I am writing this Director’s report not from my office at the Graham Centre but from home. Like many people Graham Centre staff are working remotely while the COVID-19 restrictions are in place.
Of course that doesn’t mean our activity has stopped, in fact I’ve been impressed by the commitment of our members to continue teaching, research and engagement through the pandemic and the innovative ways they are overcoming challenges.
We’ve seen Honours research students set up microscopes on the kitchen table, field trials continue with appropriate social distancing, scientists showcasing their findings in webinars and of course we’re all learning to connect through technology and what seems an endless schedule of zoom meetings.
I know that many farmers are used to working alone but I also know how important it is to come together in the agricultural sector. There’ll be an opportunity to do just that when the Graham Centre Livestock Forum is held online on Friday 31 July.
While COVID-19 is preventing large face-to-face gatherings we’re making use of an interactive digital platform for the Livestock Forum so that people will still be able to network and tap into the latest research from Charles Sturt University, the NSW Department of Primary Industries and industry. We know how much the event is valued and are embracing the opportunity to allow more people to attend online from the comfort of their home. I hope to see you there.
Top: Graham Centre member and NSW DPI researcher Dr Ehsan Tavaookoli and his team sowing trials and soil sampling as part of research looking at subsoil constraints.(photo Ehsan Tavakkoli)
Middle: Honours research student Jordan Bathgate set up a microscope on the kitchen table to continue his research, read more later in the Innovator. (photo courtesy Jordan Bathgate)
Middle 2: Graham Centre researchers Graeme Heath and Dr Russ Barrow have been busy establishing research sites as part of the Dung Beetle Ecosystem Engineers project. This site is at Rennylea, near Wymah in southern NSW. The research underway is focused on gathering data to assess and quantify the impacts dung beetles are having on such things as pasture growth, soil nutrient profiles, soil texture and organic matter content. (photo Lucinda Corrigan)
Bottom: Winter planting of weed competitive wheat underway for winter 2020 following healthy autumn rains in the Riverina, Dr Saliya Gurusinghe, Dr Shamsul Haque and Graeme Heath.
The growing interest in finishing lambs in a feedlot has shown the need for research to build on the opportunities and overcome constraints of the production system- and the Graham Centre is up for the challenge.
Charles Sturt University Senior Lecturer in Animal Production, Dr Shawn McGrath said one area under investigation is feedlot diets.
“The growth rates and feed conversion efficiency is important information for producers who need to ensure they are maximising growth rates of lambs to meet market specifications, but also ensuring efficient conversion to meat so that the feeding operation is viable.”
A recent trial has compared the growth rates of lambs fed different diets in the feedlot, including commercially available pellets.
The research is supported by an innovation connections grant as part of the Australian Government's Entrepreneurs' Programme, in partnership with Oilseeds Australia.
Charles Sturt University Bachelor of Veterinary Science student Amy Underwood has also collected samples as part of her Honours research which will investigate the calcium and phosphorus balance of lambs fed different rations.
But the research doesn’t stop there with a pilot study investigating using new technology to differentiate between grass-fed lamb and lamb finished in the feedlot.
The study, supported by a Graham Centre Member Support Grant is tapping into the expertise of the meat science team at the NSW Department of Primary Industries (DPI) Centre for Red Meat and Sheep Development in Cowra.
Research lead, Dr Stephanie Fowler said grass-fed products attract a market premium over supplemented lambs but currently the industry relies on expensive and subjective audits to differentiate between the two.
“Raman spectroscopy offers a novel and untested means to improve the effectiveness and objectivity of this categorisation, using chemical ‘finger-print’ differences in fat and muscle.
“If it’s proven to be successful it could equip the lamb industry with a rapid, evidence based method for detecting supplemented grass fed lambs.
“The first step is establishing the minimum level of detection at which Raman spectroscopy can identify lambs with supplemented diets.
“That information could then be used to develop a guide to enable producers to meet grass-fed guidelines in drought while maintaining consumer confidence in grass-fed products.”
Charles Sturt University PhD student Bridgette Logan’s research has so far focused on verifying production systems of beef cattle and she’s looking forward to expanding her research into lamb.
