Fertiliser Assn signs 30-year commitment to Winchmore long-term fertiliser trials

The Fertiliser Association of New Zealand has signed a 30-year lease with AgResearch to ensure the continuation of the long-term fertiliser research trials at Winchmore Research Station in Canterbury.

The agreement affirms the association’s ongoing commitment to long-term research on fertiliser use.

“The site has been providing extremely useful information for almost 70 years now,” says Vera Power, Chief Executive of the Fertiliser Association of New Zealand.

“This has allowed us to track changes to pastoral land as agriculture evolves and support our evidence base for sustainable management.

“I could see Winchmore potentially following the development of New Zealand agriculture over centuries – that’s a really exciting prospect.”

As the longest fertiliser trial under pasture in New Zealand, the Canterbury Plains site has already seen many changes in farming practices. Focused on sheep-grazed pasture, it was initially established to analyse the long-term response of pasture to irrigation and the superphosphate requirements of irrigated pasture.

But the consistent management, meticulous record keeping and archiving of regular soil and plant samples have also proved a rich source of material for many other studies, from nutrient cycling to the effects of fertiliser use on earthworms.

“The historical data and ongoing fertiliser treatments have been critical to evaluating and understanding the implications of soil contaminants such as cadmium and fluorine accumulation,” says Vera.

“Nobody anticipated these contaminant issues when the trial sites were established.”

Many of the key considerations being examined over the long term, such as impact on soil health and function, soil organic matter and climate change considerations, cannot be reproduced elsewhere under actual field conditions.

AgResearch chief executive Tom Richardson says more than 500 science publications have drawn on research from the Winchmore site since the long-term trials began.

“The trial site at Winchmore is nationally significant, and has over the decades provided our scientists and others with an important resource to collect and analyse data around fertiliser use, soil health and farming practices,” he says.

“This work has added to our understanding and helped improve farming practices in New Zealand. It’s pleasing for us to be able to commit to ongoing trials at Winchmore that will allow us to keep adding to the science to ensure continued improvement and innovation.”

This year Winchmore’s irrigation system has moved from a border dyke to a centre pivot system. This included the installation of five new pivot irrigators, two new linear irrigators and connection to the irrigation scheme. Researchers will be able to monitor the impact of the new system over time.

Issues such as the impact of fertiliser use on soil carbon or soil health are now coming to the fore, says Vera.

“We are increasingly thinking about the long-term sustainability of New Zealand farming systems – and long-term field trails are critical for helping us understand how our actions could impact on future farmers’ choices.

“We don’t know where agricultural technology will take us next. But we do know that we’ll be there, measuring its effects so that future generations can make the best possible choices.”

Source:  AgResearch

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GE Free NZ says ryegrass trial results are “an illusion”

AgResearch a few days ago enthused about an important milestone being reachedin its development of a new generation grass “that could prove a game-changer for agriculture”.

The genetically modified High Metabolisable Energy ryegrass had been shown in AgResearch’s laboratories to grow up to 50 per cent faster than conventional ryegrass, to be able to store more energy for better animal growth, to be more resistant to drought, and to produce up to 23 per cent less methane (the largest single contributor to New Zealand’s greenhouse gas emissions) from livestock.

Modelling also predicts less nitrogen excreted into the environment by animals feeding on the ryegrass, and consequently less nitrate leaching and lower emissions of another greenhouse gas, nitrous oxide.

Development of the HME ryegrass is progressing in the mid-west of the United States, where genetically modified organisms can be field tested outside the lab.

GE Free NZ is unimpressed.

Today it has said the GE ryegrass “is still at the starting line, after unimpressive results from US field trials”.

Approval was given in April 2017 for a one-year trial in the US State of Missouri, GE Free NZ said, “but AgResearch’s costly GE ryegrass field trial has not been able to measure any significant outcomes”.

The statement said:

AgResearch’s GM rye grass has been ‘in development’ since 2001 and was intended to be commercially available in 2004. More recently trials were undertaken in Australia in 2012, the outcome is confidential. After 17 years of promises for GE Rye grass, the benefits remain just supposition, with no proper safety evaluation of impacts on the environment, or animal health.

