MPI scholarship for more accurate ways of measuring soil nutrients

After three years travelling the world, Northlander Thomas Corbett is ready to do a doctorate.

At Fieldays last week the Waikato University student was awarded a Ministry of Primary Industries’ doctoral scholarship, worth up to $50,000, to develop a nitrate/nitrite and phosphate sensor for freshwater that he hopes will be easy to use, accurate and affordable, to measure the impacts of run-off and leaching.

Thomas says understanding the effects of run-off and leaching is fundamental to the sustainability of primary production, and requires accurate measurements.

His sensor will be based on the Diffusive Gradients in Thin Films technique, able to be deployed over days or weeks to provide time-weighted average concentration of a nutrient.

Thomas says getting an average concentration rather than a one-off sampling will provide a land owner with much greater certainty of hotspots of nutrient losses and allow targeted mitigation strategies.

Souce: Waikato University


Ag@Otago is tapping into university expertise to improve farm management systems

Otago University has launched a research arm it hopes will influence the future of agriculture, Farmers Weekly reports in its June 11 issue.

This doesn’t seem to be hot-off-the-press news but it escaped AgScience’s attention when it was reported on the Farmers Weekly website in February:

The report on the web and the report in the newspaper are the same, noting that Ag@Otago has been established to tap in to the university’s expertise by aiming to improve productivity and use science and technology to develop sustainable and profitable management systems that add value to primary industries.

Unit director Professor Frank Griffin said Ag@Otago was one of 15 specific research themes at the university, each supported by its own funding and designed to aggregate skills of researchers and scientists.

An estimated 70 university researchers could contribute but Professor Griffin said the unit’s approach to developing research programmes would differ.

They would seek input from a variety of farmers on what the sector’s future looked like, from low density, low input operators through to those with intensive operations and everything in between.

Those ideas would be compiled and after further input from farmers, a research programme supporting the goals would be developed.

Professor Griffin said:

“The challenge of the food industry is to go from the $6 a kilogram commodity to a $60 branded product targeted at the cuisine sector, not just trying to feed people.

“If we stay as commodity producers, it is a race to the bottom.”

But besides affirming the standard nutritional and medicinal information they seek, consumers want messages supported by science to assure them the food they are paying a premium for is sustainably produced and whether it has a low carbon footprint, little impact on water and comes from well-cared-for, grass-fed animals.

Griffin is a microbiologist who worked for many years studying tuberculosis in deer and Johne’s disease in cattle, deer and sheep.

More recently he was the director of Disease Research.

The Farmers Weekly report goes on:

Griffin said Otago University researchers offer a different skill set that has been applied to humans but is equally applicable to primary production.

It includes microbiology, neuroendocrinology, toxicology, reproduction, nutrition, food science, statistics, plant development, genomics and pathogens.

The university has also introduced an applied science in agriculture degree. Griffin said this is an extension of the agribusiness course being offered for NCEA in secondary schools and blends business, technology and environmental science.

Don’t overlook Lincoln’s improved performance in those university rankings

The headline on an NZ Herald report this week was a tad unfair on Lincoln University. It said “Staff cuts drag NZ universities down in world rankings – but Waikato University jumps”.

Was Lincoln’s positive performance not spectacular enough for the headline writer?

The Herald report said staff cuts despite growing student numbers have dragged most New Zealand universities down in the latest world rankings.

The biggest six of the country’s eight universities have all tumbled in the London-based QS rankings, which are regarded as the most important for attracting international students.

Only our two smallest universities, Waikato and Lincoln, have moved up the ranks.

Seven NZ universities were marked down this year on their academic reputation, based on asking 83,000 academics around the world to list the top universities in their fields.

Six declined in a survey asking 30,000 global employers which universities provided their most competent, innovative and effective graduates.

But New Zealand’s worst result was on staff/student ratios.

“The increase in enrolments – and the decrease in faculty numbers – reported by the country’s universities sees all eight receive a lower score for faculty/student ratio,” QS said.

Universities NZ director Chris Whelan told the Herald this reflected a funding squeeze.

This year’s Budget provided no increase in per-student funding at universities, the first nil increase in at least 17 years and a cut in real terms of $5 million to $10m for the University of Auckland alone, according to the Herald.

Waikato University jumped 8 places overall and climbed into the top 100 (92nd) for citations per academic in international journals.

The University of Auckland slipped three places to 85th, Otago fell 24 places to 175, Victoria dropped to 221, Canterbury to 230, Massey to 330 and AUT to 464.

