Massey to host $5m Food Safety Research Centre

Science and Innovation Minister Steven Joyce and Food Safety Minister Jo Goodhew have announced that Massey University will host the new Food Safety Science and Research Centre.

The Centre will promote, co-ordinate, and deliver food safety science and research for New Zealand. It was a key recommendation from the Government Inquiry into the whey protein concentrate contamination incident.

Massey University was selected by the Science Board following a request for proposals process. The Centre will be managed by the Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment and the Ministry for Primary Industries.

The $5 million Centre will benefit from strong links with industry and will be co-funded by Government and industry partners.

The Food Safety Science and Research Centre is part of an overall Government package of improvements to ensure NZ’s food safety system remains at the forefront internationally. The Centre is expected to open in mid-2015.

Govt provides $15m for new biological research partnerships

Science and Innovation Minister Steven Joyce and Primary Industries Minister Nathan Guy have announced the Government will invest more than $15 million over a maximum of seven years to support four research partnerships that will benefit New Zealand’s primary industries.

The funds are being allocated from the Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment’s Biological Industries Research Fund, as determined by the independent MBIE Science Board.

The new Pastoral Genomics Ltd ‘Commercialising Forage Biotechnologies’ Partnership, led by a joint venture between DairyNZ, Beef+Lamb NZ, Grasslands Innovation, NZ Agriseeds, DEEResearch, AgResearch, and Dairy Australia, will receive $3.11 million for one year to improve the pastoral system and enhance on-farm efficiency.

Pipfruit New Zealand Inc will receive $4.35 million over seven years for the ‘Apple Futures II’ Partnership, which aims to secure market access for apples to high-value Asian markets by developing new knowledge of pest and pathogen infestation and infection processes.

New Zealand Winegrowers will receive $3.50 million over seven years for the ‘Resilient and Profitable Wine Industry’ Partnership, which aims to increase vineyard longevity and profitability.

An investment of $4.35 million over seven years will be made in the ‘Meat Industry Research and Innovation’ Partnership, led by the Meat Industry Association Inc. The research will include finding ways to increase the quality and shelf-life of chilled meat exports, and improve the productivity and profitability of export meat processing.

Government funding will be matched by industry funding on a one-to-one basis.

US study finds no-till agriculture may not bring hoped-for boost in global crop yields

No-till farming, a key conservation agriculture strategy that avoids conventional plowing and otherwise disturbing the soil, may not bring a hoped-for boost in crop yields in much of the world, according to an extensive new meta-analysis by an international team led by the University of California, Davis.

As the core principle of conservation agriculture, no-till has been promoted worldwide in an effort to sustainably meet global food demand. But after examining results from 610 peer-reviewed studies, the researchers found that no-till often leads to yield declines compared to conventional tillage systems. It still shows promise for yield gains in dryland areas, however.

The landmark findings from their review are published online in the journal Nature.

“The big challenge for agriculture is that we need to further increase yields but greatly reduce our environmental impacts,” said Cameron Pittelkow, who co-authored the study as a postdoctoral scholar at UC Davis and is now on the faculty of the University of Illinois.

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Short gestation genetics breakthrough reported by LIC

A major breakthrough in shortening gestation length – the gap between conception and birth – has occurred in the dairy industry this spring, the Livestock Improvement Corporation reports..

A surprise delivery in South Canterbury resulted in separate Hereford calves born 30 days earlier than is normally the case in dairy cows. Both were in good health and had normal birth weights.

LIC, the farm improvement co-operative, supplies around three-quarters of the country’s bull semen,.

It has been working to breed bulls with a shorter gestation interval of their resulting offspring.

Shortening gestation length is at the forefront of dairy genetics, as a way to help farmers bring late calving cows forward, and get more ‘days in milk’. Revenue implications are in the tens-of-millions for the industry from the increased productivity.

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Dairy SolutioNZ develops new heat tolerant cow to thrive in low tropics

Hamilton-based Dairy Solutionz Ltd has led an expert genetics team to develop a dairy cow breed conditioned to thrive in lower elevation tropical climates and achieve high milk production under heat stress.

Dairy Solutionz chief executive Derek Fairweather said the  new composite breed will be used on the large-scale dairy farm systems the firm is  constructing in partnership with governments and land owners in countries such as USA, Colombia and Ecuador.

Dairy Solutionz will open its first dairy demonstration farms in Colombia and Ecuador before the end of the year.

The genetics project was supported with Callaghan Innovation funding to develop the new composite breeds, some of whose origins are based on years of research at the University of Florida.

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EPA seeks submissions on new seed treatment

Public submissions have been  invited on an application to import Poncho Votivo, an insecticide for use as a seed treatment in wheat, maize, forage brassicas and grass seed.

The active ingredients of Poncho Votivo are clothianidin (a neonicotinoid) and Bacillus firmus, a non-pathogenic soil-dwelling micro-organism (nematicide).

The Environmental Protection Authority’s submission period will close at 5pm on 27 November. Submissions will be considered by the decision-making committee that decides whether to approve the application.

Poncho Votivo is a reformulation of Poncho, already registered in New Zealand. It has Bacillus firmus added and reduced clothianidin.

Application details and information can be viewed on the EPA website.

If a public hearing is held before the decision is made the EPA will provide at least 10 working days’ notice of the hearing date, time and place to all submitters and the applicant.

The EPA oversees applications under the HSNO Act to import and manufacture hazardous substances. We put controls in place to manage the risks of hazardous substances to safeguard people and the environment.

Further information on submissions and the hearing process can be found at


Research paves way for new generation of fungicides

Researchers at the University of Exeter, led by Professor Gero Steinberg, have provided new insights into the mechanism by which pathogenic fungi avoid the immune responses of the plants they attack.

This opens up a new area of research into plant-host interaction which could lead to the development of fungicides that can act before the plant is harmed.

Plants that come under attack from pathogens have an automatic immune response. Fungi get around this plant immunity by injecting proteins into the host plant cells. These ‘effector proteins’ enable the fungi to escape the plant’s immune system and allow the fungal cells to enter the plant unrecognised.

The Exeter scientists found that signalling organelles, known as ‘early endosomes’ act as long distance messengers in the fungi. They travel rapidly along long tube-like cells between the plant-invading fungal cell tip and the fungal cell nucleus. This rapid communication between the point of invasion and the fungal cell nucleus enables the fungus to produce the effector proteins that help evade the plant’s immune response from the moment the fungus enters the host tissue.

This signalling mechanism occurs very early in the fungal infection process, at a time when the fungi are most accessible to fungicide treatment. Disabling the process could result in a new generation of fungicides that are able to act before the fungus has damaged the plant.

Professor Steinberg said:

“Pathogenic fungi are a major threat to our food security – they can devastate crops and cost billions of pounds worth of damage. In fact, losses of wheat, rice, and maize to fungal pathogens, per year, are the same as the annual spend by US Department of Homeland Security – some 60 billion US dollars. As fast growing microbes, fungi adapt rapidly to anti-fungal treatments and so we need to develop new fungicides all the time. Our research has led to a better understanding of the mechanisms by which the intruder attacks and overcomes the plant defence. In order to efficiently protect crops, we must better understand molecular mechanisms like these that occur in the very earliest stages of infection.”

The research was supported by the Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council.

The paper, ‘Long-distance endosome trafficking drives fungal effector production during plant infection’, is published in the journal Nature Communications.

This post is based on a a press release from the University of Essex.  


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