2020 Prime Minister’s Science Prizes are awarded

The 2020 Prime Minister’s Science Prizes have been announced in Wellington, recognising the impact of science on New Zealanders’ lives, celebrating the achievements of current scientists and encouraging scientists of the future.

The 2020 Prime Minister’s Science Prize, the premier award for science that is transformational in its impact, has been awarded to Te Pūnaha Matatini for its COVID-19 response.

Te Pūnaha Matatini, hosted at University of Auckland, is a multidisciplinary Centre of Research Excellence, set up to apply complexity science to ‘critical issues of our time’.

Centre Director Professor Shaun Hendy MNZM FRSNZ, University of Auckland, quickly saw in early 2020 that there was a gap in providing the New Zealand Government with the data science it needed to make informed decisions about responding to the pandemic. He quickly assembled a team who have worked tirelessly to fill this need.

The team’s response has been multifaceted. Throughout the pandemic, they have developed a series of new mathematical models and ran a multitude of different scenarios to inform the unique situation that New Zealand found itself in. They have done modelling work and analysis on a wide number of areas including hospital capability, contagion rates and likely disease spread, virus genomic tracing, contact tracing and vaccination.

Continue reading

Future orchards recognised in Primary Industry Awards

Plant & Food Research  has won two Primary Industry Awards, recognising innovations in orchard design and sustainable fishing systems.

The Future Orchard Planting Systems (FOPS) science team received the Primary Industry Science and Research Award in recognition of their work in creating a new growing system that increases the productivity potential of New Zealand’s apple, pear and summerfruit orchards.

“The FOPS design, led by Dr Stuart Tustin, was based on our understanding of plant physiology and developmental biology,” says Dr Jill Stanley, Science Group Leader at Plant & Food Research.

“Theoretically we knew it was possible to increase the light captured by the canopy and that this would greatly increase productivity”. Continue reading

Soil scientist Dr Trish Fraser is recognised as a Woman of Influence

Plant & Food Research soil scientist Dr Trish Fraser has received the 2020 Women of Influence Award (Rural Category) in recognition of her three decades of dedication and contributions to the rural sector and rural community. The judges praised her collaborative approach and her rare skill of communicating science to farmers.

Another scientist, Dr Siouxsie Wiles, was named the supreme winner of the 2020 Stuff-Westpac Women of Influence Awards.

The associate professor, a microbiologist at Auckland University, was chosen from a wealth of inspirational women who are excelling on the local and international stage, at the eighth annual awards at Auckland’s Aotea Centre.

She also was presented with the science and health innovation award. Continue reading

Dr Nick Albert wins Hamilton Award for early career research excellence

Plant & Food Research scientist Dr Nick Albert has received the Hamilton Award, the Royal Society Te Apārangi Early Career Research Excellence Award for Science.

The award celebrates his contributions to the future development of new fruit varieties with novel colours and enhanced nutrition, as well as when/how during evolution the earliest land plants acquired their “sunscreen” properties to cope with environmental stress factors such as UV-B. Continue reading

Marsden Fund preliminary proposals for 2020

The Marsden Fund received a total of 1170 proposals, made up of 721 Standard and 443 Fast-Start Expressions of Interest (EOIs), and six Marsden Fund Council (MFC) Award proposals.

This represents a slight increase compared to last year’s total of 1163.

The Marsden Fund supports excellence in science, engineering, maths, social sciences and the humanities in New Zealand by providing grants for investigator-initiated research.

There are three categories of proposals available for the fund:

Fast-Start: For emerging researchers, capped at $100,000 per year for up to three years.

Standard: Open to all eligible researchers, amount of funding is flexible and is capped. These are larger than Fast-Start proposals. Funding can be sought for up to three years.

Marsden Fund Council Award: Open to all eligible researchers. Larger than Standard grants, up to $1 million per year for up to 3 years. Continue reading

Now that non-scientists can win a Rutherford Medal, there’s a good case for changing the name of the award

The Royal Society Te Apārangi has announced that its highest award, the Rutherford Medal for recognition of eminent research, scholarship, or innovation, will now include humanities scholarship in the fields of recognition.  The nomination deadline for this medal (and $100,000 prize money) has been extended to 30 April 2020 to allow time for humanities nominations to be submitted.

Details of the Society’s medals and awards being offered this year can be found HERE.

Whether the Rutherford Medal should now be renamed is an issue raised by AgScience editor Bob Edlin in this article, originally posted on the Point of Order blog.


  Until this year, the Rutherford Medal has been the most prestigious science award the Royal Society of New Zealand can bestow on worthy scientists.

But big changes are being made to the meaning of “science” and the society has proudly announced:

Rutherford Medal now includes humanities

The announcement explains that Royal Society Te Apārangi’s highest award, the Rutherford Medal for recognition of eminent research, scholarship, or innovation, will now include humanities scholarship in the fields of recognition. Continue reading

Plant & Food Research sponsors inaugural Ahuwhenua Trophy competition for horticulture

Plant & Food Research has announced it is a Gold sponsor of the prestigious Ahuwhenua Trophy, Excellence in Māori Horticulture Award 2020. This year marks the first time since its establishment in 1933 that the competition has celebrated outstanding Māori in the horticultural industry.

David Hughes, chief executive of Plant & Food Research, said the competition for decades has alternated between dairy and sheep & beef farming each year.

“We appreciate this timely recognition of Māori contribution to horticulture,” he said.

