Viticulture centre becomes first Regional Research Institute

Science and Innovation Minister Steven Joyce has announced the selection of the New Zealand Research Institute of Viticulture and Oenology (NZRIVO) to become the first new Regional Research Institute.

The NZRIVO, which will be based in Marlborough, will undertake new research activity and collaborate with other domestic and international research institutions to support the growth and continuing success of New Zealand’s wine and viticulture industry, Mr Joyce said.

The Government will provide funding of $12.5 million over four years for the new institute with additional funding from industry, and it will operate as a private, independently governed organisation.

“In its proposal to establish the NZRIVO as a Regional Research Institute, New Zealand Winegrowers and its partners made a strong business case demonstrating ongoing financial sustainability beyond initial government support,” says Mr Joyce.

“The new wine research institute will support innovation in Marlborough and bring jobs to the region, will work to grow industry R&D intensity across the country, and assist related organisations to make the most of their unique business, technology, and economic growth opportunities.

He expected the results from the new institute would benefit the Marlborough region and local and national players in the grape growing and wine making industries.

Regional Research Institutes were announced in Budget 2015. In Budget 2016, the Government set aside $40 million of additional funds to support this initiative, bringing the total funding available to $65 million.

The institutes are designed to encourage industry research and development and innovation in regional New Zealand.

Two shortlisted proposals in the final stages of business-case development are:

•  Centre for Space Science Technology, Central Otago– research allowing the use of space-based measurements and unique to New Zealand satellite imagery to develop solutions tailored to regions and key sectors, for example, in water resource management and regional planning.

•  Earth+Vantage, Southland – research using real time satellite and ground-based data to lift primary industry productivity across New Zealand, in areas such as precision farming, forestry and marine management.

Applications for the second funding round for Regional Research Institutes will open early in November.

Royal Society emphasises diversity in the naming of 19 new Fellows

Three agricultural-sector scientists and scholars are among the 19 new Fellows of the Royal Society of New Zealand announced today. The honour recognises true international distinction in research and scholarship.

The society is emphasising the efforts it has taken to to increase the diversity of its Fellows. Professor Gaven Martin FRSNZ, a Vice President of the Society and chair of the Academy, said  university academics, men and people of European descent had been over-represented in previous Fellowship selections.

“We sought to address this by encouraging a more diverse pool of excellent candidates for nomination to Fellowship. We updated selection criteria and ran workshops on bias to ensure no one was disadvantaged. We are especially pleased that this approach has resulted in a more diverse group of new Fellows – selected entirely on merit -which is more representative of our community of researchers and scholars.”

The new Fellows include a majority of females (10 out of the 19), two Fellows from Crown Research Institutes, one Fellow from a private research organisation, two Fellows with Māori ethnicity and one with Asian ethnicity.

The group also includes the first female mathematician to be made a Fellow, Professor Hinke Osinga from the University of Auckland.

Professor Martin said the society would  build on this and continue to seek “best practice” to ensure diversity within all of its activities.

“We certainly do not see this positive result as a case of ‘problem solved’ but rather it provides evidence that positive change can be achieved by diligence.”

The society is also contributing to a national working group for diversity and equity issues for the New Zealand research community.

The new Fellows include:

Professor Hong Di, Lincoln University, who has led pioneering research into nitrate leaching and nitrous oxide emissions from intensive dairying systems, leading to mitigation technologies.

His research has significantly improved understanding of the role of bacteria and archaea in nitrogen cycling. He is recognised internationally for his work on nitrification inhibitors which contributes to the development of innovative environmental technologies to mitigate nitrate leaching and nitrous oxide emissions.

Dr Skelte Anema, Fonterra Research and Development Centre, who is an expert in the interactions between milk proteins under different physical and chemical conditions.

Dr Anema has been the lead chemist in a number of multidisciplinary teams that have solved difficult product problems and developed new products. He is  the author of six patents describing innovative dairy technologies, covering milk protein concentrates, process cheese and yoghurt.