US farmers are fearful that pollen from the unregulated GE grass trials might contaminate their farms, in the same way the escape from field trials of unapproved Roundup resistant GM grass is afflicting farmers as it spreads uncontrolled across Oregon. [1]

GE ryegrass cannot address the need for smarter farm practices. The pursuit of a GE ‘magic bullet’ is diverting vital funding for development of alternative forage crops with proven benefits. [2]

The New Zealand pastoral industry is funding the GM ryegrass trials to the sum of $25 million. This is a slap in the face for farmers who are facing the dire situation of culling their animals due to the Mycoplasma bovis outbreak. It is disappointing that funders – Ministry of Business, Innovation and Enterprise (MBIE) and Dairy NZ – have deliberately sidelined and ignored the proven qualities of NZ own valuable research. [3]

“There is an opportunity cost in pouring money into GE that deprives farmers of real needed help,” said Claire Bleakley, president of GE-Free NZ (in food and environment).

“Since the idea of GE ryegrass was first conceived advantages provided by quality mixed forages and non-GM High metabolic energy rye grasses with proven safety and performance have been disregarded,” said Claire Bleakley.

“AgResearch must be called to account. The GM ryegrass project is a costly miscalculation and has not improved the quality and resilience of the agricultural system for farmers.”

A systems approach based on mixed forage plants and sustainable practices is the best way to add value and resilience that lives up to the reputation of Brand New Zealand that benefits farmers.

GE Free NZ’s references were:

[1] https://www.hcn.org/issues/50.11/plants-genetically-modified-grass-creeps-across-eastern-oregon

[2] Pembleton KG, Hills JL, Freeman MJ, McLaren DK, French M, Rawnsley RP (2016) More milk from forage: Milk production, blood metabolites, and forage intake of dairy cows grazing pasture mixtures and spatially adjacent monocultures. J Dairy Sci, 99(5):3512-3528. doi: 10.3168/jds.2015-10542. Epub 2016 Feb 28.

[3] https://www.nbr.co.nz/article/new-ryegrass-could-end-gm-test-case-fr-p-216870

The AgResearch announcement quoted the CRI’s principal scientist.

After a successful preliminary growing trial last year confirmed the conditions were suitable, AgResearch principal scientist Dr Greg Bryan says the full growing trial began in the United States last month and will continue for five months.

“The preliminary trial was only two months, so it’s not over a timeframe that has any statistical merit, however we did see the increased photosynthesis that we saw with the plants in the greenhouses in New Zealand,” Dr Bryan says.

“In this full trial now underway, we will be measuring the photosynthesis, plant growth and the markers that lead to increased growth rates. While the growth has previously been studied in glasshouses in pots and as plants spaced out in the field, this will be the first opportunity to assess the growth in a pasture-like situation where plants compete with each other.”

“The five-month timeframe will allow us to determine if increased growth is consistent across the summer and autumn, and we will simulate grazing by cutting plants back every 3-4 weeks.”

“Animal feeding trials are planned to take place in two years, which we will need regulatory approvals for, and the information we get over the next two years will help us with our application for those feeding trials.”

DairyNZ strategy and investment leader for new systems and competitiveness, Dr Bruce Thorrold, says the HME ryegrass is a science breakthrough and holds great potential for New Zealand farmers.

“HME ryegrass could help us achieve less nitrogen leaching and reduce greenhouse gas emissions, as well as improving pasture quality and productivity,” says Dr Thorrold. “This research could be transformational in future and so it is important we explore all promising avenues which could help dairy farmers respond to the challenges we face.”

While New Zealand has not yet approved the release of genetically modified crops,AgResearch principal scientist Dr Greg Bryan says it is important the science options are kept open.

He agreed with the Royal Commission on Genetic Modification that it would be unwise to turn our backs on the potential advantages on offer.

Sources: AgResearch, GE Free NZ

Key step forward for game-changing grass

AgResearch is reporting an important milestone has been reached in its development of a new-generation grass that could prove a game-changer for agriculture.

With funding from the Government and industry partners, including DairyNZ, the genetically modified High Metabolisable Energy (HME) ryegrass has been shown in AgResearch’s laboratories:

  • to grow up to 50 per cent faster than conventional ryegrass;
  • to be able to store more energy for better animal growth;
  • to be more resistant to drought; and
  • to produce up to 23 per cent less methane (the largest single contributor to New Zealand’s greenhouse gas emissions) from livestock.

Modelling also predicts less nitrogen excreted into the environment by animals feeding on the ryegrass, and consequently less nitrate leaching and lower emissions of another greenhouse gas, nitrous oxide.

Development of the HME ryegrass is now progressing in the mid-west of the United States, where genetically modified organisms can be field tested outside the lab.