Miss Logan has collected fat and samples from the lamb carcases and they’ll be assessed by Raman Spectroscopy in a laboratory setting.
“The assessment of different fat depots across the carcase will also be assessed to develop a chemometric model that is best suited for evaluating lamb carcases,” Miss Logan said.
With this data collected Miss Logan will be well on her way to finishing her PhD.
Miss Logan’s PhD is supported by a scholarship from the Australian Meat Processors Corporation and the Graham Centre.
Imagine tracking beef cattle movements and knowing if they were walking, resting or grazing- every four seconds, every day.
It sounds like a ‘fit bit’ for cows but researchers from the Graham Centre for Agricultural Innovation are trialing ‘MOOnitor’ cow collars, a system developed in Israel using satellite and cloud communication.
Charles Sturt lecturer in whole farm management Dr Shawn McGrath from the Fred Morley Centre said it’s an opportunity to showcase the technology to students and assess its application for research and cattle management.
“Behavioural monitors are now commonly used in the global dairy industry for monitoring cattle health and identifying management events,” Dr McGrath said.
“We’ve purchased some of the collars to see how this technology can be used within our wider research portfolio and to examine its potential for use in extensive beef production systems in Australia to improve health, welfare, production and management outcomes.”
Graham Centre senior research fellow in spatial agriculture, Jon Medway says it’s an important step forward in the Centre’s research into precision livestock management.
“This kind of technology can put an enormous amount of data at producers’ fingertips but there’s no point in collecting data without being able to use it to add value to a livestock system,” Mr Medway said.
“We want to understand how the technology works and aim to conduct experiments to test and validate it for new uses within Australian beef production systems.
“It’s also an important teaching tool for students given that this kind of technology is likely to be part of the landscape of livestock production in the future.”
The purchase of the collars has been supported by the Charles Sturt University Faculty of Science Small Research Infrastructure Support Scheme.
The 2020 rice harvest in the Murrumbidgee Irrigation Area (MIA) marks an important milestone for PhD student Allister Clarke, providing an opportunity to put his PhD research to the test.
Mr Clarke’s research through the Australian Research Council (ARC) Industrial Transformation Training Centre for Functional Grains aims to develop models to allow for rice to be graded on the basis of quality at the point of delivery.
Since late March rice crops from across the Riverina have been harvested and delivered to receival stands across the region.
In contrast to other cereals like wheat, where growers can find out quality parameters like protein and therefore the pay grade at delivery, the rice sample taken from the truck needs to be stored, dried and milled before the quality can be appraised.
“After delivery growers have to wait a few more months before they know the quality appraisals of their crops,” Mr Clarke said.
“The quality appraisal score represents whole grain yield (WGY) which is the percentage of rice grains that remain un-broken during the milling process.
“Without an ability to physically test WGY at the delivery stand, pre-milling segregation is also limited and growers are left in the dark regarding the quality of their crop and the final payment they’ll receive.”
Mr Clarke’s research aims to generate variety specific predictive models that will allow the grading of a load, based on WGY, at the delivery point.
Mr Clarke’s developing the models through application of sophisticated machine learning algorithms to a dataset of historical rice production records which incorporate the key factors that influence rice WGY during crop development.
The 2020 rice harvest was an opportunity to validate preliminary models on the new post-harvest data being captured.
A pilot study was designed to focus on production of the most widely grown rice variety, Reiziq, in the MIA.
Mr Clarke said the dataset construction was made up of three key stages.
“The first step involved collation of historical industry data, where grower recorded crop management surveys were joined to the delivery stand data and the resulting quality appraisals of that crop,” he said.
“Next, rice phenology data, as reported by the NSW Department of Primary Industries (NSW DPI), was used to approximate the timings of critical development stages of each crop.
“Finally, the rice crop phenology and location data was used to extract the raw weather data from the closest weather station, allowing the climatic conditions experienced during each crop development stage to be added to the dataset.”
Initial model development from the pilot study dataset involves a cycle of ‘Feature Selection’, ‘Algorithm Selection and Parameter Optimisation’ and ‘Validation of Model Results’.
“This process is critical in the identification of the most impactful variables, selection of the algorithm that best fits the dataset, and validation of model accuracy when predicting the new results,” said Mr Clarke.
