Charles Sturt University
Graham Centre for Agricultural Innovation

Autumn 2021

Table of Contents

  • From the Director
  • Supporting veterinarians to reduce antimicrobial resistance
  • Containment feeding sheep effective but survey shows large variation in lamb marking rates
  • Research focus on networks for farmers with small farms
  • The latest herbicide resistance survey
  • Searching for optimal long-term options for managing acidic soils
  • We’re digging the Cool Soil Initiative
  • Out and about
  • In the Limelight: Remy Dehaan
  • In the Limelight: Marnie Hodge

From the Director

Here we are four months into the year and in paddocks across the region people are busy sowing winter crops and renovating pastures. At the Graham Centre there’s also a buzz as students return to studying on campus at Charles Sturt University, and our researchers are once again presenting their work at grower field days and conferences. There’s also plenty of good news to share.

Congratulations to Dr Sunita Pandey, who was awarded the Higher Degree by Research University Medal by Charles Sturt University for her PhD titled, ‘Conservation biological control in brassica crops using Australian native plants’.  The research shows scope for farmers to take advantage of potentially multiple ecosystem services by incorporating native flowering plants into farming systems.

Dr Brooke KaveneyIn other graduation news, Dr Brooke Kaveney (pictured) has been awarded her PhD ‘The influence of soil properties on nitrifying organisms and nitrification inhibition efficacy of 3,4-dimethylpyrazole phosphate (DMPP)’.  She found that crop-pasture rotational systems and liming alters soil properties, which in turn influences the nitrifying microbial population that exists in the soil.  These results have important implications farm management practices to improve nitrogen use efficiency. We’re pleased that Brooke is continuing her research with the Centre, working with us on an Australian Centre for International Agricultural Research investigating alternative crops to rice that can be grown in saline conditions in the Vietnamese Mekong Delta.

You can also listen to our 'Digital Farm' podcast where Graham Centre senior research fellow in spatial agriculture, Jon Medway, tracks the development of a digital learning and research environment within the 1,600 hectare mixed farm at Charles Sturt University in Wagga Wagga.

There’re also some exciting new research projects planned. A multi-agency team led by Charles Sturt University’s Dr Jane Kelly, along with Dr Remy Dehaan and Associate Professor Lihong Zheng, has been awarded funding as part of the Australian Government’s Advancing Pest Animal and Weed Control Solutions competitive grant round. This project aims to understand the opportunities and limitations of technologies for remote detection of weeds in diverse landscapes.

Two projects under the National Landcare Program’s ‘Small Farms, Small Grants’ will improve natural resource management to benefit the landscape, community and economy.  Professor Leslie Weston will lead a project to investigate the use of new and existing small-seeded pasture and legume cover crops to improve soil nutrients, improve feed quality for livestock and suppress weeds. In another project, the Centre’s Dung Beetle team will develop an extension program and work with Landcare networks to build capacity among cattle and sheep producers to implement farm management practices that enable dung beetles to thrive. This will build on the work of the Dung Beetle Ecosystems Engineers project. We’re looking forward to sharing more about this work when the projects begin.

Professor Leigh Schmidtke, Acting Graham Centre Director


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Supporting veterinarians to reduce antimicrobial resistance

Graham Centre researchers are spearheading a new initiative to help veterinarians make informed decisions in treating infections to reduce the likelihood of antimicrobial resistance (AMR) developing.

The AMR Vet Collective has been developed by Associate Professor Jane Heller and Dr Kellie Thomas from the Graham Centre and School of Animal and Veterinary Sciences at Charles Sturt University and Professor Jacqui Norris from the University of Sydney.

Dr Jane Heller and Dr Kellie ThomasDr Thomas (pictured right) said antibiotic-resistant bacteria are currently assessed as the greatest risk to human and animal health.

“Also known as drug-resistant infections, antimicrobial resistance (AMR) occurs when microorganisms, such as bacteria are able to resist the effects of medicines that have previously been able to destroy or inactivate them.

“Antimicrobial stewardship (AMS) is a systematic approach to using the medicines in the most optimal and responsible way, to both effectively treat sick patients and animals, and also minimise the likelihood of resistance developing.”

A new website brings together practical resources and current information about AMR and stewardship so vets can make informed, evidence-based decisions in daily practice. Visit the website to find out more.

Associate Professor Heller (pictured left) said the online resource aims to help vets engage with the issue by translating the science about why it’s important and providing links to useable resources.

“We hope that the AMR Vet Collective will connect and engage people in the AMR and AMS space,” she said.

Dr Thomas is excited to be creating something purely to support veterinarians.

