Three regional research institutes shortlisted

Science and Innovation Minister Steven Joyce has announced the short-listing of three proposals to establish new regional research institutes. These applicants will now enter the business case development stage of the selection process.

Regional research institutes are to be developed in areas outside of Auckland, Wellington and Christchurch to help build research and development intensity and lift innovation in key regional industries.

Twenty-four proposals from 16 different locations were received for consideration.

The three shortlisted proposals are:

  • New Zealand Institute of Viticulture and Oenology, Marlborough, led by the New Zealand Winegrowers – research to support the growth and continuing success of the New Zealand wine industry.
  • Centre for Space Science Technology, Central Otago, led by Bodeker Scientific – 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, led by Venture 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.

The Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment will work with the three applicants on a more detailed analysis of their proposals and determine the preferred options that deliver the greatest value from the potential.  Cabinet then will decide which new institutes will be established.

The development of privately-led regional research institutes was announced as part of Budget 2015 with funding for up to $25 million over three years to support the initiative. Proposals were invited from groups of businesses, researchers and private investors in November 2015.

The ministry will also contact unsuccessful applicants to give them evaluation feedback for them to consider when building on their initial concepts and for applying to any future funding rounds.


Nitrogen loss research benefits from scholarship

Sheree Balvert, a second-year University of Waikato student who is looking into the environmental benefits of feeeding cows brassicas, has been awarded the $10,000 2016 Pukehou Pouto Scholarship.

The scholarship is awarded annually to students from any New Zealand university for postgraduate study in either agricultural science or silvicultural (forestry) science.

Sheree is researching the impact of feed change in cows and whether feeding them forage brassicas such as turnips, swedes and kale affects the nitrogen cycle. This could reduce nitrogen loss in agricultural systems such as dairy or dry-stock farms.

“Cows are inefficient feeders with 70-95% of the nitrogen they eat being excreted in their waste,” she says. “The concentrated urine patches that are deposited onto the ground contain more nitrogen than the plants and microbes in the soil can process, and the excess nitrogen is lost as nitrous oxide gas or as nitrate leaching out of the soil.”

Sheree is supervised by Professor Louis Schipper, at the University of Waikato, and Dr Jiafa Luo, at AgResearch. Her research is funded by the New Zealand Agricultural Greenhouse Gas Research Centre and the Pastoral Greenhouse Gas Research Consortium. Her stipend is also provided by the New Zealand Agricultural Greenhouse Gas Research Centre.


Royal Society report says NZ is vulnerable to climate change in six ways

A report released today by the Royal Society of New Zealand highlights how New Zealand will be impacted by climate change.

It finds that climate change, already under way, will almost certainly accelerate this century unless drastic action is taken to reduce global emissions of greenhouse gases.

It identifies six areas where global climate change could have significant implications for New Zealand’s prosperity and well-being. These are risks to:

  • our coastal margins
  • flooding from rivers
  • availability of and competition for freshwater
  • changes to our surrounding oceans
  • threats to unique ecosystems
  • flow-on effects from climate change impacts and responses elsewhere, which will affect New Zealand through our strong international connectivity.

Increased pressure on water resources is almost certain in future. Decreasing annual average rainfall in eastern and northern regions of both main islands, plus higher temperatures, are projected to increase the frequency and intensity of droughts and the risk of wild fire. At the same time, urban expansion and increased demand for water from agriculture will result in increased competition for freshwater resources.

Changes expected to impact New Zealand include at least 30cm and possibly more than one metre of sea-level rise this century – the report finds it likely that the sea level rise around New Zealand will exceed the global average, which will cause coastal erosion and flooding, especially when combined with storm surges.

“Many New Zealanders live on the coast and two-thirds of us live in flood-prone areas so we are vulnerable to these projected changes,” says Professor James Renwick, Chair of the Expert Panel who wrote the report.

Even small changes in average conditions can be associated with large changes in the frequency of extreme events, he says.