“Repetitions of the cycle allow for further optimisation and improvement of prediction accuracy and in turn the development of the best possible model.”
Mr Clarke said preliminary validation results are showing strong prediction capabilities, particularly after application of feature selection.
“Testing is ongoing to further enhance prediction accuracy and identify best practice methods, particularly for data pre-processing, feature selection and algorithm optimisation,” he said.
“It’s anticipated that this will allow streamlining of future model development for each active variety on enriched datasets which include records from all growing regions and increased resolution of weather station data.”
The final results and findings of the pilot study are expected to be released to coincide with the end of the 2020 harvest and grower meetings to be held by the Rice Extension and the SunRice Grower Services teams across the Riverina.
Mr Clarke hopes his research will deliver benefits to growers through better understanding of the factors affecting WGY but also through improved storage and milling.
“One of the key aims of the project is to develop the ability to segregate rice at the delivery point on the basis of milling potential, which would allow processing operations to be planned to maximise WGY.
“The price for whole grain is double that for cracked and broken grains, so that means if we can reduce the percentage of broken grains, through better management of storage and milling, it could have a big impact on the value of the crop, and hopefully lead to better prices for growers,” Mr Clarke said.
A Graham Centre pilot research project is examining the biosecurity risk of feral pigs in transmitting animal diseases to commercial pig populations.
The research by Dr Victoria Brookes and Associate Professor Marta Hernandez-Jover will provide important information for pork producers when considering the risks of emergency animal disease like African Swine Fever (ASF) or Foot and Mouth Disease (FMD).
Dr Brookes said the research is focused on interaction between feral pigs and domestic pigs in commercial enterprises.
“In Australia feral pigs are widely distributed, populations vary depending on seasonal conditions and they are extremely difficult to control.
“If an emergency animal disease outbreak occurred in the feral pig population in Australia it’s important to understand the contact between these feral animals and those in commercial piggeries and how to minimise any risk.”
As part of the pilot project Charles Sturt Bachelor of Veterinary Science student, Tamille Barrett has installed surveillance cameras to monitor feral pig activity around two commercial piggeries.
Dr Brookes said it’s testing whether this could be used in a risk assessment framework for the industry, something that could prove important to maintaining international trade.
In the event of ASF in feral pigs, the Australian pig industry could use this framework and the camera-trap system to demonstrate adequate separation of commercial and feral pig populations.
“At the moment we are seeing ASF sweep across Asia and it’s now been detected in Papua New Guinea,” Dr Brookes said.
“It’s been making news because the disease killed more than half the Chinese pig herd and understandably there’s concern about the potential impact of an ASF outbreak in Australia on our pork industry.
“The experience overseas has shown us that if ASF gets into wild boar populations, not all the pigs die, populations can recover and the disease can become endemic.
“If something like this happened in Australia and ASF became endemic in the feral pig population it would be important for the pork industry to be able to show that there’s no contact between feral pigs the commercial herd.
“This research is the first step in developing a framework that could demonstrate the low risk to trading partners, which would be important for the long term management and recovery from an animal disease,” Dr Brookes said.
Deep sowing helps grain growers chase extra moisture in a dry year but get it wrong and you risk poor establishment.
Charles Sturt University Bachelor of Agricultural Science (Honours) student Jordan Bathgate is examining the value of two traits, seedling vigour and coleoptile length, for deep sowing wheat crops.
His research is supported by a Graham Centre Honours scholarship and involves 120 different lines of wheat.
“The coleoptile is the pointed protective sheath that encases the emerging shoot as it grows from the seed to the soil surface,” Mr Bathgate said.
“It’s recommended that for a wheat crop to emerge successfully from the soil, the seed should never be planted deeper than the coleoptile length.
“My research, using a pool of breeding wheat including traditional varieties and lines that haven’t been commercially released, is examining the relationship between seedling vigour and coleoptile length. The focus is on the role these traits have regarding seedling performance from deep sowing.
“It’s hoped the results will assist plant breeders and ultimately help growers make informed sowing decisions.”
Like many of us Mr Bathgate’s had to adjust his work arrangements in light of the COVID-19 pandemic, in this case carrying on with part of his research at home.