Dr Jenny Juengel, an AgResearch scientist, whose research effort has focussed primarily on understanding how genetic mutations in sheep have influenced their reproductive outcomes. A major outcome of her research is the identification of a major cell responsible for advancing or inhibiting fertility.

Her work has  helped to explain why some species have large litters and others are restricted to only one to three offspring. This has led to the development of five patents.

The Society also announced the election of two Honorary Fellows, aimed at encouraging strong ties with leading international scientists and scholars and New Zealand’s research community. One of these was…

Professor Grant Montgomery, University of Queensland, who has pioneered genomic methods for production trait identification in farm animals and contributed to worldwide genome mapping for complex diseases, leading to breakthroughs in important diseases like endometriosis.

He completed a PhD from Massey University, held appointments at AgResearch and University of Otago and continues to collaborate with research groups in New Zealand.

Professor Montgomery entified mutations in two twinning genes in sheep, which is the basis for genetic tests byGenomNZ™.

A full list of new Fellows can be found here.

Sustainable agriculture — getting more for less from fertilisers

New research by University of Canterbury Biological Sciences PhD students Jessica Roche and Qianqian Guo is throwing light on how plants such as ryegrass take up and use nitrogen during the grazing cycle.

Farmers are increasingly looking for ways of using fertilisers in a more sustainable way as awareness grows about the negative environmental effects associated with intensive use of nitrogen fertilisers.

Nitrogen is critical to plant growth and reproduction, but the downsides of intensive use include nitrous oxide emissions and nitrate runoff into waterways.

Current estimates are that only 30–40% of applied nitrogen is used by plants. Understanding how uptake and assimilation processes work therefore is critical in the quest to find more efficient ways to apply nitrogen.

Ballance Agri-Nutrients, working with the university, provided funding for the new research.

For growers and farmers, a key question is whether the use of nitrogen fertilisers can be reduced without compromising production.

“Or to put it another way, can greater production be achieved with lower inputs? The goal for sustainable agriculture is to get more out for less,” says Professor Matthew Turnbull, who heads the UC School of Biological Sciences.

“What we’ve been trying to do, in association with Ballance Agri-Nutrients, is to start exploring this question by looking at the process of what happens to plants when you add large amounts of nitrogen, in terms of the uptake in roots and incorporation of nitrogen in the form of organic compounds in the plant.”

The PhD research has found a critical link between the physiological state of pasture directly after grazing and the ability of that pasture to effectively take up nitrogen fertiliser.

Soon after grazing, ryegrass plants tend to have very little stored sugar. It is precisely these sugars that are needed for nitrogen to be taken up from the soil and converted into amino acids and proteins.

So, adding fertiliser too soon after grazing may result in a relatively poor uptake of nitrogen.

“We have ongoing work to investigate and identify the right timing for adding nitrogen. Is there a sweet spot? We suspect there probably is one, somewhere within that first week or two after grazing when the pasture has recovered yet still has that potential to grow fast with the addition of fertiliser.”

Most of the students’ work, which has also been supervised by Professor of Biology Paula Jameson, has been laboratory-based using hydroponic systems to enable close control of nitrogen input and to make it easier to study the process of nitrogen uptake by plants.

Professor Turnbull said the research would help inform the work of Ballance Agri-Nutrients on the farm.

Hi-tech companies contribute $9.4bn to NZ economy

New Zealand’s leading 200 hi-tech companies have reached combined annual revenues of $9.4 billion – up 12 per cent in just one year, according to the annual Technology Investment Network’s TIN 100 report released.

The collective export revenues of the 200 largest tech companies are up by 13.5 per cent from last year to nearly $7 billion, while the total number of employees has increased by 7.9 per cent in the past year with nearly 3,000 new jobs created.

These 200 companies now employ almost 40,000 people.

The report shows revenue growth across all regions with Wellington leading regional revenue growth (15.3%), while Auckland contributed the greatest proportion of revenue ($5.4 billion).

