2023 Marsden Fund EOI deadline extended

In the aftermath of Cyclone Gabrielle, along with widespread power outages and flooding in many areas of New Zealand, Marsden Fund administrators anticipate disruption to researchers and research offices, especially in the north of the North Island.

As a result, they are extending the application deadline for all Expressions of Interest (EoI) by two working days, to noon on Monday 20 February.

They hope to be able to keep to the rest of the EoI timetable, including the scheduled panel meetings. Continue reading

Boost for agricultural and horticultural science in schools

More young people considering food and fibre careers is the aim of new Government support for agricultural and horticultural science teachers in secondary schools, Agriculture and Rural Communities Minister Damien O’Connor announced today.

The Government is committing $1.6 million over five years to the initiative through the Ministry for Primary Industries’ Sustainable Food and Fibre Futures (SFF Futures) fund.

New Zealand’s food and fibre sector employs more than 367,000 people and the Government is striving to build resilience and meet future workforce demand as the sector grows, Mr O’Connor said.

He said: Continue reading

Plant-based testosterone in pine pollen offers high-value opportunity

Pine pollen containing a rare natural source of plant-based testosterone could prove a goldmine for New Zealand’s forestry sector.

Pine Pollen New Zealand Limited, trading under the name Bio Gold, has received $288,500 in Government funding through the Ministry for Primary Industries’ Sustainable Food and Fibre Futures fund (SFF Futures) to lay the foundations for a pine pollen industry in New Zealand.

“Pine pollen has been consumed for health and wellbeing in China, South Korea and Japan for more than 3000 years,” says Bio Gold founder Carl Meyer.

“It’s been found to contain a naturally occurring testosterone, and lately there’s been a new wave of interest from the natural health industry in the United States and Canada.” Continue reading

Farmers vote yes on sheepmeat and beef levies

Good news for scientists whose work  might have dried up if a  Beef + Lamb NZ vote had gone the other way.

Farmers who voted in the 2021 sheepmeat and beef levy referendum have overwhelmingly supported the continuation of the sheepmeat and beef levies.

A proposed increase in the sheepmeat levy from 1 October 2021 was also backed by farmers.

Under the Commodity Levies Act 1990, B+LNZ must ask sheepmeat and beef producers (including dairy farmers through their cull cows) if they want to continue funding

Research, market access and market promotion are among the activities funded by the levy.

B+LNZ’s diverse research portfolio supports several projects and larger programmes across animal health, productivity and genetics, environmental health and mitigations (greenhouse gas) and landscape management.

A ‘no’ vote would have halted all activities supported by the levy. Continue reading

Review of the funding and prioritisation of environmental research in New Zealand

The Parliamentary Commissioner for the Environment, Simon Upton, is urging the Government to reconsider the way it funds environmental research in New Zealand.

In a new report, he says public investment in environmental research is fragmented and funding for New Zealand’s environmental collections and databases has been inadequate. This makes it harder to respond appropriately and in a timely fashion to the country;s many environmental challenges.

The report examines how public funds are invested in environmental research in New Zealand.

The Commissioner recommends an environmental research strategy to be developed by the Ministry for the Environment and dedicated, long-term funding for environmental research to be ring-fenced.

He proposes two models for disbursing the research funds, one of which would involve the establishment of a dedicated Environmental Research Council.

The council would provide funding similar to how health research funding is managed. Continue reading

Govt provides $401.3m injection for innovation and R&D for the COVID economic rebuild

A $401.3 million funding boost for entrepreneurs, innovators and crown researchers was fleshed out today by Research, Science and Innovation Minister Megan Woods.

A breakdown shows:

  • $196 million for Crown Research Institutes
  • $150 million for R&D loan scheme
  • $33 million for Māori research and development opportunities
  • $12 million for the Nationally Significant Collections and Databases
  • $10 million to help maintain in-house capability at Callaghan Innovation

According to notes accompanying the press statement, AgResearch will receive capital expenditure from the COVID Response and Recovery Fund, to develop a new fit-for-future scientific research facility and corporate headquarters at Lincoln University. The facility will encourage more collaboration in food and fibres research and innovation, to help farmers and growers manage challenges, and seize opportunities for getting more economic value out of products. Continue reading

New members join Sustainable Food and Fibre Futures Investment Advisory Panel

Two new appointments, Lucy Griffiths of Masterton and Anne-Marie Broughton of Whanganui, have been made to the independent Investment Advisory Panel (IAP) for Sustainable Food and Fibre Futures (SFF Futures).

With $40 million available each year from the Ministry for Primary Industries (MPI), SFF Futures supports problem-solving and innovation in New Zealand’s food and fibre industries that will make a positive and lasting difference. It offers a single gateway to apply for investment, and provides grants of less than $100,000, right up to multi-million dollar, multi-year partnerships.

The IAP performs an important role in SFF Futures by providing independent expert advice on both funding proposals and active programmes.

Lucy Griffiths and Anne-Marie Broughton both bring diverse agribusiness networks and experience to the panel, says Steve Penno, director of investment programmes at MPI. Continue reading

Marsden Fund sprinkles $83.6m of funding on NZ science projects but it’s hard to spot the ag/hort beneficiaries

Uh, oh. It looks like the ag/hort science sector has secured precious little – if anything – from the Marsden Fund’s 2019 grants.

The fund is managed by Royal Society Te Apārangi on behalf of the government and presumably its decisions reflect government policy.

This week the allocation of $83.671 million (excluding GST) to 125 research projects across New Zealand was announced.

