Massey University agri-tech professor is elected into top global post

Massey University’s Professor Ian Yule has been voted president of the International Society of Precision Agriculture for 2018-2020.

Professor Yule, a Precision Agriculture Association of New Zealand (PAANZ) committee member, will be a key speaker at the seventh Asian-Australasian conference on precision agriculture in Hamilton later next year. It will be the first time the conference has been held outside Asia.

Much of his research is centred around sensors and imaging to help expand New Zealand’s export agriculture and food production. He is aiming to develop pasture measurement tools, aerial topdressing, irrigation, precision dairying, horticulture, viticulture and cropping.

He has a PhD in agricultural engineering and has a passion for remote and hyperspectral sensing, as well as finding practical, usable solutions to problems within the agriculture space.

His agriculture technology studies include a $10 million portfolio of research activity. His global-first research is at the forefront of developing practical applications for remote sensing and imaging that has worked towards New Zealand’s largest jointly funded remote sensing project.

The research is expected to result in $120 million a year in export earnings by 2030 and net economic benefits of $734 million between 2020 and 2050.

Professor Yule says:

“Here at Massey we have a state-of-the-art aerial imaging tool which was first developed for military reconnaissance and space exploration that can enable New Zealand to capture unprecedented levels of data about the nutrient content of large sections of land that may have been previously inaccessible.

“This is a game changer. It’s like turning the whole of New Zealand into a living lab, where you can observe exactly what is going on and describe it in greater detail than ever before.

“It will make New Zealand agriculture more efficient, profitable and environmentally friendly. It is a really cost-effective way to tell if there are weeds or diseases present.

“This is an extremely versatile and powerful technology. Which can be used in plantation forestry, exotic and native forestry as well as semi-urban and urban environments. There is also huge potential for orchard-based industries, like kiwifruit growers who could identify things like vine-killing disease, way before the human-eye could detect it.

“New Zealand has been a world leader in the development of pasture measurement for the past 10 years and our research provides is applying technology to increase production and farm profitability while improving environmental management in the hill country.

Professor Yule says he wants to make sure the environmental impact of what is done is minimised as much as possible.

The world needs more food, but it can’t be produced at the expense of the environment. By reducing waste and making much more efficient use of fertiliser, he thinks the environmental impact can be reduced.

Climate change will require land-use change to keep up with global food demand, study finds

A study led by researchers from the University of Birmingham shows that much of the land now used to grow wheat, maize and rice is vulnerable to the effects of climate team.

Without significant improvements in technology, global crop yields are likely to fall in the main growing areas and production will be forced to move to new areas.

The world population is projected to top nine billion in the next 30 years. The amount of food produced globally to feed them must double.

The study says the effects of climate change could lead to a major drop in productivity in the main growing areas by 2050, along with a corresponding increase in potential productivity of many previously-unused areas, pointing to a major shift in the map of global food production.

Published this month in Nature Communications, the study uses a new approach combining standard climate change models with maximum land productivity data, to predict how the potential productivity of cropland is likely to change over the next 50-100 years as a result of climate change.

The results show:

  • Nearly half of all maize produced in the world (43%), and a third of all wheat and rice (33% and 37% respectively), is grown in areas vulnerable to the effects of climate change.
  • Croplands in tropical areas, including Sub-Saharan Africa, South America and the Eastern US, are likely to experience the most drastic reductions in their potential to grow these crops
  • Croplands in temperate areas, including western and central Russia and central Canada, are likely to experience an increase in yield potential, leading to many new opportunities for agriculture

While the effects of climate change are usually expected to be greatest in the world’s poorest areas, this study suggests that developed countries may be equally affected.

Efforts to increase food production usually focus on closing the yield gap, which means minimising the difference between what could potentially be grown on a given area of land and what is actually harvested. Highly developed countries already have a very small yield gap, so the negative effects of climate change on potential yield are likely to be felt more acutely in these areas.

“Our model shows that on many areas of land currently used to grow crops, the potential to improve yields is greatly decreased as a result of the effects of climate change,” says lead researcher and University of Birmingham academic Dr Tom Pugh.

“But it raises an interesting opportunity for some countries in temperate areas, where the suitability of climate to grow these major crops is likely to increase over the same time period.”

The political, social and cultural effects of these major changes to the distribution of global cropland would be profound, as currently productive regions become net importers and vice versa.

But climate is just one factor when looking at the future of global agricultural practices, Pugh said.

Local factors such as soil quality and water availability also have a significant effect on crop yields in real terms.

Production of the world’s three major cereal crops nevertheless must keep up with demand. If this can’t be done  by making existing land more efficient, the only other option is to increase the amount of land that is used.

Public lecture on pathogen that chews into potato crop yields

Professor Richard Falloon, who has spent more than 20 years researching the pathogen (Spongospora subterranea) which causes powdery scab of potato, will be delivering a lecture at Lincoln University on October 6.

Richard is Professor of Plant Pathology at the Bio-Protection Research Centre, Lincoln University and a Principal Scientist at the New Zealand Institute for Plant & Food

He will describe the interactions of the pathogen with potato plants and the harmful effects it has for plant productivity and crop yields.

He will outline details of the biology of the pathogen and describe its place in the community of soil-borne organisms that infect potato plants.

