Charles Sturt University
Graham Centre for Agricultural Innovation

Summer 2021

Table of Contents

  • From the Director
  • Firm foundation for a bright future for agricultural research
  • Graduation for PhD researchers
  • Developing and testing new technology to support ‘hands free’ farming future
  • Research to help dairy farmers manage clinical mastitis
  • Growing dual purpose canola on limed soil is not without risk
  • Congratulations
  • In the Limelight: Chris Blanchard
  • In the Limelight: Olivia Brunton

From the Director

The new year will mark the beginning of an exciting new era at Charles Sturt University with the establishment of a new Agriculture, Water and Environment Institute, one of the most significant strategic investments into research in the history of the University.

The AWE Institute will see research from three existing research centres merged.  Sadly this means the end of the Graham Centre as we know and love it.

However, it also marks the commitment of the University to a substantial investment that will translate and support research for agriculture, horticulture, grape and wine sciences, aquatic and terrestrial ecosystems.

The Institute will employ more than 32 new research-only positions and invest in dedicated business development support to enhance the University’s ability to secure funding for research and collaboration across industry sectors.

The University’s research partnerships with NSW Department of Primary Industry (NSW DPI) will continue within the AWE Institute, as will all funded projects that are aligned to the new Institute priorities.

Some funded projects which are not well aligned to the AWE will continue to be supported at Charles Sturt through the relevant Faculty.

a collage of photos of peopleIn celebrating the achievements of the Graham Centre in this final edition of ‘the Innovator’ I’d like to make special note of the administration staff, Tracey Bentley, Maree Crowley, Raylene Heath, Jenny Locker, Emily Malone and Monique Shephard who have provided outstanding and highly valued support to our members over the years which has allowed our researchers to get on with what they do best - research.

The administration team’s dedication to supporting a positive, respectful, and performance-based culture was recently recognised with a Vice-Chancellor’s Award for Excellence and I congratulate them for this recognition of achievement.

A well-deserved and fitting recognition for commitment and excellence to their role and especially over the past two years of disruption and change management.

Best wishes for the festive season and we look forward to more research to drive innovation in our agricultural sector through the AWE Institute in the new year.

Professor Leigh Schmidtke.

 

Full Newsletter

Direct article link

Firm foundation for a bright future for agricultural research

Charles Sturt University is establishing an Agriculture, Water and Environment Institute, to drive research outcomes that optimise farming systems and enhance the health of freshwater ecosystems.

In welcoming the new AWE Institute it’s timely to reflect on the achievements of the Graham Centre over more than 15 years in delivering research with impact and partnering with industry.

The Graham Centre for Agricultural Innovation was established in 2005 as a research alliance between Charles Sturt University and the NSW Department of Primary Industries (NSW DPI).

Graham Centre opening 2005 with Inagural Director Deirdre Lemerle far leftThe Centre is named after Edgar (Eddie) Hugh Graham, the longest serving NSW Minister for Agriculture who played a pioneering role in developing rural policies and education.

Inaugural Director of the Graham Centre (2005-2015), Professor Deirdre Lemerle, said the Centre’s “systems approach” to research has set it apart.

“The Graham Centre’s focus on research and development for the mixed farming systems, rather than looking at cropping or livestock in isolation, led to significant improvements in agricultural practice and increased production in the Riverina,” Professor Lemerle said.

“The alliance allowed for PhD students to be supervised by staff from the NSW Department of Primary Industries along with Charles Sturt academics, which ensured what they were doing would be of real benefits to farmers.”

Fast Facts

  • Research output: 73,976 citations, 102 h-index 3,254 articles, 746 conference papers, 112 commissioned reports
  • 377 projects
  • $79.8 million in grants administered
  • More than 160 HDR students graduated

Collaborative research with impact

Acting Deputy Vice-Chancellor Research and Engagement and former Graham Centre Director (2015 -2018), Professor Michael Friend said the impact of the work of the Centre’s scientists will be enduring.