The society says the 2019 grants support excellent New Zealand research in the areas of science, engineering, maths, social sciences and the humanities

Two large interdisciplinary projects this year received inaugural Marsden Fund Council Awards worth $3 million (excluding GST) each. Continue reading

Alas, nothing for the ag/hort sector from the latest Strategic Science Investment Fund decisions

The meaning of “excellence” is worth examining with regard to the public  funding of science projects.

The Government has dipped into the Strategic Science Investment Fund and – taking “excellence” into account – decided to to boost four projects, one of them aimed at teaching Siri to speak Te Reo.

Siri – according to Wikipedia – is a virtual assistant that is part of Apple Inc.’s iOS, iPadOS, watchOS, macOS, tvOS and audioOS operating systems

None of the projects announced by Research, Science and Innovation Minister Megan Wood involves agricultural and/or horticultural science.

Dr Wood – obviously delighted with the way “excellence” has been interpreted to decide which projects will secure SSIF funding – made special mention of the Te Reo project in her press statement.

The Taxpayers Union is not so thrilled.  It’s press statement, challenging the wisdom of this spending, was headed $13 million teaching Siri to use Te Reo is an IT boondoggle.

boondoggle is a project that is considered a waste of both time and money, yet is often continued due to extraneous policy or political motivations.

Dr Woods said the four projects to be funded “range from teaching Siri to speak Te Reo to crunching large amounts of  environmental data collected via satellites”.

“The projects were chosen on excellence, and will help New Zealand to address some of our greatest challenges like bringing Te Reo into everyday digital interactions, and building a picture of climatic and ecological trends,” Megan Woods says.

“To harness the benefits of data science, New Zealand needs to be at the forefront of emerging data science technologies. The new investment will significantly lift New Zealand’s capability, provide fresh and ambitious thinking to support international and national collaborations in cutting edge data science research.”

Collectively the programmes provide a wide coverage of data science research and make good use of unique New Zealand data sets, Dr Woods said.

“They have strong domestic and international collaborations involving a number of New Zealand universities and research organisations with strong links to end users.

“Greater use of advanced data science across the economy, environment and society will create new ways of working, helping to position New Zealand for a sustainable, prosperous and inclusive future.”

Data science involves extracting useful information through different methods of recording, storing, and analysing data.

The Strategic Science Investment Fund’s purpose is to establish and support longer-term research programmes of mission-led science critical to the future of New Zealand’s economy, environment and wellbeing.

This is the first SSIF investment in a fund dedicated to data science research.

The Taxpayers Union said the $13 million research grant for Te Reo voice recognition technology is a poor use of taxpayer money.

According to the union’s statement, the project is hoped to allow people to ask Siri or Alexa things like how to “find a choice as kai of panipopo” . This will “ensure a New Zealand identity is firmly embedded in the digital world”.

Taxpayers’ Union spokesman Louis Houlbrooke says:

“This is a classic case of taxpayer money being poured into a shiny, fashionable IT project that is a nice-to-have at best. These projects should be left to private companies who have an incentive to keep costs under control and develop technology that people actually use.

“Someone on the median wage would have to pay income tax for 1,500 years to cover the cost of this project. This money could have been used to provide more much-needed measles vaccines, or even tax relief.

“The entire Strategic Science Investment Fund appears to be rife with fuzzy spending initiatives and corporate welfare. This is the same fund that last year allocated $5.4 million for research into shoe leather. The fact Minister Megan Woods is proudly putting out press releases about this kind of spending leads us to wonder whether she has taxpayers’ interests at heart.”

The successful programmes announced by Dr Woods are:

  • A language platform for a multilingual Aotearoa: Starting with Te Reo. This will develop a multilingual language platform to that will enable New Zealanders to engage with technology in the language they use or aspire to use every day. World-leading data scientists from New Zealand, Cambridge University, Oxford University, Mozilla and Māori communities will work on this project in a unique collaboration. (Te Hiku Media and Dragonfly Data Science, $13 million over seven years).
  • A data-science driven evolution of aquaculture for building the blue economy: This will develop innovative data science techniques that will enable the aquaculture industry to produce high quality, low-carbon protein efficiently and at large scale, without impacting the environment. (Victoria University of Wellington, $13 million over 7 years)
  • Time-Evolving Data Science / Artificial Intelligence for Advanced Open Environmental Science: This will focus on developing new methods to deal with environmental datasets that are collected in large volumes over time, ranging from broad scale satellite images to single point measurements on the ground, in the water or air. (University of Waikato, $13 million over 7 years)
  • Beyond Prediction: explanatory and transparent data science for life and social sciences: This will develop new methods that discover, gather and integrate useful data with minimal human intervention. (University of Auckland, $10 million over 7 years).

Sources:  Minister of Research, Science and Innovation; New Zealand Taxpayers’ Union.  

Agricultural nanotechnology project wins million dollar research grant

Applying nanotechnology to agriculture to increase productivity and reduce environmental impacts has secured a Lincoln University team a million dollar grant from MBIE’s Endeavour Fund.

Lincoln University Associate Professor Craig Bunt said his team would develop a groundbreaking nano-coating which could be applied to fertiliser to control its rate of release into soil, and to seeds to control their timing of germination.

“Controlling fertiliser rate of release is important because release that is too rapid can result in excessive nitrogen being lost into soil and waterways, causing significant pollution and other negative environmental impacts.

“When nitrogen is lost to the soil, waterways, or atmosphere, farmers must apply more fertiliser to achieve desired results, which increases farming costs.” Continue reading