“With a 30cm rise in sea level, the current ‘1 in 100 year’ extreme sea event would be expected to occur once every year or so in many coastal regions. Along the Otago coast for example, the difference between a 2-year and 100-year storm surge is about 32cm of sea level.”

Changes in rainfall patterns where the ‘wet gets wetter and the dry gets drier’, together with more frequent extreme events, will put pressure on our housing, infrastructure and industry, especially if changes are rapid, the report finds.

Freshwater resources will also likely be put under pressure, with decreasing annual average rainfall in eastern and northern regions of both islands, plus higher temperatures and increased demand from urban expansion and agriculture.

Fire danger is also predicted to increase in many parts of New Zealand.

Changes in the oceans, including water temperature, acidification and currents will have impacts on New Zealand’s marine life, including aquaculture. On land, existing environmental stresses to New Zealand’s unique species will likely be exacerbated, with increased ranges for animal pests and weeds predicted.

The report also considers New Zealand’s international connections and how trade relationships and migration patterns could change.

Royal Society of New Zealand President, Emeritus Professor Richard Bedford, says the report was sought to provide a clear summary of the scientific evidence and projections of climate change and to identify the key risks these changes pose to New Zealand.

“It is critical to communicate clearly New Zealand’s sensitivities to climate change and the need for responsive systems to address them. All New Zealanders will be affected and must be involved in the discussion. We hope this report can act as a basis for a wider national conversation.”

This report will be followed up soon by another expert panel report on how New Zealand can mitigate the impacts of climate change.

Copies of the report and supporting resources can be found at

Professor Jean Palutikof, director of the National Climate Change Adaptation Research Facility at Griffith University, Queensland, was a special guest at the launch at the Royal Society premises in Thorndon, Wellington, this morning.

Professor Palutikof previously managed the production of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change Fourth Assessment Report for Working Group II (Impacts, Adaptation and Vulnerability).

He will give a public talk in Wellington tonight.


Recycling of wastewater from whey has economic and conservation potential

A novel process allows water to be recycled for cleaning, according to a new study published in the American Journal of Dairy Science.

A press statement from Elsevier announcing this development notes that water scarcity is a serious issue and a concern among the dairy industry, because declines in the availability of water could decrease food supply and increase food prices.

The statement says:

Water is necessary for many applications, including equipment cleaning, which can use 1 to 60 liters of water per kilogram of processed milk. Given the amount of water needed and concerns regarding resource scarcity, researchers from the University of Nebraska–Lincoln sought to find a method to recycle and reuse water from whey for clean-in-place systems. Their findings provide scientific evidence of the safety of reuse of reconditioned water in food processing plants, contributing to building a culture of water conservation and sustainable production throughout the food supply chain.

Under American regulations only potable water may be used to clean food contact surfaces and equipment surfaces, but reconditioning and reuse of water is a promising alternative for initial cleaning of fruits and vegetables as well as scalding of meat and poultry.

In their study, University of Nebraska researchers Yulie Meneses and Rolando Flores tested wastewater from whey of Cheddar cheese by subjecting it to reverse osmosis and ultrafiltration, as well as an additional step of spray drying. The resulting reconditioned water was used to clean stainless steel surfaces that had a biofilm, with promising results from both bacterial counts and scanning electron microscopy analysis.

“Using the combined ultrafiltration and reverse osmosis system, 47% of water can be recovered from whey,” lead author Yulie Meneses said.

“This demonstrates the viability of our method for wastewater, as the cleaning efficiency was comparable to potable water in clean-in-place systems,” added project leader Rolando Flores.

By incorporating spray-drying and condensation into the process, furthermore, recovery of additional water can be achieved. After suitable treatment, that water could also be used in cleaning applications or other activities with high water demand.

“Sustainable production and manufacturing is a priority for the dairy industry. This new research demonstrates that an unwanted by-product of dairy manufacturing (whey) can be processed to generate clean water, saleable food, and additional revenue for dairy manufacturers,” said Journal of Dairy Science Editor-in-Chief Matt Lucy.