“I was able to complete my controlled environment pot trials, and since COVID-19 movement restrictions were introduced, I’ve been working from home to evaluate the coleoptile length of the seedlings,” Mr Bathgate said.
“Now with restrictions beginning to ease, the next phase of the research has begun, which includes field trials of selected lines to determine seed establishment rates and the impact of plant vigour and coleoptile length in deep sown treatments.”
The research is supervised by Dr Sergio Moroni (Charles Sturt) and Dr Felicity Harris (NSW Department of Primary Industries) and is a collaboration with Dr Russell Eastwood (Australian Grain Technologies) and Dr Greg Rebetzke (CSIRO).
Spending the best part of a year in Lao PDR has shown Stephen Lang that working in international agriculture is where he wants to be.
Until COVID-19, Mr Lang was working as a soils agronomist in Savannakhet in Laos under the guidance of Graham Centre members Dr Deirdre Lemerle and Dr Jason Condon as part of a Crawford Fund mentoring program.
Mr Lang says his work is part of a program to improve production on rice farms.
“I’m working with the local agriculture office and we aim to recognise the soil constraints within the local region and work out ways to overcome them to improve yields and livelihoods,” Mr Lang said.
“Some of this is introducing liming for acid soils but also encouraging the use of compost and replacing nutrients in ongoing seasons.”
Mr Lang said a highlight of his work in Laos has been engaging with local farmers.
“Being based here as a longer term volunteer I have learnt the importance of building relationships with the local team and working within the local context to achieve results.
“I am learning the Lao language and it’s definitely rewarding when I can say things in the field and be understood by local farmers.”
The program is a collaboration between: Lao farmers and collaborators; Lao Provincial Agricultural and Forestry Office, Lao district agricultural and forestry offices; the Crawford Fund; the Australian Volunteers Program; and the Australian Centre for International Agricultural Research (ACIAR).
Dr Lemerle’s involvement in this program was supported by Graham Centre engagement funding.
Livestock producers will be able to tap into practical research to improve their production in an online and interactive Forum to be hosted by the Graham Centre for Agricultural Innovation on Friday 31 July.
The program includes producers sharing their experiences, panel discussions with industry experts and new beef and sheep industry research that can be applied directly on-farm.
Key topics for discussion include containment feeding, sheep reproduction, genetic benchmarking in the merino industry, dual purpose mixes and cover cropping, extracting more value from cull cows and multi-breed genomic evaluation in beef cattle.
During this time of isolation it’s important to stay connected and keep up-to-date with industry advancements and there’ll be plenty of opportunities to network with other producers and the researchers in the interactive online platform.
The Forum will be held from 9am to 1pm on Friday 31 July and will cost $10 to attend.
Registrations will open soon and people can sign up for alerts about the Forum or for more information contact Toni Nugent on 0418 974 775.
The 2020 Forum is supported by Meat & Livestock Australia, Local Land Services Riverina, Animal Health Australia, ProWay Livestock Equipment and Sheep Connect NSW.
The Graham Centre is a research alliance between Charles Sturt University and the NSW Department of Primary Industries.
An interest in soil science and a desire to learn more about new technology prompted Charles Sturt Bachelor of Agricultural Business Management student Joel Costello to apply for a summer internship at the Graham Centre for Agricultural Innovation.
“My interest was founded at the family farm at Young when three years ago we invested in improving the application of both fertiliser and lime using variable rate technologies,” Mr Costello said.
“Since starting university, subjects surrounding new technologies in agriculture and soil science have peaked my interest.”
During the internship program he worked with researcher Jon Medway to gather data to generate a soil landscape map of the Charles Sturt farm.
Mr Costello was tasked with using aerial imagery and ground observations to develop an updated Charles Sturt farm map that will form the basis for an online GIS and farm record keeping system.
He then completed an electromagnetic survey of the arable areas of the farm using the Graham Centre’s new DualEM-HS21 sensor, which measures the soil conductivity simultaneously at six soil depths down to almost four metres.
As soil conductivity is strongly correlated to a range of soil characteristics, this data will now form the basis for a program of targeted soil profile investigations to ultimately describe the spatial distribution of soils across the Charles Sturt farm.