After a successful preliminary growing trial last year confirmed the conditions were suitable, AgResearch principal scientist Dr Greg Bryan says the full growing trial began in the United States last month and will continue for five months.

“The preliminary trial was only two months, so it’s not over a timeframe that has any statistical merit, however we did see the increased photosynthesis that we saw with the plants in the greenhouses in New Zealand,” Dr Bryan says.

“In this full trial now underway, we will be measuring the photosynthesis, plant growth and the markers that lead to increased growth rates. While the growth has previously been studied in glasshouses in pots and as plants spaced out in the field, this will be the first opportunity to assess the growth in a pasture-like situation where plants compete with each other.

“The five-month timeframe will allow us to determine if increased growth is consistent across the summer and autumn, and we will simulate grazing by cutting plants back every 3-4 weeks.”

Animal feeding trials are planned to take place in two years.  These will need regulatory approval.

The information gained over the next two years will help AgResearch with its application for the trials.

DairyNZ strategy and investment leader for new systems and competitiveness, Dr Bruce Thorrold, says the HME ryegrass is a science breakthrough and holds great potential for New Zealand farmers.

“HME ryegrass could help us achieve less nitrogen leaching and reduce greenhouse gas emissions, as well as improving pasture quality and productivity,” says Dr Thorrold.

“This research could be transformational in future and so it is important we explore all promising avenues which could help dairy farmers respond to the challenges we face.”

While New Zealand has not yet approved the release of genetically modified crops, Dr Bryan says it is important that the science keeps the options open and there is strong scientific evidence on any benefits or risks to be drawn on by policy-makers.

“As the Royal Commission on Genetic Modification found, `it would be unwise to turn our backs on the potential advantages on offer’,” says Dr Bryan.

“We think the advantages here could be very significant – with modelling to date showing the HME ryegrass could boost farm revenues by as much as $900 per hectare, while providing a tool for farmers to manage nitrogen run-off and greenhouse gas emissions.”

The Royal Commission also insisted on the need to proceed with caution, minimising and managing risks “which is how we are approaching this work with the ryegrass.”

Source: AgResearch

Benefits of sheep milk to be tested in ground-breaking trial

AgResearch is about to begin a clinical trial to test the benefits of sheep milk for human digestion.

The trial, believed to be a world first, will involve AgResearch scientists working alongside those at the Auckland University’s Liggins Institute, with support from Spring Sheep Milk Co. and Blue River Dairy. It coincides with a period of rapid growth for the dairy sheep industry in New Zealand.

Some people suffer from digestive issues with milk and work to date by AgResearch has demonstrated sheep milk could offer advantages for some in terms of easier digestion and improved nutrition.

“Based on the literature we have seen, there has been no human clinical trial like this before measuring the digestibility of sheep milk,” says AgResearch senior scientist Dr Linda Samuelsson.

“We will be working with people who say they have some difficulty digesting milk. They will be asked to consume a specified amount, and we’ll be looking at how they feel after drinking, and measuring their digestion using blood and breath tests.”

Andrea Wilkins, Marketing and Innovation Director at Spring Sheep Milk Co. says one recent study compared the protein digestibility of sheep and cow milk – with results suggesting sheep milk proteins are more readily digested and are a better source of essential amino acids.

“Taking into account the research to date along with consumer feedback we’ve received, we know that sheep’s milk is great for those who are sensitive to cow’s milk. So, we’re really excited about what this clinical trial means for us and for the New Zealand sheep milk industry as a whole.”

Liggins Institute Research Fellow Dr Amber Milan says the trial subjects will be asked to drink both sheep and cow milk.

“Sheep milk is very different from cow milk. We know that it has more nutrients per glass: more protein, fat, vitamins and minerals. For example, sheep milk has almost twice the level of calcium and zinc, when compared to cow milk. There are also differences in the protein and fat types which we think will alter the digestive properties of sheep milk.”

Dr Samuelsson says the trial is expected to start in July and results should be available early next year.

“The aim is to provide information for consumers who may struggle with their digestion, and to provide solid evidence of the benefits of sheep milk to support New Zealand exports.”

New Zealand now has a flock of more than 20,000 sheep for milking at 16 different producers. Significant new investment is going into milk processing and supply to overseas markets.

Sheep milk products from New Zealand are being exported to growth markets such as China, Taiwan, Malaysia and Vietnam.

Gareth Lyness, Marketing and Supply Chain Manager at Blue River Dairy says:

“There is already a latent awareness of the benefits of sheep milk. Asian consumers express these benefits in terms of how much ‘heat’ the milk brings to our bodies; Sheep milk is understood to ‘create less inner heat’ than other milks, meaning it is gentler on the digestive system.”

