculture technology.
Hear more in the Digital Farm podcast.
‘A chance to be on the front foot.’ That’s how southern NSW farmer John Bruce describes a project that’s working with wheat growers to investigate opportunities to reduce on-farm greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions.
The ‘Cool Soil Initiative’ is a Food Agility Cooperative Research Centre (CRC) project with Charles Sturt University through the Graham Centre, the not-for-profit Food Sustainability Lab, and manufacturers Mars Petcare, Kellogg’s and the Manildra Group.
Mr Bruce (pictured) has already seen the benefits of this approach.
He describes himself as one of the ‘original guinea pigs’ in a 2017 pilot program through Riverine Plains Inc, the Sustainable Food Lab and Mars Petcare.
“We operate a mixed farming business near Barooga growing winter crops, turning off first-cross lambs, and producing summer crops when there’s water available for irrigation,” Mr Bruce said.
“We supplied cropping records, details such as inputs like fertiliser and chemical applications, stubble management and yields.
“That combined with the GPS linked soil testing gave us more information about what was happening in our cropping systems.
“It wasn’t a time consuming or onerous task and we were well supported by the project staff.”
Mr Bruce said his experience in the project has reinforced his decision making.
“The project hasn’t caused us to make wholesale changes to the way we manage our stubble but it has definitely made us more conscious of how we manage it,” Mr Bruce said.
“We are transitioning to a full stubble retention system with the intention to move away from burning.
“The last two years of drought has shown us that ground cover is paramount and the goal is to move to a disc-seeder and stripper front for our harvester.
“In my own mind and from talking to other farmers that are running this system, it is a big contributor to improving soil health and hopefully help reduce our greenhouse gas emissions.”
He can also see a need for the grain supply chain to be able to prove its sustainability credentials.
“As the movement to tackle climate change gains momentum agriculture needs to be on the front-foot, to have the information available to improve sustainability,” Mr Bruce said.
“Importantly we also need to be able to demonstrate what we are doing and the impact of those farming practices.”
The pilot project has paved the way for the new ‘Cool Soil Initiative’ with a $2 million investment, new industry partners, and strengthened research capacity.
Charles Sturt Professor of Food Sustainability Professor Niall Blair said climate change is one of the biggest challenges facing Australian farmers today.
“We know agriculture is a big contributor of greenhouse gas emissions. But we also know it can be a big part of the solution.
“This project is unique as it has been driven by food manufacturing companies who have committed to supporting sustainable supply of key commodities.
“They’re working with farmers to investigate opportunities to mitigate GHG emissions and improve soil health, without compromising farm productivity and profitability.”
The project will work with up to 200 farmers on 700 000 hectares through Riverine Plains Inc, FarmLink Research and Central West Farming Systems over the next three years.
The project will support them to better understand how crop management practices, such as rotations and stubble management impact on soil health and GHG emissions.
Graham Centre senior research fellow in spatial agriculture, Jon Medway will be involved in the research to improve spatial estimates of soil carbon, refine soil sampling methods and to provide spatial data to participating farmers so that it can be used in decision making.
The project will also evaluate the online greenhouse gas calculator, Cool Farm Tool, to quantify emissions in an Australian farming context so we can effectively measure and track changes on-farm over time.
Find out more about the project on our website or contact your farming systems group to find out how you can be involved.
From the expansion of cotton, to the emergence of nut plantations and the fluctuating fortunes of rice – the use of irrigation water in the Murrumbidgee catchment has been changing.
Graham Centre researchers have been examining the data.
Read more about the work by Dr Sosheel Godfrey, Dr Tom Nordblom, Dr Ryan Ip and Dr Muhuddin Anwar from Charles Sturt University and Dr Karl Behrendt who is now based at Harper Adams University in the United Kingdom.
The Murray-Darling Basin (MDB) encompasses 22 water catchments. This study focusses on the recent history of water use for irrigation in the Murrumbidgee catchment.