This soil data will be integrated with historical satellite imagery, topography data, yield maps and historic farm records along with previously collected information to generate a map of historical productivity and ultimately, assessment of landscape capability assessment for ongoing management.
Mr Costello said the internship involved a wide variety of activities and gave him a good overview of precision agriculture.
“I was able to see many parts that together make up the research behind precision agriculture,” Mr Costello said.
“In particular, the importance of analysing the data that is collected to improve the productivity and profitability for producers.”
Mr Costello said the internship has inspired him to focus on improving his skills in spatial data and data analysis, something he believes will allow him to get the most out of his Bachelor of Agricultural Science studies.
“Many of the tasks undertaken as part of the internship can be directly applied to my future career.
“Learning how to use the mapping software, gaining an understanding of how to use guidance systems, and then how to apply these technologies to better the agricultural industry.”
The diamondback moth is one of agriculture’s worst agricultural pests, it has an appetite for brassica crops like Canola and is adept at developing resistance to pesticides.
A team of international scientists, including the Graham Centre’s Professor Geoff Gurr, has recently published research tracing the origin and historical spread of the diamondback moth.
Professor Gurr says the research published in the journal Nature Communications, is the most in-depth genetic analysis of any type of living organism, even humans.
“This research has analysed the full genomes of more than 530 diamondback moths collected from 114 locations across 55 countries.
“We have discovered the diamondback moth originated in South America, and started moving about 500 years ago, initially through Central and North America before invading Europe, Asia and finally the Pacific,” Professor Gurr said.
“Most of this movement was accidental by human activities, European colonists and traders, transporting commodities across oceans.
“Along the way, the diamondback moth used its adaptive capacity to cope with the new climates and plants it encountered.
“Of course, the global expansion of agriculture, including the brassica plants it specialises in, fuelled growth of populations sizes.
“Genetically speaking, Australia has a ‘young’ population of diamondback moth but even here it has adapted to feeding on native, brassica weeds as well as important crops.
“This finding that the pest originates in South America is a major breakthrough because all previous theories about its origin, such as the Mediterranean or even in China, had us barking up the wrong tree.
“Now that we know where the diamondback moth originally came from we can focus our energy on looking in the right place for better natural predators and parasites to help give us control of this devastating pest.”
The study was led by Fujian Agriculture and Forestry University in China where Professor Gurr is a visiting professor.
Graham Centre Partnerships and Engagement Manager Toni Nugent is one of 25 women selected to take part in a leadership program run by the National Rural Women’s Coalition.
The six week online program, ‘eskilling Accelerator Leadership Program’ aims to allow rural, remote and regional women to connect and network with other women while building on their leadership and advocacy skills to equip them to make a difference in their community.
“The women taking part in the program are from across the country and they have a wealth of knowledge to share,” Ms Nugent said.
“It’s also an opportunity to connect with some of the National Rural Women’s Coalition Board who represent rural Australian women at a national and international level.”
The NRWC is the largest rural women’s advocacy group in Australia. With five member organisations; Australian Women in Agriculture, Australia Local Government Women’s Association, Country Women’s Association of Australia, National Rural Health Alliance and Women in Seafood Australasia working towards the improvement of rural women and girls lives in Australia.
In the aftermath of the catastrophic bushfires earlier this year Graham Centre member and Charles Sturt University academic Dr Joanne Connolly answered a call from the NSW Wildlife Council to assist in the emergency response for native fauna.
As a veterinarian with wildlife experience and a tranquilliser dart gun licence, she volunteered at the Wildlife Rescue South Coast wildlife centre along with local wildlife carers, veterinarians from Australia and North America and emergency response teams from New Zealand (HUHA).
Dr Connolly said this involved animal rescues, rearing orphans, sedation and anaesthesia, treating burnt or injured wildlife, and cases involving cardio-respiratory disease, blood parasites, seizures, and myopathy.
“I was able to assist with some innovative burn and pain management techniques used by visiting experts from the University of California, Davis. It was very rewarding to be a part of the rescue and treatment effort,” Dr Connolly said.
The experience has inspired to Dr Connolly to pursue her research interest in the area of emergency bushfire wildlife rehabilitation.