Graham Centre crop walk 2017“Graham Centre research has improved the profitability and sustainability of farming systems and rural communities in Australia and throughout the world,” Professor Friend said.

“The commitment of the scientists to research excellence with impact has always been evident, as has the commitment of the Graham Centre administration team to ensuring the research and extension is supported, partnerships are built and maintained, and the work is communicated and promoted.

“The collegiality within the Centre was a highlight for me, including the way students were supported.”

Acting Graham Centre Director (2018-2019) Professor Marta Hernandez-Jover said partnerships with farming systems groups and engagement with industry created a two-way flow of information.

“The collaborations created and nurtured through the Centre have been invaluable,” Professor Hernandez-Jover said.

“This has allowed for transdisciplinary research to be conducted, working together with end-users to deliver on practical solutions with an impact for agriculture.”

Flagship events such as the Livestock Forums, Crops Rumps and Woolly Jumpers Forum, field days and crop walks were well supported by the farming community, with feedback from producers that they had changed practises because of the research presented.

Former Graham Centre Partnerships and Engagement Manager, Toni Nugent (2011-2020), said these events provided a dual purpose, allowing end-users to tap into the latest findings and the researchers to engage directly with the producers.

"These events informed people of the research that was happening within the Centre, challenging people to think about what they were doing in their own business and how they could implement the research outcomes to improve profitability and productivity," Ms Nugent said.

Inspiring the next generation of scientists

Woody the weed entertains primary school studentsOver the years the Centre has also showcased careers in agricultural, animal, and food science to thousands of primary and high school students.

The annual Enrichment Days took students out of the classroom and into the laboratory or field site to gain an insight into our research and the opportunities for University study.

PhD student Thom Williams with high school students in 2019 Ag Science Enrichment DayGraham Centre Business Manager Maree Crowley said providing opportunities for Charles Sturt University undergraduate students to get practical experience in research has also been a priority for the Centre.

“It’s been rewarding to see students who’ve undertaken student internships, or that we’ve supported through Honours scholarships, go onto to complete their PhD research and contribute to the advancement of our agricultural industries,” Ms Crowley said.

Since 2005 the Centre has seen more than 160 Higher Degree by Research students graduate, has supported 132 Honours research students with scholarships and hosted 112 student interns.

The Centre has also provided support for students to participate in the National Merino Challenge, Intercollegiate Meat Judging Competition, and the Australian Universities Crops Competition.

Graham Centre researcher Dr Sergio Moroni trained the crop judging team and said the financial assistance was invaluable.

“A significant number of students were able to attend the Competition and demonstrate their educational calibre by winning the Individual and University prizes on several occasions,” he said.2019 Graham Centre graduates and their supervisors

International research to benefit our region

Professor Lemerle said Graham Centre projects in South East Asia, Pakistan and the Pacific have brought opportunities for postgraduate students to study at Charles Sturt.

“This has increased the capacity for research for development in these countries and led to more projects to increase food security and improve agricultural production,” Professor Lemerle said.

PhD student Shumala Arif leads focus groups in PakistanOne of those projects, funded by the Australian Centre for International Agricultural Research, has improved the productivity of almost nine million smallholder dairy farms in Pakistan.

The project’s Dr Peter Wynn said eight Masters and PhD students completed their studies looking at everything from antibiotic resistance to milk marketing, pasture legumes and genetic selection programs for Pakistan’s native Sahiwal cattle.

“This research has contributed to Pakistan’s dairy farmers becoming more profitable and all these graduates are now employed in research and teaching roles,” Dr Wynn said.

Other research has focused on, pulse crops in Pakistan, alternatives to rice production in Vietnam, weed management in Laos and building the capacity of para-veterinarians in the Pacific.

Building capacity for the future

Graham Centre Director (2019-2021) Professor Leigh Schmidtke said the complexity of research funding and activity has increased over the years.

“We now undertake research that has a true multidisciplinary focus with impact that extends beyond the farm gate,” Professor Schmidtke said.

He said the increased capacity for multi and interdisciplinary research at the new AWE Institute means the Graham Centre’s legacy will continue.