“We’re particularly delighted to support this event and be part of its legacy because we believe good practices in horticulture are fundamental for us and te hapori whānui to build a smart green future together.” 

Stacey Whitiora, Group GM Māori at Plant & Food Research. said the institute is working towards becoming a meaningful and trusted partner of Māori.

“We’re about promoting prosperity with Māori through weaving Mātauranga Māori and science. It is a privilege for us to sponsor this event.

“We hope by being present ‒ ‘he kanohi kitea (a face that is seen)’ ‒ we can engage with Māori growers and Māori entities with an interest in horticulture to increase our understanding of what we can offer to support them and how we can grow together.” 

Cath Kingston, Operations Manager, Tree Crops, at Plant & Food Research, and Ian Scott, Māori Relationship Manager, will be judges during the competition.

Three finalists will be announced at Parliament on 21 February.

All finalists will receive cash and farm-related prizes up to $30,000.

Final judging will take place in March and April when three field days will be held at the orchard/vegetable garden of each finalist. The winner will be announced on 22 May at the Award dinner in Tauranga and receive a further cash and prize pool up to $70,000.

Source:  Plant & Food Research

Max Suckling updates the NZIAHS on Trimble Award’s role in war on stink bugs

Max Suckling,  was learning to be a bug hunter for a new invasive threat, when AgScience reported in June last year on the NZIAHS grant to him of a Trimble Award to visit colleagues in Italy.

The Brown Marmorated Stink Bug, which had been discovered in this country, was rampaging through horticultural crops in Italy, including apples, pears, kiwifruit, grape vines and corn.

Max is a professor at the University of Auckland and Science Group Leader (Biosecurity) at the NZ Institute for Plant and Food Research (Christchurch).

His projects would gain him practical experience with traps and aggregation pheromone lures for surveillance and suppression, as well as further evaluation of the potential for the sterile insect technique to be used in the event of an incursion into New Zealand. Continue reading

A call to amplify NZIAHS’s voice by teaming up with other ag/hort stakeholders

Tony Brenton-Rule, commenting on the challenge of nominating ag/hort scientists for honours and awards or persuading them to apply for precious research funding, notes that public perception of pastoral agriculture has changed greatly over the last 20+ years.

It began, perhaps, with a previous Prime Minister who incorrectly described agriculture as a sunset industry, he suggests. This observation did considerable harm to the sector, especially its attractiveness to young people looking at their employment opportunities.

Writing from San Antonio, Texas, Tony says:

Now a present Prime Minister has (finally) recognised, in respect to regulatory control of livestock emissions, that the country’s export earnings are based on its biological economy. However, her administration espouses policies that are inimical to the pastoral aspects of it, such as the lavishly tax-payer funded 1 billion trees programme, supported by carbon policies that are causing swathes of productive farmland to be captured by overseas parties with no long term interest in New Zealand’s future; and which impose a monoculture, from which may emerge millions of logs to be exported with zero value-add.

Any of us in the NZIAHS could spell out other aspects of the challenge, from a now five million increasingly urbanised population, an increasing proportion of whom will have little knowledge of the primary sector – (there’s some very interesting detail here:  http://www.growingup.co.nz/en/research-findings-impact/key-findings.html ), to the over-intensification of dairy farming in parts of the country, a self-inflicted wound that is going to be slow to heal.

I think we, collectively, will have to work on this much greater challenge before we’ll see New Zealand’s best ag/hort researchers honoured. 

Is there a role for NZIAHS in this?  Might the Institute usefully talk to others in the sector? 

There are voices who may be interested to hear a research perspective, e.g. BakerAg https://www.bakerag.co.nz/news/open-letter-national-policy-freshwater-statement and the signatories to the recent full page advertisement in New Zealand newspapers concerning the government’s pastoral sector policies. 

I’m not suggesting that NZIAHS enter adversarial politics.  However, I am wondering whether it could play a role in helping to have New Zealand’s primary-sector policies based more on high quality research and less on poorly informed rhetoric.  If yes, then I suggest it might have greater impact by ‘teaming up’ with other stakeholders and adding a science voice to their concerns.

China honours Dr Brent Clothier

Hard on the heels of being named among Science New Zealand’s Lifetime Achievement award winners, Dr Brent Clothier received more good news.

Dr Clothier, principal scientist at Plant and Food Research, is a world-leading soil and water scientist whose work on water footprinting, soil science and climate change has prepared New Zealand’s primary production systems for tomorrow’s challenges.

In January, he was nominated for Academician (Foreign Member) of the Chinese Academy of Engineering (Agricultural Division).

He has just been advised he is one of 29 elected in this 2019 biennial round.

There had been 64 Foreign Academicians already before this biennial year’s 2019 election.

Dr Clothier is the first Kiwi member in the CAE.

The announcement is recorded on http://news.sciencenet.cn/html (although the Google translator struggles beyond the “Brent” bit of Dr Clothier’s name).

Dr Clothier was nominated by five academicians. This year, nine divisions of CAE recommended 87 candidates for foreign academicians, 29 of whom were finally elected.

He was advised this is a full affirmation of his research achievements, academic level and international influence during his career as well as his achievements in promoting the development of China’s agricultural water management discipline through cooperation and exchanges with Chinese scientists.

A congratulatory email expressed the hope “that will continue to strengthen cooperation and exchanges with Chinese scientists, and make greater contributions to promoting the scientific and technological progress of agricultural water management in China and enhancing the international influence of Chinese scientists!”