Details: 6pm-7.30pm (doors open at 5.30pm), Thursday 6 October 2016, Stewart Building, Lincoln University. Light refreshments will be available before and after the event. Parking available at Orchard carpark off Springs Road.

Organiser: Lincoln University, Canterbury. This is part of the Change Makers series of free public lectures.

$3.1 million towards climate change research projects

Ooh, goody. More money for ag science.

Good, at least, for those working in the climate change area whose projects have been given an official nod of approval for Government funding.

The Ministry for Primary Industries today announced 13 research projects have received funding approvals totalling $3.1 million through its Sustainable Land Management and Climate Change (SLMACC) research programme.

SLMACC supports new climate change knowledge generation in the agriculture and forestry sectors for adaption, mitigation, and cross-cutting issues.

The ministry’s Director General, Martyn Dunne, said it’s essential to invest in research to better understand the future operating environment and how New Zealand should adapt.

“We set research priority topics each funding round based on themes areas we want to investigate further for the benefit of primary industries. We consult internal and external experts to determine those topics.”

This year there were 12 priority topic areas under the three themes:

  • impacts of climate change and adaption
  • mitigation of agricultural and forestry greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions
  • cross-cutting issues, including economic analysis, life-cycle analysis, farm catchment systems analysis, and social impact.

“We received an extremely high calibre of applicants and were very impressed with the proposed research topics. Each project will take up to 3 years to complete, and the findings will help researchers, government, and farmers better understand, adapt to and mitigate climate change effects in New Zealand’s primary sectors.

“At each project’s end, the full report will be made available on this website and the Climate Cloud website, and user friendly summaries will be made more widely available.”

More information can be found ..

The invitation goes out – come and join New Zealand ORCID Consortium

The Royal Society of New Zealand is inviting eligible organisations to sign up to the NZ ORCID Consortium, to be formally launched on October 13.

ORCID is an international, interdisciplinary, open, not-for-profit organisation. Its core function is to provide a registry of unique, persistent, and resolvable person identifiers together with web services to enable interoperability through integration of identifiers into research systems and workflows.

Several organisations on July 26 issued a joint statement of principle agreeing to strongly encourage and support the use of ORCID identifiers across New Zealand’s research and science system.

They were the Health Research Council of New Zealand, the Independent Research Association of New Zealand, the Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment, the Ministry of Education, the Ministry for Primary Industries, the New Zealand Association of Scientists, the Royal Society of New Zealand, Science New Zealand, the Tertiary Education Commission and Universities New Zealand.

The Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment has agreed to pay the consortium fee to allow eligible New Zealand organisations to join in a national approach to ORCID membership. This support covers consortium membership subscriptions for up to 99 New Zealand organisations and a software development work programme to create a New Zealand ORCID hub that will allow organisations of all scales and technical resource to productively engage with ORCID.

More information is available here.


NZBIO award goes to Scion for new ‘green’ glue for wood products

Scion’s environmentally friendly bioadhesives technology has been awarded Biotechnology of the Year at NZBio’s annual conference.

Dr Will Barker, chief executive of NZBioO, described the technology as “a game changer” for wood panel manufacturers.

The Scion bioadhesives team, led by Warren Grigsby, has developed a world-first 100 per cent bio-based adhesive and resins for engineered wood products. Made from natural sources, such as forestry and agricultural waste, these adhesives and resins are petrochemical-free, have very low formaldehyde emissions and can be made and used in existing manufacturing operations.

Grigsby said the team had spent years mixing and matching assorted ingredients to come up with right recipe. “This is the icing on the cake,” he said.

The technology has been trademarked and patented as “Ligate”.

Grigsby said:

“The ‘green’ credentials of Ligate products will provide manufacturers with a competitive advantage over wood processors using conventional petrochemical-based adhesives and resins.

“Adhesives and resins made from natural sources have a lower environmental footprint and are considered more socially acceptable than their traditional formaldehyde-based counterparts.”

The technology has already attracted international interest. Grigsby will travel to Europe next week to further profile the technology at two international conferences.

More information can be found here.


$209m Govt funding announced for new science projects

Science and Innovation Minister Steven Joyce has announced a total investment of over $209 million over the next five years in new scientific research projects through the Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment 2016 Endeavour Fund.

The Endeavour Fund invests in science designed to have a positive impact for New Zealand economically, environmentally and socially in a three to ten year timeframe.

It sits alongside the Marsden Fund, which is designed to promote discovery science, the Health Research Fund, administered by the Health Research Council, and the business-led R&D programmes of Callaghan Innovation.

The fund supports both Smart Ideas initiatives and larger Research Programmes.

Smart Ideas initiatives catalyse and rapidly test promising, innovative research ideas, and contracts are awarded for two to three years. Research Programmes are awarded for three to five years and support ambitious research ideas, with high potential to deliver significant impact for New Zealand’s economy, environment, and society.

Up to $10 million a year in total will be invested in 28 projects under the Smart Ideas initiative, and up to $38 million a year in total will be invested in 28 Research Programmes.

The ministry received 563 proposals through the application process. The successful proposals were selected by the Science Board, an independent statutory board, following assessments by around 300 New Zealand and international independent experts.

The new research contracts start on 1 October for periods of between two and five years.

More information on the successful research programmes can be found here.