“The nature of funding for research has evolved substantially and the value that teams bring to the research environment is becoming more important.

“As part of the AWE Institute, Graham Centre researchers are well positioned to accommodate the changing landscape for research by virtue of the excellent collaborative relationships developed over the past 16 years,” Professor Schmidtke said.

 

Full Newsletter

Direct article link

Graduation for PhD researchers

Graham centre research to improve weed management in rice production, value add pulse crops, and to provide important information for parasite control in sheep has been recognised.

The Charles Sturt University Council has conferred PhD awards to Dr Jhoana Opena and Dr Stephen Cork with Alice Bunyan to be awarded her PhD in late December.

Dr Jhoana Opena in a white lab coat infront of pasture legumes int he glasshouseDr Opena’s research investigated the use of pasture legumes to supress barnyard grass, a significant weed in rice production systems.

Australian rice growers have been adopting water-saving systems, such as direct drill sowing of rice in dry soil and delaying the application of permanent water.

But this provides an opportunity for barnyard grass to proliferate which can lead to a five tonne per hectare yield loss.

Dr Opena’s study found that pasture legumes suppressed barnyard grass seed bank build-up through reduced seed viability over two years of rotation and enhanced the mortality of seeds left on the soil surface.

She found using the pasture legumes in rotation with rice provided more suppression to barnyard grass than canola and barley crops and fallow.

The phytotoxic effects of the incorporation of pasture legume residues against rice can be avoided by no-tillage practice with direct drill sowing of rice.

Other weed management tools such as delayed rice sowing, stale seedbed technique, drill sowing implements with the disc, and competitive rice cultivars with early vigour should be combined with the pasture legume rotation.

Dr Stephen Cork’s PhD, through the Australian Research Council Industrial Transformation Training Centre for Functional Grains, focused on innovative processing technology to add value to pulse crops, in particular chickpeas and Faba beans.

a man in a white lab coat holds a tray of pulse flakesThese pulses are a healthy food source of global significance and are gaining popularity with Australian farmers but growers face volatile international markets and limited domestic processing opportunities.

In developed countries such as Australia, pulse consumption is well below the recommended daily intake, and traditional pulse dishes in developing nations are being replaced by ‘ready-to-eat’ cereal products.

Dr Cork investigated the influence of industry-relevant processing conditions on the flaking quality of Australian chickpea and Faba bean splits.

By further optimising processing conditions, it may be possible to produce pulse flakes that offer new healthy, value-added, ready to eat pulse foods.

Alice Bunyan has studied Haemonchus contortus, or barber’s pole worm, an economically important and highly pathogenic parasite that impacts sheep and goat industries.

Her research examined the genetic diversity of the parasite, examining samples from northern NSW where it’s endemic and southern NSW where outbreaks are more sporadic.

The findings have important implications for the emergence and spread of drench resistance, in not only barber’s pole worm but other gastrointestinal nematodes of sheep.

It serves as a timely reminder of the importance of appropriate worm control measures, including the use of quarantine treatments to prevent further drench resistance.

 

Full Newsletter

Direct article link

Developing and testing new technology to support ‘hands free’ farming future

Technology is rolling out onto the Global Digital Farm, a partnership between Charles Sturt University and the Food Agility Cooperative Research Centre that is establishing Australia’s first ‘hands-free farm’.

It’s located at the 1600-hectare commercial farm at Charles Sturt in Wagga Wagga and will develop, test and showcase emerging technology to drive value for Australian farms.

Two men in fronto of blue machine and angus cattleOne of the first initiatives is a system remotely collecting information about a mob of beef cattle without having to muster or move the animals out of the paddock.

Graham Centre senior research fellow in spatial agriculture Jon Medway says the Opti-weigh system uses a salt lick to entice animals onto a paddock-based unit, recording NLIS details and individual weights.

“Every four or four-or-five hours data is uploaded to the cloud,” Mr Medway said.