“It’s important because no one of us can do this on our own. We need shared understanding and shared behaviour change on a mass scale to help keep our antimicrobials effective and we can’t do that without connection and engagement.”

Later this year the team hopes to launch an online AMS course, which has been contributed to by all vet schools across Australia and New Zealand as well as some other leading experts from industry.

The project has been funded by the Australian Department of Agriculture, Water and the Environment.

It aligns with Australia’s National Action Plan on AMR, which is in support of the World Health Organisations Global Action Plan.


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Containment feeding sheep effective but survey shows large variation in lamb marking rates

A Charles Sturt University survey of livestock producers using sheep containment areas has shown while pregnancy rates are usually good there is wide variation in the percentage of lambs marked.

Dr Susan RobertsonThe research by Dr Susan Robertson, from the Graham Centre for Agricultural Innovation, aimed to benchmark practices for containment or supplementary feeding ewes, identify common issues, and find out whether reproductive performance could be improved.

Dr Robertson said containment feeding has been widely used in recent years to efficiently maintain breeding ewes through drought conditions.

“Unfortunately, sheep producers can expect dry periods at some time in the future,” she said.  “Knowing how to get the best ewe performance when containment feeding is important.”

Dr Robertson said the survey has provided insight on the performance of breeding ewes in containment areas or when supplementary fed in the paddock.

“There was a very wide range in feeding and husbandry practices used, but most producers reported good pregnancy rates, ranging from 78 to 95 per cent for adult Merino ewes, and up to 99 per cent for non-Merino flocks, which is exceptional,” Dr Robertson said.

“We often expect pregnancy rates to be reduced in drought due to ewes being in lower condition, but most flocks were 2.5 to 3.5 condition score which is ideal.

“The percentage of lambs marked to ewes joined ranged from 60 to 115 per cent in adult Merino, and in non-Merino 82 to 161 per cent.”

Dr Robertson said the causes of the variation couldn’t be isolated from the survey responses.

“Variation in the rates of pregnancy, twinning and lamb survival all contribute, and the main limitation and cause may differ between flocks.

“The variation does show that some producers are achieving excellent marking rates even after tough conditions but other producers reported a reduction in performance compared with normal grazing years.

“We’d like to thank all producers who took part in the survey, the information gained will inform our research investigating strategies to improve lamb marking rates in feeding situations.”

Sheep producers can also find detailed information on containment feeding in updated guidelines on the Meat & Livestock Australia (MLA) website, or by contacting their local land services or other sheep specialist advisors.


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Research focus on networks for farmers with small farms

Size does matter when it comes to new research by Graham Centre members Associate Professor Marta Hernandez-Jover and Ms Lynne Hayes.

photo of Lynne Hayes and Associate Professor Marta Hernandez-Jove‘Smallholder’ isn’t a term you often hear in country Australia but Ms Hayes says smallholder farms may be productive and commercial on a small-scale and/or may be farms with livestock kept as a hobby to enjoy the farm lifestyle.

“A new study aims to gain a better understanding of current smallholder farming networks in Australia,” she said.

The project is funded by Animal Health Australia and is looking to build upon national animal health and biosecurity work previously done by the research team in this exciting and growing area.

“Smallholders are a complex group, with varying motivations, needs and backgrounds,” Professor Hernandez- Jover said.

“It’s in understanding their needs that the team is hoping to identify valuable topics and activities to inform the design of additional networks.

“Smallholders are an important sector of the livestock industries, and supporting them in animal health management is crucial for protecting these industries.”

The project team has completed interviews across Australia with key individuals involved in the coordination and management of smallholder farming networks and groups.

A national survey of smallholders, has also been completed, with over 200 smallholders participating.

“The focus on the end user is a key aspect of this research which has a genuine interest in involving smallholders in the planning and decision making process,” Professor Hernandez-Jover said.

While too early to report on results, early indicators are that networks are needed and could provide additional support to smallholders in farm management, animal health and biosecurity


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The latest herbicide resistance survey

Graham Centre researchers have been ‘putting in the kilometres’ as part of the national research effort to track herbicide resistance.

Over six weeks from October to December 2020 they were busy collecting samples for the latest Grains Research and Development Corporation (GRDC) national herbicide resistance survey.

photo of sampling in a wheat crop west of DeniliquinA team of six people visited 411 paddocks between Wentworth in western NSW to Dubbo in central NSW, via Wagga Wagga.

From these paddocks 814 samples were collected of six different weed species; annual ryegrass, wild oats, brome grass, barley grass, wild radish and sow thistle.