Because of its potential in terms of revenue and conserving natural resources, these wastewater reclamation techniques are highly interesting. More research is required, however, to further elucidate risks and broader environmental issues as they relate to the techniques in this study.

The Journal of Dairy Science, the official journal of the American Dairy Science Association, is co-published by Elsevier and FASS Inc. for the American Dairy Science Association.

Application to extend use of herbicide Callisto approved

The Environmental Protection Authority has approved an application from Syngenta Crop Protection to extend the use of the herbicide Callisto. This is a previously approved herbicide, which contains the active ingredient mesotrione.

The application sought to change the application rate and frequency of Callisto to allow it to be effective when used on turf. This has been approved with controls. There is no change to the application method.

The application was open for public submissions and three submissions were received. No hearing was held for this application.

Applications and Assessment General Manager Sarah Gardner said the EPA decision-making committee assessed the benefits, risks and costs associated with the herbicide during the various stages of its life cycle.

Controls are conditions or rules imposed on the approval that restrict the use of the substance to ensure people and the environment are protected properly when it is used, for example controls might require users to wear protective masks or gloves when spraying.

In this case the revised controls include the wearing of personal protective equipment, setting of a maximum application rate and minimum re-application interval, the type of spray nozzle that must be used and imposition of buffer zones downwind of water bodies and non-target plants. These controls must be set out on the product label.


Assn of Scientists to celebrate 75th anniversary by thinking about the future at Te Papa

The New Zealand Association of Scientists will celebrate its 75th anniversary by bringing together some of New Zealand’s most original thinkers at Te Papa on April 26 to discuss the future for scientists in New Zealand.

Among the questions to be tackled are:

  • What does it mean to be an emerging scientist in 2016?
  • What do scientific careers look like now, how have they changed, and how should they change in order to keep pace with international trends?
  • Are we doomed to repeat the mistakes of the past, or can we learn from what has – and has not – worked in the science system over the last 75 years?
  • What does success in science look like, and how can we evaluate it?

These questions, and more, will be addressed with an emphasis on what early career researchers think of the funding system that will make – or break – their careers within the next 75 years.

Speakers include:

Dr Rebecca Priestley, Victoria University of Wellington; award-winning science writer and historian, editor of The Awa Book of New Zealand Science (2012), the winner of the inaugural Royal Society of New Zealand Science Book Prize.

Bernard Beckett, writer and secondary school teacher; author of the multi-award winning Genesis (2006), a dystopian science fiction novel for young adults.

Associate Professor Bronwyn Hayward, University of Canterbury political scientist, and author of Children, Citizenship and the Environment (2012).

Professor Shaun Hendy, University of Auckland physicist and Director, Te Pūnaha Matatini; author of Get Off the Grass (2012) and Silencing Science (2016).

Details, including registration instructions, can be found here.

Sustainable Farming Fund projects announced

The Ministry for Primary Industries has announced a $6.9 million investment over three years in 25 new projects through the Sustainable Farming Fund.

The fund supports farmers and researchers involved at grass-roots level to tackle shared problems or to develop new opportunities.

The ministry’s director-general, Martyn Dunne, said:

“Every year we receive a very high calibre of project applications, and this year was no different. This year’s projects cover nine primary sectors including horticulture, forestry, dairy and meat.

“Each project has a number of milestones to reach over the three years. As milestones are reached, information is shared among the community who benefits from the project. Through the fund, we are able to support industries and communities to help each other carry out applied research and field trials.

“Our investment programmes team supports each project through their milestones and each year we are pleased by the quality of projects, and the results they produce.”

Supported by the Sustainable Farming Fund, some of the problems or opportunities being looked into include:

  • optimising pollination of Gold3 kiwifruit under hail netting;
  • resource development for new-entrant deer farmers;
  • reducing use of antimicrobials when managing mastitis;
  • understanding and managing grain storage pests;
  • increasing the market share for New Zealand olive oil.

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