“Every day it’s summarised and emailed back to the farm manager to say this is the average weight of the animals in that paddock, and this is the daily weight gain for the last week.”

He says it’s not just the data being collected that the researchers are interested in, rather how it can be used and shared to deliver benefits.

“A key aspect of the Global Digital Farm program is that it has to be useable farm management information,” Mr Medway said.

“The information being collected about the cattle weights is feeding into real time management activities, such as knowing when to turn steers off to market.

Inside a machine with data logers“But in the background all the data we are collecting will be fed back into pasture growth and soil moisture models and used with climate and weather models to see what other big picture analysis we can be generating.”

It’s part of a bigger research focus that’s investigating a data sharing platform TRAKKA, to enable better information exchange in all directions within the red meat supply chain.

The project brings together Graham Centre researchers in partnership with tech company, Terra Cipher.

Mr Medway said connectivity is also a key issue for the Global Digital Farm.

“Reliable, high speed connectivity is critical in autonomously collecting data in the field or using data to autonomously control equipment in the field,” Mr Medway said.

Another project is testing technology to convert tractors and trucks into roving, WiFi devices to provide farm-wide internet coverage.”

The collaboration involves agtech company Zetifi and researchers from Charles Sturt and the University of Technology Sydney.

Read more about the Global Digital Farm on the Food Agility CRC website.

 

Full Newsletter

Direct article link

Research to help dairy farmers manage clinical mastitis

Charles Sturt University research is focusing on dairy farmers and how they make decisions as part of a $3.5 million collaborative project to better manage clinical mastitis.

The Clinical Mastitis Decision Support Tool project aims to build a digital tool to help farmers and vets make better decisions in managing mastitis treatments to reduce the use of antibiotics and improve animal health – think a ‘My Health Record’ for cows powered by artificial intelligence.

It’s a three-year collaboration between Dairy Australia, Coles, DataGene, the Food Agility Cooperative Research Centre (CRC), University of Sydney, University of Technology Sydney and Charles Sturt.

Mastitis is the number one health issue in dairy cows, costing the industry $150 million annually, and is responsible for two-thirds of the antibiotics supplied to dairy farmers by vets.

The Charles Sturt team of Graham Centre member Associate Professor Jane Heller and Dr Emma Scholz from the School of Agricultural, Veterinary and Environmental Sciences is responsible for the farmer-facing aspects of the project.

Dr Jane HellerProfessor Heller said their expertise in veterinary epidemiology and social research aims to ensure that farmers’ needs, and perspectives are central.

“This project’s objective is to create practical, useful tools for dairy farmers that they can use to reduce antibiotic use in their herd while maintaining animal health and farm profitability,” Professor Heller said.

“Our research will provide a richer understanding of how farmers actually make decisions on the ground, as well as the motivations and barriers for changing practice.”

While this project is focused on the dairy industry Dr Scholz hopes the knowledge gained could be applied to tackling similar issues in other industries.

“This project could provide a model for other settings and industries by harnessing cutting edge technology, employing high level animal health expertise and grounding projects in the contexts of end-users,” Dr Scholz said.

“It is an exciting, multidisciplinary team collaborating on a challenging, complex problem. “

Read more about the project.

 

Full Newsletter

Direct article link

Growing dual purpose canola on limed soil is not without risk

Charles Sturt University student research has shown that dual-purpose canola grown on limed paddocks can have elevated plant nitrate concentrations, a finding that may have implications for grazing management.

Aaron James soil samplingCharles Sturt Honours student Aaron James undertook field trials in Holbrook where lime was applied at several rates before grazing canola was sown and the crop was also top-dressed with urea during the season.

He then investigated Nitrogen (N) content in different parts of the plant during the season to better understand the risks of nitrate poisoning if it’s grazed by livestock.

“The elevated plant nitrate concentrations would only be a risk to grazing livestock if the small stem parts of the plants, called the petioles, are consumed,” Mr James said.

“This is more likely to occur if heavily grazed.”

Glasshouse pot trials, run at the same time, showed that frost events elevated nitrate content of limed plants between three and seven days after the frost event.