Lincoln University did its  own cheer-leading on its website –

Lincoln is one of the two New Zealand universities to improve its position in the 2018/19 QS World University Rankings released today.

Lincoln moved ahead of Massey University for the first time, rising a place to sixth in the national rankings.

It is also now among the top 60 in the International Student Ratio section of the Rankings, highlighting Lincoln’s appeal to students from around the world.

Lincoln is now ranked globally at 317, continuing its upward trajectory.

Lincoln University Chancellor Steve Smith said:

“We have the goal of being one of the world’s top universities in Agriculture, and among the top overall in New Zealand, and to see that rise already happening locally is gratifying.”

The news on the Waikato University website told of the university rising 127 places in five years.

It is now firmly placed in the world’s top 300 universities at #274.

The University of Waikato has been on a strong upward trajectory and in the last year rose 18 places, moving against the trend in New Zealand’s challenging tertiary landscape.


Lincoln says delay with joint facility is not unusual for major project

Lincoln University has confirmed a delay to the construction of the joint facility with AgResearch.

The decision to delay construction was approved by the Lincoln University Council and AgResearch Board in late April following a proposal to return to market for further build quotes.

Early and enabling works continue in the meantime, a news item on the Lincoln University website advises.

Tenders close in late July and it is anticipated that a main contractor will be appointed by the end of August.

Murray Strong, Chairman of the Partnership Board, has made this statement:

The Joint Facility project has been managed under a two-stage Early Contractor Involvement (ECI) procurement method. The ECI process brought together a construction contractor, architects, designers, and specialist sub-contractors, such as façade fabrication and steel suppliers.

This ECI approach has allowed for the construction contractor to undertake early and enabling work (site clearance) and to work with the client on the full design of the Joint Facility. Both the early and enabling works, and the building’s design are now completed.

Through this process, the Lincoln University AgResearch Joint Facility Limited Partnership Board sought a Main Contract Tender price for construction which came in higher than expected.

The Board felt strongly that this initial tender price did not provide appropriate value to the project’s shareholders, (Lincoln University and AgResearch), and the Government.

With a completed design, the Lincoln University AgResearch Joint Facility Limited Partnership Board has been able to undertake further value engineering work (refinement of quantity survey estimates) and to realise some significant cost savings as a result.

In March, the Board initiated a new competitive tendering process for the main construction phase (‘Build-only”), and this process is currently under way.

The Joint Facility Partnership Board now expects to receive initial tender prices in a competitive process by 20 July, and will make its final recommendation on a preferred contractor to shareholders, in August.

This will enable the Implementation Business Case to be submitted to the Government with a preferred contractor and contract price.

The Lincoln University AgResearch Joint Facility project remains within its capital budget.

While this sort of delay is always frustrating, it is not unusual in large-scale construction projects like this. This process has taken place during a period of significant recent impacts on the construction sector[1] and with the pricing of risk robustly negotiated between the parties.

Construction of the 27,000 square metre, $206 million Lincoln University and AgResearch education and research centre at the Lincoln campus will then start later this year and, when complete, will be the largest land-based sciences research centre in the southern hemisphere.


Source: Lincoln University

Lincoln tackles land-use issues with multi-discipline initiative

A new Lincoln University initiative is responding to the need for new ways of using our land more productively while ensuring New Zealand’s future prosperity and enhancing lives.

Maori spiritual concepts look likely to be incorporated with the science. Lincoln University’s Director Kaiarahi Māori, Dr Dione Payne, said an important aspect of the programme for her was protecting and sustaining “the Mauri of te taiao”.

The initiative, called Designing Future Productive Landscapes, is multi-disciplinary and aims to find alternatives to “current and narrow models of land-use options and practices”, the university says on its website.

These land-use options and practices limit sustainability and the resilience of landscapes and the agroecosystems embedded within them, the website post says.  They also constrain regeneration of land, environment and culture.

The initiative follows the recommendations of last year’s Transformation Board Report urging Lincoln to deliver positive changes in land, food and ecosystems.

The Lincoln website says:

It will involve students working in a “living laboratory”, “incubating” ideas in the classroom that can be “hatched” in the field.

The initiative involves academics from agricultural, landscape and Māori perspectives, and is the first of three to be announced this year.

Its comprehensive research programme involves projects in hill country, dryland and irrigated landscapes.

Professor Pablo Gregorini, the initiative lead, said production landscapes – te taiao –  underpin cultures and prosperity of societies worldwide.