It also shows revenue growth across all three main tech sectors – high-tech manufacturing, ICT and biotech, and across all twelve secondary sectors. Healthcare is the largest secondary sector with annual revenue of $1.69 billion, while the Digital Media and Financial Services Technology sectors, with a total of 23 companies, each grew by over 20 per cent.

Top performers include companies like Fisher and Paykel Appliances, Datacom Group, Fisher and Paykel Healthcare, Gallagher Group and Xero.

Research and development across the TIN companies grew by a record 16 per cent in the last year to $827 million. Science and Innovation Minister Steven Joyce welcomes this as a real investment in the future of these companies which will help lift overall the investment levels of New Zealand companies in research and development.

Experts comment on Parliamentary Commissioner’s report on agricultural emissions

The Science Media Centre has gathered expert reaction on the latest report from the Parliamentary Commissioner for the Environment, Dr Jan Wright, on the issue of agricultural greenhouse gases, methane and nitrous oxide, which form about half of New Zealand’s greenhouse gas emissions.

The debate around agricultural emissions and the emissions trading scheme has been polarised for too long, the commissioner says.

“But the ETS is not the only way forward – there are other things that can be done.”

Dr Wright says reducing biological emissions will not be easy, but a common understanding of the science is a good place to start.

Immediate opportunities for reducing New Zealand’s emissions lie in new native and plantation forests, and urges real progress in this area.

“It might not be the whole solution, but a million hectares of trees would make a big difference – not to mention the added benefits for erosion and water quality.”

The Government has recently set up working groups to look at these issues. Dr Wright says this is encouraging but she warns that change is now inevitable.

“Our farmers have shown time and again their ability to adapt to new challenges,” she said. “The world will continue to need food. But in the long term the way in which food is grown, and the types of food grown, will have to change if biological emissions are to be reduced.”

The Commissioner’s report Climate change and agriculture: Understanding the biological greenhouse gases is available here. A set of frequently asked questions can be found here.

The Science Media Centre’s roundup of reactions can be found here. 

Professor Louis Schipper, University of Waikato, comments:

“As usual for PCE reports, the problem and the science are eloquently described and the text remains rigorous and accessible. This report clearly lays out the case that New Zealand’s rather unique greenhouse gas emissions require bespoke solutions. The report argues that even if we reduced much of CO2 emissions from fossil fuels, we still would have relatively high emissions due to nitrous oxide and methane primarily derived from agriculture. To deliver solutions to this problem we need tailored research on New Zealand farms with New Zealand farmers.

“The overview of the production of methane and nitrous oxide demonstrates that the emissions of both these gases are inefficiencies of the soil and animal systems and so reduction has the potential to capture these valuable resources. Over the last few decades, we have improved our farming practices and this lowered the amount of greenhouse gas produced for every kg of milk or meat. And yet we still need to decrease our total greenhouse gas emissions.

“Before describing some New Zealand examples of mitigation strategies being developed, the report describes the critical characteristics of what might be considered successful mitigation strategies. These characteristics include the need to be practical, cost effective and nationally-applicable while avoiding risks – either perceived or real. It is recognised that finding a silver bullet mitigation strategies and continuous incremental gains are equally important.

“This report does a nice job highlighting some specific New Zealand studies at different stages of development that are making good progress on finding solutions. These case studies are also a realistic assessment of success and failure. Use of case studies draws people in with practical solutions rather than dense scientific explanations. This approach allows the discussion to move beyond ‘it’s all too hard, so why bother’ to considering interesting leads. Some of these case studies nicely describe the tradeoffs that need to be considered where a management practice may lead to reduction in say, methane but lead to an increase in nitrous oxide emissions. Scientists will need to continue to look to resolve these frustrating trade-offs. The case studies clearly demonstrate that we will be faced with many good ideas that fail but we only need a few successes to make real progress.