The field trial at HolbrookFrosts slow the process that converts nitrate in the plant to proteins, so the risk to livestock is higher after frosts.

“The glasshouse trials also indicate that growers that have applied lime should be more careful with grazing canola after frosts,” Mr James said.

Mr James’ research was supported by a Graham Centre Honours scholarship.

“The scholarship allowed me to do hands-on, in the field research to address questions farmers were asking. It’s been a great experience,” he said.

“Special thanks to Simon Finlay for allowing me to set up my field trial in one of his paddocks near Holbrook.

Mr James was supervised by Drs Jason Condon, Brooke Kaveney and Jeff McCormick from Charles Sturt, and Helen Burns from the NSW Department of Primary Industries.

The research builds on acid soil management research conducted by the Graham Centre team and collaborators at Holbrook Landcare Network, FarmLink and Central West Farming systems as part of the FutureSOILS project.

 

Full Newsletter

Direct article link

Congratulations

The Charles Sturt University Council has appointed Professor Jane Quinn as the Chair of the Academic Senate.

Jane QuinnThe Academic Senate advises the University Council and Vice-Chancellor on all matters relating to teaching, scholarship, and research.

Professor Quinn is a member of the Graham Centre, Associate Dean (Research) and Professor of Veterinary Physiology in the School of Agricultural, Environmental and Veterinary Sciences, and an elected staff member on the Academic Senate.

She'll commence her appointment next year.

Several Graham Centre members have been recognised with academic promotions at Charles Sturt University.

Charles Sturt Vice-Chancellor Renée Leon said the 2021 promotees thoroughly demonstrated the impactful work being undertaken by the University's academic staff.

"Academic promotion is a significant achievement, recognising the outstanding contribution and leadership of an academic employee to our University, their discipline and the wider community," she said.

Catherine Allan, Jane Quinn, Leigh Schmidtke, Marta Hernandez-Jover and Shokoofeh Shamsi have been promoted to Professor; Allan Gunn, Cyril Stephen, Jason Condon and Joanne Connolly have been promoted to Associate Professor and Sosheel Godfrey has been promoted to senior lecturer.

Professor Geoff Gurr has been named as Australia's leading researcher in the field of insects and arthropods.

It's the second year in a row he's been named in The Australian newspaper's list of the top 250 researchers.

It's based on the number of citations for papers published in the top 20 journals in each field over the past five years.

Professor Gurr's work in applied ecology takes in projects to fill the gaps in dung beetle distribution, biological control of pests in horticultural crops and ecosystem services in vineyards.

The Graham Centre and National Wine and Grape Industry Centre administration team has been recognised with a Charles Sturt University Vice-Chancellors Award.

The administration team of Tracey Bentley, Maree Crowley, Raylene Heath, Jennifer Locker, Emily Malone, Amanda Moseley, Helen Pan and Monique Shephard provides high level of support for research through a collaborative approach.

The Vice-Chancellor's Award, in the Strong University category, celebrates exemplary leadership in supporting a positive, respectful, and performance-based culture that contributes to the success of Charles Sturt.

It was great to see so many Graham Centre researchers recognised in the Faculty of Science and Health Research awards.

a collage of photosProfessor Marta Hernandez Jover topped the list of the most productive female researchers, with Professor Shokoofeh Shamsi and Professor Jane Quinn close behind. Professor Chris Blanchard led the list for the most productive male researchers with Professor Geoff Gurr, Dr Abishek Santhakumar and Dr Remy Dehaan also in the top five.

Dr Susan Robertson, Dr Nidhish Francis and Dr Kenneth Chinkwo were in the top five most productive level B researchers

The awards are based on the Research Productivity Index (RPI) system, on Category A points, which includes publications (including creative works and refereed journal articles), and external grants income (HERDC eligible).

The parasitology powerhouse of Professor Shokoofeh Shamsi and Di Barton were also awarded a Highly Commended in the Charles Sturt Executive Dean Teaching Award for their contribution to student learning.