The Murrumbidgee catchment accounts for 8 per cent of the MDB and covers 8.4 million hectares (84,000 square kilometres) of southern New South Wales. Agriculture in the Murrumbidgee valley is quite diverse. Dryland grazing and cereal-based cropping are dominant, accounting for more than 75 per cent of land use. In comparison, only five per cent of the land is irrigated (Murray-Darling Basin Authority, 2020). However, the latter makes a substantial (AUD $1.1 Billion in 2018) contribution to the catchment’s gross dollar value of agricultural production (Figure 1) (Gupta et al., 2020).
Figure 1: Southern NSW Murrumbidgee catchment 2006 to 2018 gross value of irrigated agricultural production (GVIAP) in nominal dollars (millions) for different crops
The irrigated annual and perennial crops planted in the catchment adjust to market forces that result in the shifts in water and land uses over time. Water availability in the southern Murray-Darling Basin is strongly influenced by rainfall in the upper catchments, which varies significantly between years. Allocations of available water among crops (Figure 2) are decided by individual farmers who may have contracts for rice or cotton production or less flexible contracts for fixed perennial crops of citrus, grapes or nuts. Most flexible are the choices to grow other annual crops which can be altered year to year according to water availability and price, as well as anticipated commodity prices.
Figure 2: Southern NSW Murrumbidgee catchment 2006 to 2018 volume of irrigation water applied (GL) for different crops. Source: (Gupta et al., 2020)
The most significant water user in the Murrumbidgee catchment has been the rice industry, which faced the greatest cutbacks during the drought years (2007-09). Cotton areas have expanded to the point of recently exceeding the total water use by rice or any other crop. Grapevines have maintained relatively constant water use over time. Almond plantations are an emerging presence in the catchment with regard to water use; many young plantations are expected to require greater water volumes as they mature.
The researchers acknowledge Professor Jim Pratley and the Graham centre for supporting this work through the Pilot project funding scheme.
More information: firstname.lastname@example.org Tel: 02 6933 2921
Gupta, M., Westwood, T., Legg, P., & Hughes, N. (2020). MDB water market dataset. ABARES. https://www.agriculture.gov.au/abares/research-topics/water/mdb-water-market-dataset
Murray-Darling Basin Authority. (2020). Catchments in the Murray–Darling Basin. https://www.mdba.gov.au/water-management/catchments
Research at Charles Sturt University and localfarms aims to increase our knowledge of the ecological benefits from the introduction and establishment of introduced dung beetles.
Charles Sturt PhD student Mr Long Ma, from the Graham Centre, has begun field experiments as part of the Dung Beetle Ecosystems Engineers project.
He’s investigating the impact of introduced dung beetle species activity on soil properties, soil microbial populations and pasture plants growth.
The project currently has seven sites in three states examining the dung incorporation of two beetles, one winter active and the other spring active.
Mr Ma said he’s excited to begin the field work in three locations across the Riverina, including Wagga Wagga, Culcairn and Gundagai.
“The mesocosm experiments in progress are evaluating dung pad decomposition, soil nutrient and organic carbon changes as well as pasture growth,” he said.
“My research is expected to quantify dung beetle benefits to soil conditions and pasture growth which will provide knowledge base to livestock producers and help management decisions to minimise operation costs.”
Mr Ma’s research is supervised by Charles Sturt Professor Leslie Weston, Professor Geoff Gurr, Associate Professor Phil Eberbach, Dr Paul Weston and Dr Russ Barrow.
A lysimeter experiment at Charles Sturt in Wagga Wagga is also looking at impact of dung beetles on soil properties and microbial numbers, including the presence of E. coli in soil water as it percolates over time.
“Dung is typically rapidly shredded and removed from the soil surface as dung beetles tunnel and bury it over time,” Professor Weston said.
“This research is gathering information about the impact of dung beetle activity on soil ecosystem services and also the transport of soil water contaminants through various soil types.”
As well as quantifying the ecosystem services and economic impacts of dung beetles the DBEE project is introducing new dung beetles to fill gaps in the distribution in southern Australia.
The research team is currently monitoring the numbers and performance of dung beetle species at more than 100 sites across NSW, WA, Victoria, Tasmania and South Australia.