“Table 9.1 is fascinating: an estimate of the number of hectare of native forest to offset emissions from animals. I had wondered about this but never done the calculations. Must remember this is newly planted native forest and not existing native forest. The key here is that this planting could buy us time to get other strategies in place.”Absent perhaps is a greater discussion of the role of soils in storing carbon and removing carbon dioxide from the atmosphere, briefly touched on in section 9.4 (less than a page). Ultimately, we must remove a large amount of carbon dioxide already in the atmosphere and still increasing, even if we stop methane and nitrous oxide emissions. As the PCE states: “it is not possible to stop temperatures from continuing to rise with stopping net carbon dioxide emissions”. [section 3.4] “Net” means either reducing losses of carbon or getting some gains. Conversion of this carbon dioxide to soil organic matter is one way and a focus globally in the international “4 per mille initiative”. The research is in its early days in New Zealand and very challenging work.”

Note: Professor Schipper leads a team investigating the potential for soil organic carbon to capture atmospheric CO2 as a means to reduce overall greenhouse gas emissions.

Dr Suzi Kerr, senior fellow, Motu Economic and Public Policy Research, comments:

“It is excellent to have a clear careful presentation of the different aspects of the science in this complex area which is one of the things that the PCE does so well. I agree with all the actions she suggests.

“For the sake of farmers and rural communities as well as for the climate, we need to start making a gradual transition now toward new land uses – including new types of food. On land where sheep and cows continue to be grazed, we need to move toward low emission practices including new technologies as they become available. Our long term goal on that land is to produce ultra low emission dairy and red meat.

“Many farmers are aware of these issues and deeply concerned about the resilience of their sectors. Including biological emissions in the ETS, even if it only slightly increased the cost of dairy and red meat production, would send a signal to the wider farming community and those who support them in education, research and industry that it is time to move their attention, energy and creativity toward transition.

“Inclusion in the ETS could be done with a focus on helping the rural community make a gradual transition, not with expectations that the relatively small group of farmers would bear a significant part of the cost of New Zealand’s Paris commitment. In the short term, trees – including natives – are the main way that the rural sector can help achieve our Paris goals but we can’t wait to start action on the longer game of reducing nitrous oxide and methane.”
Note: Motu Economic and Public Policy Research prepared two reports that informed the PCE’s report.

The New Zealand Agricultural Greenhouse Gas Research Centre (NZAGRC) provided a media release in response to the PCE’s report:

The Parliamentary Commissioner for the Environment’s report into greenhouse gas emissions from agriculture highlights the need for a suite of mitigation solutions rather than a single silver bullet.

In welcoming this report, Harry Clark, NZAGRC Director says, “The report provides a comprehensive overview of the unique challenges New Zealand faces when it comes to agricultural greenhouse gases. It emphasises that, for effective mitigation, New Zealand needs to have a suite of mitigation options available that match our diverse farming systems rather than hope for a single, one size fits all ‘silver bullet’ solution.”

The report released by the Parliamentary Commissioner for the Environment (PCE) today outlines New Zealand’s unique situation and provides an overview of the technologies and practices that could help reduce greenhouse gases from New Zealand’s pastoral sector. The report covers breeding low methane-producing animals, identifying low methane feeds, manipulating rumen microbial communities to reduce methane emissions, pathways for reducing nitrous oxide, and the use of trees to offset emissions.

The government funded NZAGRC, in partnership with industry, is coordinating and investing in research to allow these options to be developed, tested and adopted by New Zealand farmers.

Harry Clark says, “New Zealand’s agricultural emissions make up almost half of New Zealand’s total greenhouse gas emissions. The more options we have to reduce agricultural greenhouse gases, the easier it will become for New Zealand to achieve its 2030 emission target signalled under the Paris Agreement of a 30% reduction in emissions compared with 2005.”