At the same time teams from other institutions were also conducting surveys across the remainder of the Australian cropping region from Western Australia to Queensland.

Graham Centre researcher, Dr John Broster, said it’s a new approach to monitoring herbicide resistance.

“Unlike previous surveys, where paddocks were chosen at random, for this survey all co-operating farmers were contacted by phone beforehand and farm maps collected before sampling was undertaken,” Dr Broster said.

“Although herbicide resistance surveys have been conducted across the entire cropping region before this is the first where the methodology has been the same for all institutions across all phases of the project - starting with sample collection.”

In the previous surveys all samples collected by an institution were screened for resistance at that institution.

For this project all samples of a weed species will be screened by the one institution and Charles Sturt University will be screening the wild oat and sow thistle from across Australia.

GRDC Project details: UCS2008-001RTX. Determining the Incidence of herbicide resistance in Australian grain cropping  

Other institutions: University of Adelaide, University of Western Australia, University of Sydney, Queensland Department of Agriculture and Fisheries


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Searching for optimal long-term options for managing acidic soils

Despite several decades of research, soil acidity remains a problem hidden beneath the surface of our agricultural soils.

recent trials established this year by the Holbrook Landcare Network on two permanent pastures sites. A recent publication by Graham Centre members, Dr Jason Condon and Dr Guangdi Li, along with Helen Burns, of the NSW Department of Primary Industries provided evidence that subsurface acidity is an undiagnosed problem that remains even when growers apply lime.

Dr Condon said it highlights the need for growers to be proactive in their management of soil acidity.

“Recommended practice change includes soil sampling in 5 cm increments to a depth of 20 cm to identify acid layers, raising the pH target of our liming inputs to above pHCa 5.5 and to set that value as the trigger point for maintenance liming events,” he said.

recent trials established this year by the Holbrook Landcare Network on two permanent pastures sites. In response to calls from growers, new research aims to provide information about the optimal rates and frequency of liming when surface applied or incorporated.

The research by Charles Sturt University and NSW DPI is being carried out in partnership with Holbrook Landcare Network, Central West Farming Systems, FarmLink Research, the Grassland Society of NSW Inc, South East Local Land Services and ACT Landcare.

“Collaborating growers want to find the most effective methods to remove acidity, manage acidification and improve soil productivity,” Dr Condon said.

Pictured are some of the most recent trials established this year by the Holbrook Landcare Network on two permanent pastures sites.


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We’re digging the Cool Soil Initiative

There’s nothing quite like being able to see research in action.  That’s what happened when small groups of farmers took to the soil pit at a number of field days held as part of the Cool Soil Initiative.

Dr Cassandra Schefe in the soil pit at a Riverine Plains Field DayCSI farming systems group project partners, Central West Farming Systems, FarmLink and Riverine Plains, hosted the events to introduce farmers to the project which aims to investigate opportunities to reduce greenhouse gas emissions (GHG) on-farm with a focus on improving soil health.

The project is working with up to 200 farmers who manage over 700 000 hectares of land, over the next three years.

Graham Centre senior research fellow in spatial agriculture Jon Medway said the aim is to better understand how crop management practices, such as rotations and stubble management, impact on soil health and GHG emissions.

“The field days were a great opportunity to catch up with participating famers to discuss both the project plans and a wide range of soil management issues at the heart of managing soil carbon, greenhouse gas emissions and farm productivity,” Mr Medway said.

“Soil pits give farmers the opportunity to see what’s going on beneath the surface of the soil and there’s no better place to understand how soil characteristics respond to and influences management practices than standing in a soil pit with our resident project soils expert and Cool Soil Initiative Project leader Dr Cassandra Schefe.”

“For farmers in the Riverine Plains area, soil pH is a key soil health and productivity concern, with subsoil acidity and the incorporation of lime being especially hot topics of discussion at the six meetings hosted by Riverine Plains.”

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, the Manildra Group and Allied Pinnacle. It’s working with farming systems groups Riverine Plains, FarmLink Research and Central West Farming Systems.

Find out more about the project on our website or contact your farming systems group to find out how you can be involved.


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Out and about

Graeme Heath from the DBBE with Southern Farming Systems (SFS) staff Grace Evans and Ronald Buitendijk The Dung Beetle Ecosystems Engineers (DBEE) project continues to establish research sites to help quantify some of the ecosystem services that dung beetles provide, for example the impact the burial of dung has on soil chemistry and pasture growth. Pictured is Graeme Heath from the DBBE with Southern Farming Systems (SFS) staff Grace Evans and Ronald Buitendijk establishing a site at Inverleigh in southern Victoria. Dr Russ Dr Russ Barrow Barrow also presented at a workshop for the South West Prime Lamb Group and is pictured checking out the activity of Onthophagus taurus and Euoniticellus fulvus in the sheep dung.