For more information on the clinical trial, visit HERE

Source: AgResearch

Banana-growing project among the winners of Māori science funding

Research, Science and Innovation Minister Megan Woods and Māori Development Minister Nanaia Mahuta have announced funding for 34 new projects worth $3.8 million over two years through the sixth round of Te Pūnaha Hihiko: Vision Mātauranga Capability Fund.

Te Pūnaha Hihiko: Vision Mātauranga Capability Fund invests in people and organisations undertaking or planning research which supports the four themes of the Vision Mātauranga Policy: indigenous innovation; taiao achieving environmental sustainability; hauora/oranga improving health and social wellbeing; and mātauranga exploring indigenous knowledge.

“This fund has a strong focus on investing in Māori people and organisations that can create unique opportunities and innovative solutions through science research,” says Minister Woods.

“The projects funded through the Vision Mātauranga Capability Fund reflect the high calibre of diverse research aimed at creating a healthier, more sustainable and better future for all of New Zealand.”

Nanaia Mahuta says the new projects in this year’s round include sustainability in the Chatham Islands, improving biodiversity and kaitiakitanga (guardianship) in South Westland, and developing a climate change strategy for Te Arawa.

“The contribution Māori make to our research, science and innovation sectors is distinctive and essential to the growth of New Zealand,” says Minister Mahuta.

“Māori have valuable knowledge to help solve our country’s unique problems. Investment into Māori knowledge and resources, and building a better understanding of Māori values creates resilient communities.”

Up to $4 million per investment round is available through two different schemes in the fund.

A full list of successful projects is available on the MBIE website.

At the top of the list, AgResearch is being funded for three separate projects.

One of these (with $93,455 of funding) is to nurture the growth of a banana industry through “the rapid expansion of commercial Banana growing in Tārawhiti” in partnership with a company, Tai Pukenga Limited.

The Institute of Environmental Science and Research has secured $100,000 for the validation of a food safety framework for mahinga kai Te Rūnanga o Ngāi Tahu.

The Rakiura Titi Islands Administering Body / Te Rūnanga o Ngāi Tahu, in partnership with Callaghan Innovation, has secured $100,000 for a project to find ways of utilising tītī by-products and add value to mahinga kai.

Source: Ministers of Science and Māori Development

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

Study of animal personality and mood to give new welfare insights

Gosia  goats (002).jpg

Dr Gosia Zobel with some of the goats at AgResearch’s Ruakura campus, where mood and personality is being studied. 

New research exploring the moods and personalities of farm animals is being seen as an opportunity to better understand and enhance their welfare, AgResearch reports.

The research, examining how animals respond in new and different situations, is the latest work by AgResearch’s Animal Welfare Team which is helping to expand the knowledge of livestock behaviour at a time of growing consumer demand for strong welfare standards.

The work is being supported by DairyNZ as part of its ongoing focus on enhancing animal care for cows.

“We can’t directly measure how individual animals are feeling, so there is a need to find indirect measures, and that’s what we are seeking to do here,” says AgResearch scientist Dr Gosia Zobel.

“Once we have those measures, we can use them to better understand how personality also contributes to an animal’s welfare. It is important that these measures can distinguish between different personalities in a range of situations, where animals are feeling either positive or negative.”

The first farm animals being studied are goats, because they are easy to work with, are adaptable to human contact, and there is good evidence for what goats find positive and negative.

“In the research, we created a positive situation, which for goats is access to large leafy branches, while in contrast the negative situation was exposure to simulated rain,” Dr Zobel says.

“Immediately following these positive or negative experiences, we tested the goats’ response to different scenarios, including an object that is new to them.”

During these scenarios, the scientists collected detailed measurements of the goats’ responses, such as heart rate, slow-motion video of facial expressions, and changes in temperature of different body regions with an infra-red camera.

“We predicted that individual goats would change their response to the scenarios depending on whether they were feeling positive or negative, however, each goat’s response would also be in a manner consistent with their personality.
“So for example, a goat that has just experienced the rain (negative situation) might be more reluctant to approach a new object, but certain goats will always be bolder than others.”

 

Once the results have been analysed and published, the study  will provide a stepping stone towards understanding and measuring both personality and mood of individual animals. This can then be used to compare how animals experience different farming situations and to improve the design of production systems.

Source: AgResearch