The PCE report not only presents technical options but emphasises that any solution needs to be scrutinised for the actual reduction it can achieve on farm (and whether it reduces absolute emissions or, primarily, emissions per unit of product), its positive or negative side-effects, cost-effectiveness, ability to be integrated into existing systems, and whether it makes sense from a national perspective.

Harry Clark says “Research and technical development is only the first step in a solution. The report by the Parliamentary Commissioner for the Environment provides a highly accessible summary of potential solutions. More importantly though, it concludes by considering the next steps: how we can collectively ensure that our science can be adopted to the benefit of the country and the climate? The Paris agreement sets a new framework for addressing climate change issues and this report makes a valuable contribution to the debate New Zealand must have round the role of agriculture in meeting national emissions reduction commitments agreed under this framework.”

Note: Dr Clark was involved in the review process of the PCE’s report.

Hard cheese, Biddy, but those crippling fees are for the good of the consumer…

The regulation of cheese-making in the name of food safety and the hounding of a cheese-maker has prompted economist Eric Crampton to chide the Government for failing to curb Nanny Statism.

Crampton, Head of Research with The New Zealand Initiative in Wellington, says the Government is continuing its crusade against an elderly woman whose four cows produce the milk for her small-scale raw milk cheeses.

In this week’s Insights newsletter he writes:

Thomas Hobbes told us the State is necessary to protect us. The war of all against all that would ensue without a State to protect us from each other would be worse than even a terrible despot.

New Zealand’s Hobbeseans can this week thank the State for protecting us from artisanal cheese.

Crampton is referring to Eketahuna cheese-maker Biddy Fraser-Davies’ ongoing fight with the Ministry for Primary Industry.

According to a recent Radio New Zealand report, at least half of the $40,000 her four cows’ cheese earned went to cover the State’s regulatory fees last year.

She says, “It works out that the raw cheese testing cost for me is $260 per kilo, which doesn’t include the ancillary costs of actually making the cheese.”

Crampton said he is  surprised the ministry still hounds Biddy. He says the 2014 Food Act was supposed to scale regulatory burdens to the risk imposed, but that doesn’t seem to have affected cheeses under the Animal Products Act.

Biddy is obliged to submit samples for expensive testing from ten consecutive tiny batches. She has four cows.

Crampton comments:

There’s an old joke about farming under different political systems. Under communism, you have two cows that you have to take care of, and the government takes all of the milk. Meanwhile, under capitalism, if you have two cows, you sell one to buy a bull.

Well, artificial insemination means you don’t really need the bull any more. But it looks like under New Zealand Nanny Statism, if you have four cows, you have to milk two of them to cover the regulatory compliance costs for the other two. And that’s its own load of bull.

Worse, New Zealand raw milk cheeses are reported to be held to a higher standard than European ones sold in New Zealand.

But just think how much worse it would be without the State to protect us here. Under the terrible, terrible ravages of voluntary interaction, makers of very safe large-batch cheeses would be able to put certification stickers on their cheeses advertising that fact. Makers of small batch cheeses could put labels on theirs saying that small-scale artisanal products are riskier than big commercial products, but sure are tasty. And consumers could weigh up the risks and make their choices.

Crampton wonders if Hobbes adequately considered the tyranny of those who would protect and torment us for our own good.

He reminds his readers that the 2009 regulations on raw-milk cheeses came in under National, yet National’s 2008 election campaign was all about doing away with the Helengrad Nanny State.

Canterbury forum – a reminder

Just a reminder – the NZIAHS Canterbury forum is being held at Lincoln University tomorrow.

The topic Towards 2030 – Values and Skills for Land-based Industries in Canterbury has been chosen because maintaining and growing the primary industries in New Zealand will require technically literate and skillful people.

Among the questions to be tackled: how will we produce these people to ensure the wellbeing of the primary industries and therefore the New Zealand economy?

Full details, including list of speakers, available on the New Zealand Institute of Agricultural & Horticultural Science website

Details: 9.00am to 3.30pm Wednesday 19 October, Stewart 1, Lincoln University