But a number of transformations and pressures are affecting landscapes here and around the world, diminishing biodiversity, reducing water and air quality, and accelerating loss of soil and plant biomass (among other factors).

“Given New Zealand’s economic reliance on food agricultural production and provenance, our global brand, prosperity and well-being are at risk,” Professor Gregorini said.

“We want to create adaptive agroecosystems to re-connect our landscape, our livestock (agriculture) and ourselves, by restoring broken linkages among plants, herbivores and humans with diets that nourish and satiate, as well as heal our planet.

“Our objective demands a multi-disciplinary response, integrating skills and knowledge across farming systems, ecology, landscape design, social science and other disciplines.”

Some of the areas the initiative could address  – the website announcement says –  include:

• Reshaping and reimagining Māori productive landscapes that will support and sustain the mauri of te taiao while continuing to grow the Māori economy;

• Encouraging regional councils to develop approaches for identifying and designing distinctive ways to increase a landscape’s full range of productivity;

• Helping Government agencies to establish new baselines and benchmarks for monitoring landscape value and productivity.

Potentially, the initiative could involve all staff across the entire disciplinary range at Lincoln University.

Key collaborators could involve CRIs and other universities, in New Zealand and internationally, and ideas could be trialled on some of the University’s farms.

An initiative team member, Associate Professor Mick Abbott, said his main concern lay with how future landscapes can be designed to better integrate the multiple ways we use and protect land for the benefit of ourselves and the environment.

Source: Lincoln University  

New scholarships offered for organics course at Lincoln University

Ten new tuition fees scholarships are being offered for Lincoln University’s fledgling organics course, matching the needs of prospective students who don’t qualify for fees free.

The Diploma in Organic Agri-food Production prepares students to work in the organic food industry at farmers’ markets or supplying restaurants with produce.

Māori and Pasifika agricultural methods are an important part of the diploma.

Lincoln University’s Director Kaiarahi Māori, Dr Dione Payne, said it was felt the course may also appeal to people changing career, or who may have completed qualifications and were ineligible for the Government’s fees free scheme.

Lincoln is also offering $5000 scholarships for Māori and Pasifika students fully enrolled in the Diploma and staying in the University’s Halls of Residence (though a student cannot accept both).

The Diploma programme, which starts in July, is a 120-credit level 5 diploma for students with or without University Entrance.

Programme director Bill Martin says graduates of the Diploma will be able to seek employment in organic primary production or other sectors related to organics, particularly education and hospitality.

The university webpage says the full-time programme will provide foundational, transferable knowledge and experience with the theory and practice that make up contemporary organic agri-food production.

Study is undertaken in a context of tikanga together with the academic skills necessary for successful study in a university context. The programme includes Tikanga and Mahinga Kai components delivered through two courses.

Graduates of the Diploma will be well placed to seek employment or to work entrepreneurially in urban and rural settings for organic agri-food production; in organic primary production or other sectors related to organics, particularly education and hospitality.

Graduates moving into organic primary production will tend to be involved in smaller-scale operations such as supplying farmers’ markets and restaurants.

Graduates moving into or returning to the education sector will be able to embed the principles and practices of organics and sustainability in educational delivery.

Hospitality sector graduates can involve themselves in smaller niche ventures such as food stalls, catering, cafes and farmers’ markets.

Dr Payne said aligning the scholarships to the Diploma supports the delivery of the programme and acknowledges its Māori content, in particular mahinga kai, which is a key component of Lincoln University’s Māori Strategy.

Source:  Lincoln University

Lincoln Hub is rebranded to become Blinc Innovation

The Lincoln Hub has been rebranded and moved on to the Lincoln University campus.

It is now called Blinc Innovation and occupies the former student space The Workshop, which has been converted into the Blinc Workshop.

The Hub was the innovation network and agri research precinct made up of five partners – Lincoln University, AgResearch, DairyNZ, Manaaki Whenua – Landcare Research, and Plant and Food Research.

The new workshop is a co-working space which caters for start-up teams and small agri businesses, looking for a place to connect, permanent or semi-permanent desks, and space for meetings and workshops.

Blinc’s role is innovating and creating in harmony with nature, developing sustainable solutions, and leaving the planet in a better place tomorrow than today.

To do this it acts as a connector, helping grow an ecosystem across agrifood and technology to stimulate and land innovation, through networking, events, collective collaborations and research around a shared vision for the future for agrifood.

Source: Lincoln University