Research on dung beetles is led by Charles Sturt through funding from Meat & Livestock Australia (MLA) through the Australian Government Department of Agriculture’s Rural Research &Development for Profit program.
The project is supported by 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.
The Graham Centre is supporting five more Charles Sturt University students to develop their skills and interest in research through summer internships.
Mr Lachlan Bailey will be working with Dr Vikki Brookes examining knowledge and practices in regard to biosecurity and emergency animal diseases.
Ms Jessica Rees is also working in the area of biosecurity, with Associate Professor Marta Hernandez Jover investigating strategies for changing behaviour.
Mr John Snow will work with Dr Phil Eberbach on research to understand the impact of harvester fronts and stubble height on the stubble microclimate over the summer fallow.
Ms Sarah Webb (pictured) will be involved in the Dung Beetle Ecosystem Engineers project under the guidance of Professor Leslie Weston.
Ms Kate Hodgson will also be working with Professor Weston.
The internship program is an opportunity for students to gain practical experience, build networks and to learn more about Graham Centre projects.
Graham Centre member and NSW Department of Primary Industries meat scientist Dr Benjamin Holman has been recognised by the Southern Australia Livestock Research Council (SALRC) with a Young Achiever Award.
Dr Holman’s research focuses on production and processing system effects on red meat, optimising storage combinations to deliver better preservation and new approaches to better match meat-to-market.
SALRC Chair Ian Rogan said, “The successful future of our sheep and beef industries depends on the research, development and commercial adoption of best practice and new knowledge and products.”
Dr Holman said he was honoured to receive the SALRC Young Achiever Award.
“It is an exciting time in the livestock industry and I feel fortunate to be involved,” Dr Holman said.
“The award is a reminder that as scientists we are responsible to red meat industry and must strive to ensure that our research has real and practical benefit to the sector.”
SALRC is an independent, incorporated association and one of three national research Councils setup to provide recommendations on Research, Development & Adoption (RD&A) priorities and planning for grass-fed beef and sheepmeat producers throughout Australia.
Charles Sturt PhD candidate and Graham Centre member Ms Brooke Kaveney is the winner of the Country Education Foundation of Australia (CEF) Alumni of the Year Award.
“It is an honour to be awarded Alumni of the Year. Previous winners have accomplished so much and I feel privileged and humbled that my work has been recognised to be of a similar standard,” Ms Kaveney said.
Ms Kaveney has submitted her thesis examining the effect of the nitrification inhibitor 3,4-dimethylpyrazole phosphate on soil mineral nitrogen processes, and is starting a post-doctoral research position with the Australian Centre for International Agricultural Research (ACIAR).
She's pictured here in southern Vietnam sampling saline soil in rice-shrimp farming systems as part of an earlier ACIAR project.
Country Education Foundation of Australia is an education charity offering equity-based financial support for further education to young people (16-25) in the 44 locally based foundations based in rural and regional Australia.
A Graham Centre research team led by Charles Sturt University Professor Geoff Gurr has won the 2020 Engagement Australia Excellence Awards for outstanding engagement for research impact.
The research has been developing innovative pest management approaches to benefit the environment and improve global food security.
The research developed multi-language, multi-format communications including a 20 episode TV series broadcast in Vietnam.
Professor Gurr said this win was great recognition for what has been a team effort involving postgraduate and post-doctoral students, and collaborators within the university, and indeed around the globe.
“This project was initiated over 10 years ago when I began collaborating with colleagues across Asia to combat a very serious outbreak of pests in rice crops,” Professor Gurr said.
“The original project was driven by a crisis and we were able to find a solution relatively quickly; it also set the industry up to be more sustainable, and give farmers higher yields.
“Since that time, reflecting the success of the rice project we have worked with other industries particularly in Australia.”
Engagement Australia is the peak alliance of Australian and New Zealand universities, which believes engaged universities consider their core public purpose is as a centre of knowledge creation and societal improvement.
The Excellence Awards identify and celebrate the transformative engagement activities which demonstrate far-reaching impact and innovation.