 

Full Newsletter

Direct article link

In the Limelight: Chris Blanchard

Position: Professor of Food Science

Organisation: Graham Centre

Career Brief

a man in a white lab coatI completed an undergraduate degree in Medical Science at Charles Sturt University followed by a PhD in Plant Molecular Biology, also through Charles Sturt. I was one of the University’s first PhD graduates.

After completing my PhD I worked as a molecular biologist in a cancer research lab in Switzerland then as a grain protein biochemist at CSIRO.

I returned to Wagga in 1998 as a lecturer in Food Science. Since returning to Charles Sturt my research has mostly focused on grain functionality.

I have had the opportunity to serve in a number of industry roles including Chair of the RACI Cereal Chemistry Division, Australasian Grain Science Association Council Chair, Member of the Grains Research and Development Corporation (GRDC) Southern Panel and Non-Executive Director of the GRDC.

I have been fortunate to receive funding from a range of organisations including Agrifutures, GRDC, Australian Centre for International Agricultural Research (ACIAR), Australian Research Council and various Cooperative Research Centres.The FGC team

Research and Teaching Activities and Interests

Research activities  

My team’s current research projects include a GRDC project looking and high value uses of sorghum, an ACIAR project assisting small landholder farmers to improve their pulse production, a Food Agility CRC project using machine learning to predict rice quality and various grains related commercial research projects.

Teaching activities

Most of my teaching activities are currently with postgraduate students. My 30th PhD student recently submitted their thesis.

Professional Links

I have had a strong connection with the Australasian Grain Science Association. I have chaired this organisation on two separate occasions and chaired the annual conference three times (most recently as an online conference due to COVID).

A typical day for me includes …

As I have been mostly working from home during COVID, my day normally starts with making lunch and a cup of tea for my wife who is a school teacher. I then spend most of my day on zoom but try to escape at some time to seek coffee and human contact.

My main project at the moment is …

My main focus at the moment is working on some large GRDC and federal government tenders.

My favourite part of my job is …

Seeing our PhD students graduate. Not because I like to see them leave! It is just very rewarding to see the growth and successes of our students during and after their candidature.

When I am not in the office I like …

Most of my spare time is currently spent developing my very large 12.5 hectare farm. My COVID project has been planting fruit and nut trees and installing an irrigation system.

When I am driving I like to listen to …

Podcasts. Mostly ‘Conversations with Richard Fidler’ on ABC.

 

Full Newsletter

Direct article link

In the Limelight: Olivia Brunton

Supervisors: Dr Jeff McCormick and Dr Jason Condon Charles Sturt University; Dr Rebecca Haling (CSIRO); Dr Stephanie Watts-Fawkes NSW Department of Primary Industries

Thesis title: Root morphological responses of crop species to phosphorus fertiliser management

Funding body: Graham Centre, GRDC and CSIRO

Career and studies till now

Olivia Brunton I graduated from Charles Sturt University in 2019 with a Bachelor of Agricultural Science with Honours (first class). My honours project investigated the competitive interactions between subterranean clover and serradella plants in response to phosphorus fertiliser management. I spent some time as a technical office at CSIRO Black Mountain before starting my PhD in February 2021.

Doctor of philosophy in Agriculture and Wine Sciences with Charles Sturt (based at CSIRO Black Mountain) in affiliation with the GRDC project “Maximising the uptake of phosphorus by crops to optimise profit in central and southern NSW, Victoria and South Australia”.

Research Interests

Plant phenology, root morphology and fertiliser management

A typical day for me includes ...

Spending the early morning with my pets before driving into the office where I am currently processing my many (many, many, many) samples.

My main project at the moment is ...

I am currently processing samples from my pot experiments and first year field trials.

My favourite part of my studies is ...

The opportunity to develop new skills and see the scientific process through all stages.

When I am not studying I like to ...

Dabble in art (drawing and painting mainly), visit friends and family, and spend time with my dogs.

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

Country music, show tunes or a good podcast.

 

Full Newsletter

Direct article link