She’s also leading the development of a new subject at Charles Sturt University to build capacity within Australia in the field of wildlife rescue, health assessment, minimising stress and pain and supportive management aimed at successful animal release and integration into wild populations.
Supervisors: Professor Michael Friend, Professor Robyn Warner, Dr Michael Campbell, Associate Professor Peter Thomson, and Dr David McGill
Improving tenderness, nutritional quality, and safety in low valued beef meat through the application of sous vide cooking and exogenous enzymes.
I was awarded a John Alwright Fellowship by the Australian Centre for International Agricultural Research (ACIAR) for my PhD studies.
Doctor of Veterinary Medicine (DVM) from the University of Veterinary and Animal Sciences, Lahore in 2010. I worked as an area advisor in the Australia-Pakistan Agricultural Sector Linkages Program funded through the Australian Centre for International Agricultural Research (ACIAR). This extension program focussed on improving dairy practices of smallholder dairy farmers in various regions of Pakistan using innovative extension tools. I loved engaging with female farmers while helping them to improve farm productivity through better farming practices.
PhD in Meat Sciences.
Meat quality, beef value chain, value addition, low quality dairy meat, International development, women empowerment
International Congress of Meat Science and Technology (Country Representative)
Asia Dairy Network- member
Professor Robyn Warner lab group
A typical day starts with juggling the funny choices of my three year old daughter (Huda) for food and clothing. After getting behind my in schedule, of course, I settle into the home office and so some brief planning for the day. The rest of the day mostly involves performing lab experiments, recording data and catching up with the write up of research and future planning. I would be lucky to finish my day playing and dancing with my little one and cooking some delicious Pakistani food.
Improving eating quality of low value meat from culled dairy cows.
Working in the meat lab, cutting and cooking of meat for my research project.
Routine home chores, playing with my daughter, cooking food and talking to my family back home.
I’m not a big fan of music, but light Indian melodies if I am sick of current affairs.
Position: Senior lecturer in Veterinary Reproduction
Organisation: Charles Sturt University School of Animal and Veterinary Sciences
I completed a degree in Veterinary Science from Kerala Agricultural University in India and then worked as a veterinary surgeon in the Department of Animal Husbandry, Government of Kerala for 10 years. In 2006, I moved to Canada to pursue a doctoral residency programme in Theriogenology (DVSc – Doctorate in Veterinary Science) at the Ontario Veterinary College, University of Guelph. After completing the doctorate, I worked as an Assistant Professor at the Atlantic Veterinary College, University of Prince Edward Island, Canada. In late 2010, I moved to Australia and joined Charles Sturt. I am a Diplomate of the American College of Theriogenologists, and a registered specialist in veterinary reproduction providing clinical theriogenology services at the Charles Sturt Veterinary Clinical Centre.
I have a long-standing interest in cattle reproduction, particularly pathophysiologies that contribute to uterine diseases, reproductive losses, and management of cattle in extensive production systems to minimise calf loss. My current research focuses on calf loss in North Australian beef herds. I recently concluded a project focused on designing and developing a telemetric device (Calf Alert) for remote monitoring of calving, funded by Meat & Livestock Australia (MLA). A new project, also funded by MLA, will aim to assess impact of blood prolactin concentrations on maternal behaviour and calf health in beef cattle.
Some other projects that I am currently involved in include:
In addition, I have an interest in equine and canine reproduction and some of the works include:
I currently teach animal reproduction to Animal Science, Agricultural Science, Veterinary Technology, and Master of Animal Science students. I also teach clinical theriogenology to Veterinary Science and Doctor of Veterinary Studies students.
I am a member of the following:
●American College of Theriogenologists (ACT)
●Australian and New Zealand College of Veterinary Scientists (ANZCVS)
Waking up at 4:30 am and starting the day with a cuppa! Then I utilise my most productive time to deal with work that needs more focus.
Writing up manuscripts from completed projects. Planning execution of new research projects.
Interacting with students, providing theriogenology clinical services to clients at the Veterinary Clinical Centre, research collaboration with other Charles Sturt researchers and colleagues from other universities.
Spending time with my family, gardening, travelling, and playing with our lovely Golden Retriever ‘Lassie’
Bollywood music and ABC news