Professor Gurr was also recently named as a leader in his field of insects and anthropods, in a report by the Australian newspaper, listing researchers with the highest number of citations from papers published in the last five years in the top 20 journals in their field.
Supervisors: Associate Professor Jane Heller, Dr Emma Scholz, Professor Jacqui Norris (Sydney University)
PhD thesis title: Investigating selection pressures driving antibiotic resistance in the Riverina using a One Health approach
Relevant Current Employment: Project officer for a concurrent government funded research project on veterinary antimicrobial stewardship, a bit of locum vet work and a bit of teaching and marking here and there.
My first undergraduate degree was in Fine Arts and I worked for a time in the film and television industry in Australia and Norway. I did a post grad writing course and moved towards media and communications for a time, before changing lanes to veterinary science. I got my veterinary degree at Charles Sturt University, graduating in 2016 and working in small animal practice, including a rotating internship at Sydney University Veterinary Teaching Hospital. As a student I was lucky enough to spend a few weeks at the Australian Animal Health Lab in Geelong. That experience, combined with the personal reward I felt from undertaking an Honours project in my final year of vet science, really piqued my interest in moving more into research.
I’m interested in anything and everything One Health – the complex problems that impact human, animal, and environmental health and the ways in which different industries, species, resources, and nations interact to drive risk in these systems. I like being able to use qualitative research to dig-in and understand the how and why of quantitative findings.
My current research is on the sociological factors that impact on antimicrobial prescribing behaviour in human and animal health, the potential consequences of current antimicrobial usage on selection pressure for resistance in the environment, and how best to communicate the data we have on resistance trends into interventions that can engage prescribers on antimicrobial stewardship. Antimicrobial stewardship is essentially about shifting away from seeing antibiotics as the first line in managing all infectious disease, but rather providing a framework to avoid and minimise infectious diseases in the first place using good biosecurity and infection prevention and control, and when infections do occur, in being able to apply an evidence-based approach to antibiotic therapy that maximises health outcomes for the people or animals being treated, while minimising harm to the broader environment, population and future generations.
Member of AVA Workforce Challenges Working Group
Member of Sustainable Vet Careers initiative
Co-founding member of the AMR Vet Collective
Co-founding member of the Charles Sturt Veterinary Alumni Student Network (VSAN)
I was lucky enough to get my hands on a coveted COVID puppy, so my days start at 5.30am on the dot now when my five-month-old German Short-Haired Pointer wakes me, ready for her morning walk.
I’m actually studying by distance and based in Brisbane, QLD, so it gets pretty warm early here. I try to have the morning walk, a bit of home exercise, and breakfast done by 7.30am, then catch a bit of morning news over my coffee and I’m ready to start the day.
My initial research work involved direct visits to human hospitals, vet clinics, farms, and other stakeholder places of business throughout the Murrumbidgee, so we’ve had to pivot to some more desk-top based research for the time being.
Working from home has its plusses and minuses, as I know many people have come to know over the course of the year. I try to get a good solid four to five hours out in the morning before it gets too hot in my home office and I have to come downstairs to the air conditioning, or outside under the umbrella if there’s a breeze and the mosquitos aren’t too bad.
My work could involve anything from zoom meetings and stakeholder phone conversations, conducting interviews, coding interview data, reading recent papers or another qualitative research textbook that I’ve found on special online, cleaning and analysing data, or creating content for a website and online learning program I’m working on.
I put aside a bit of time each week now to work on some other projects that I am involved with that are all essentially focused on supporting sustainable veterinary careers. I have a journal club with some other researchers once a fortnight, who are based in Sydney and Melbourne, and that is really great. I try to only go into my email a couple of times a day as I find I can get caught up in responding to things on my email over getting through my scheduled work. I try to schedule each day at least the day prior and take a bit of time on Friday’s to plan the coming week; the goal being that I can then empty my brain as much as possible of all things PhD and work over the weekend. This occurs with varying success.