Graham Centre members at AAAS hubThe Australian Association of Animal Sciences held its conference online in February with a ‘hub’ at the Charles Sturt University in Wagga Wagga. There was plenty of great Graham Centre research on the program and wonderful to see our animal science researchers in town for the event. Pictured Dr Shawn McGrath, Amy Bates, Veronika Vicic, Dr Ben Holman, Emma Lynch, Bridgetter Logan and Dr Michael Campbell.

Dr Ben HolmanGraham Centre researchers, Dr Benjamin Holman (pictured) from the NSW Department of Primary Industries and Dr Shawn McGrath from Charles Sturt University have been carrying out consumer sensory evaluation of lamb meat. It's part of research looking at production system impacts and aims to improve the quality of Australian meat.

Dr John Broster, Dr Belinda Hackney, Dr Ehsan Tavakkoli and Dr Jeff McCormick presented research at the Grains Research and Development Corporation Update in Wagga Wagga recently.


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In the Limelight: Remy Dehaan

Position: Senior lecturer spatial technologies and precision agriculture. Chief pilot at Charles Sturt University.

Organisation: Charles Sturt University

Career Brief

Dr Remy DehaanI began my career after completing a degree in Geology and a PhD at UNSW in Remote Sensing with a move to Charles Sturt University Wagga Wagga in 2003 to take up a lecturing position. My interests are broad having been in the School of Science and Technology, Environmental Science and now Agriculture and Wine Sciences. As such my teaching and research has focused mainly on remote sensing technology and its uses for measuring landscape attributes in conservation, production and monitoring with lots of interesting research activities in between.

Research and Teaching Activities and Interests

Research activities

My current research themes include; hyperspectral imagery for mapping weed infestations, nitrogen in rice, multi-temporal time series remote sensing data to examine the effect of stubble burning, examining the effects of vegetation in National Parks and the use of remote sensing to map vegetation changes connected to river systems to understand changes in geomorphic processes.  My current interests are learning about new ways to extract information from imagery such as machine learning and artificial intelligence (AI).

Teaching activities

I am passionate about delivering quality teaching in the areas of agriculture, earth science, remote sensing, GIS and cartography as well as research into internet-based strategies and quality assessment to improve student learning. I really love it when I see students getting something useful that they can use practically from the work they do here at Charles Sturt.

Professional Links

Chief Pilot for Charles Sturt University drone fleet

A typical day for me includes …

Hmmm they are varied but usually getting kids to school and a mix of teaching, administration and research.

My main project at the moment is …

We have just been funded to develop a weed manager’s guide to remote sensing technologies. This is exciting for our team who are working with NPWS, Local Councils, Local land Services to look at a variety of weeds using some of the latest technologies. We are hoping that this can be a building block to centralise information to help managers more effectively manage and control the spread of weeds.

My favourite part of my job is …

Working with students and colleagues to get meaningful results with practical outcomes that help make production systems better, both more profitable and sustainable.

When I am not in the office I like …

Relaxing with the family, movies, motorbike riding, fishing etc

When I am driving I like to listen to …

Mostly 80’s if I can get the controls back from the kids


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In the Limelight: Marnie Hodge

Marnie HodgeSupervisors: Sameer Pant and Cyril Stephen from Charles Sturt University and Sara de les Heras-Saldana from the University of New England

Thesis title: Ram side factors influencing reproductive success in the Australian sheep industry

Funding body: Graham Centre, Charles Sturt University and Apiam Animal Health

Relevant Current Employment: Genetics Technician at Apiam Genetic Services in Dubbo

Career studies until now: Bachelor of Animal Science (honours) 2014-2017, Genetics Technician at Apiam Genetic Services 2018 – present, PhD candidate 2019 – present

Currently studying PhD in sheep genetics and reproduction

Research Interests: Livestock reproduction and genetics

A typical day for me is…

I am either working at Apiam Genetic Services in Dubbo assisting with the collection and cryopreservation of genetic material from sheep or at my desk working on my thesis.

My main project at the moment is…

A prospective trial which aims to determine whether there are correlations in semen parameters measured by a Computer Assisted Semen Analysis (CASA) and conception success following an artificial insemination program.

My favourite part of my studies is…

Having the opportunity to learn and develop new skills

When I am not studying I like to…

Spend time with friends, walk my dog, go to the gym

When I am driving I like to listen to…

Triple J


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