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).
The 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.”
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 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.
Over 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.
Graham 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.
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.
One 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.
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.