Recently a close family member has become unwell so that has been a big reminder of what’s important in life. I now schedule carer time each week. Sometimes life spills more into my workspace than it used to these days, and I am trying to be ok with that. I am spending more time with family, and friends, and making time for the things I enjoy, like reading or listening to audiobooks, getting outside into nature, beach trips with my dog, writing, swimming, long chats with friends over a cuppa or a glass of wine, and I have recently taken up singing lessons as a bit of a creative outlet. I enjoy my work and research but I am trying not to let it take up all of my time and energy.
Along with my PhD I’m working on a project to measure and grow engagement among veterinarians with available online learning resources on antimicrobial stewardship.
I love having the opportunity to sit with people one-on-one and talk to them about topics that matter to them during my interviews. And there is a special magic to the process of analysis and theory generation from coded interview data – it’s a bit like watching the photo print emerge in the developer; after a long time in the dark, suddenly it all comes together. I love that. It’s almost addictive!
Hang out with my pets, catch up with friends, travel (or at least I used to), snow ski, hike, swim, sing, write, read, take photographs, watch great films or addictive streaming series, have a coffee at my favourite café – just absorb all of the good stuff!
I’m a bit of an audiobook tragic in the car – currently listening to Call of the Reed Warbler by Charles Massey. My 2020 Isolation playlist included Xavier Rudd, Meg Mac, Montaigne, Tom Rosenthal and Two-Door Cinema Club. On a proper road trip I’d probably delve into the 90’s and 2000’s era stuff, punctuated by great storytellers like Neil Young and Josh Pyke. In music, as in life, I like variety.
Position: Postdoctoral research fellow
Organisation: Graham Centre, Functional Grains Centre
I obtained my Bachelor’s degree in Industrial Technology major in Food from Univerisiti Sains Malaysia in 2007.
During the study, I had an opportunity to do placement at the Charles Sturt University Cheese Factory. After I completed my Bachelor‘s degree, I changed track and studied a food management degree in Manchester. I moved to Wagga Wagga in 2009 to do a PhD in Food Biochemistry. I have been with Functional Grains Centre since I graduated in 2013. Initially I was based at CSIRO Werribee but moved back to Wagga Wagga in 2017 for teaching and research mostly at NaLSH and facilities around the winery.
I am interested in solving problems. Specifically, I like to create and value-add to an agricultural commodity. I am relatively new compared to other experts in this area. Previous achievement include the development of a method to convert de-fatted canola meal into a high protein ingredient suitable for use in the aquaculture industry. Upon completion, the project was nurtured by the AgriTech Incubator program in preparation for commercialisation. The idea was pitched in front of the Deputy Prime Minister, the Hon Michael McCormack and the public at the end of the program. It is now in the process of patent application prior to progressing further.
My current project is on screening of different Australian sorghum varieties to determine the characteristics ideal for making baijiu – a very popular Chinese distilled spirit usually made from sorghum.
I had the opportunity to teach a food technology subject and a few chemistry subjects previously. I really enjoy the interaction with students. I find it very rewarding to see them learn and grow throughout the semester. Teaching is a two-way learning process. I like to see their reaction and response to everything happens the class, which helps me to think and push for self-improvement.
Professional Member of the Australian Institute of Food Science and Technology (AIFST)
Member of the Australian Grain Science Association (AGSA)
I normally turn on my computer first thing in the morning and write about my dream. I then have a glass of lukewarm water (exactly 450ml) and read the news from different sources if I still have time before work.
The work routine can be different from week to week depending on the progress just like every other researcher. A combination of lab work, computer work, meeting, planning, emailing basically uses up the day very quickly.
In the recent few weeks I have been characterising the baijiu made from different sorghum varieties in terms of their volatile compounds using GCMS. Another focus at the moment is on writing up manuscripts.
Doing fermentation and see the life cycle of microorganisms over and over again. I also enjoy distilling high ethanol content spirits in the lab.
To go to the gym for stress control, go to different supermarkets to check out the bargains of the week- a habit that I picked up when I was a student. I also like to write up my everyday life. (The writing may be good material for a best seller in a later stage and contribute to my retirement fund.)
ABC news radio that delivers news continuously and offers a range of programs from international partners such BBC, DW and CNN. Occasionally I listen to The Ting Tings, Paramore, Ellie Goulding and Emeli Sande.