Better for climate does not mean sacrificing quality: new findings

Farmed animals bred for less impact on the climate are as healthy and produce meat quality just as good, if not better, newly published results of long-running research suggest.

New Zealand has been a world leader in the recent development of breeding sheep that belch out less methane – a relatively short-lived but potent greenhouse gas that contributes to climate change.

The progress stems from more than a decade of research by AgResearch scientists – supported by the industry through the Pastoral Greenhouse Gas Research Consortium and Beef + Lamb New Zealand Genetics, and the Government via the New Zealand Agricultural Greenhouse Gas Research Centre – proving that some sheep naturally emit less methane as a product of their digestion, and that this trait can be bred for and passed down through generations.

After three generations of breeding, the lowest emitting sheep in a research flock produced close to 13 per cent less methane than the highest emitters, per kilogram of feed eaten. But questions have remained about whether this low methane trait means sacrifices for the health or quality of the animals, including quality of the meat that is derived for export around the world. Continue reading

Huge gains for industry in 50 years of deer farming science

From a noxious pest that should be exterminated to livestock providing high value products to the world, the deer industry in New Zealand has come a long way in 50 years – and the research that made it possible is now being celebrated.  AgResearch has posted this article…  

An event next week at AgResearch’s Invermay campus near Dunedin will mark 50 years of deer farming science at the site by AgResearch and its predecessor organisations, always in close partnership with the deer industry and farmers. The half century of research has included major advances in understanding of deer nutrition, health, behaviour and genetics, and in development of products such as venison, velvet and milk that are exported around the world.

Fifty years ago, researcher Ken Drew and veterinarian Les Porter thought it might be a good idea to put some science behind the newly emerging deer farming industry, says AgResearch’s programme leader for Deer Science for Success, Jamie Ward. Continue reading

Scientists launch study into what makes the best New Zealand pork

Scientists at AgResearch, investigating what makes great-tasting pork, are examining how factors such as gender and pH values impact the eating quality of pork.

Consumer testing will help the researchers evaluate attributes such as aroma, tenderness, juiciness, flavour and liking and overall perception of quality – and how likely they would be to purchase the pork.

The New Zealand pork industry aims to use the findings of the study to develop a quality mark for pork so Kiwis can be confident they’ll have a consistently excellent eating experience every time.

The research is a collaboration between NZPork, the industry organisation for commercial pig farmers, and the Ministry for Primary Industries (MPI), through its Sustainable Food and Fibre Futures fund. Continue reading

Axel Heiser on the grim spectre of foot-and-mouth disease

AXEL HEISER, a Principal Scientist at AgResearch, says the spectre of Foot-and-Mouth Disease (FMD), and the devastating impacts an outbreak would have for New Zealand, looms large as other countries in the region grapple with outbreaks. He writes:

While the actual risk of Foot-and-Mouth disease spreading to New Zealand from the current outbreak zone in Indonesia is not considered high, and it is reassuring to see it being treated with utmost seriousness by our authorities, it is unnerving nonetheless for people to see news reports such as those out of Australia recently about viral fragments being detected in imported food products (though these are not infectious and FMD has not spread into Australia at the time of writing this piece).

The impact of FMD becoming established in New Zealand cannot be underestimated, with a significant economic shock and losses estimated in the area of $16 billion over four to five years as food exports are heavily affected. There will be a massive impact from mass culling of farmed animals on the wellbeing of farmers, those in rural communities and the general public. Continue reading

Research confirms red meat nutritional advantage over alternative

Results from ground-breaking New Zealand research have shown red meat is a better source of protein than a processed plant-based alternative.

Findings from a human clinical trial undertaken for the Pasture Raised Advantage research programme found that meat delivers more of the essential protein building blocks compared to a plant-based alternative.

The four-stage multidisciplinary project is exploring the health and wellbeing benefits of eating pasture-raised beef and lamb as part of a balanced diet, compared to grain-finished beef or a plant-based alternative. The research is a collaboration between researchers at AgResearch, the University of Auckland, Massey University and the Riddet Institute. Continue reading

Central Progeny Test – 20 years of contributing to the genetic improvement of NZ’s sheep industry

For 20 years, the Central Progeny Test has been giving sheep breeders the opportunity to benchmark rams by comparing the performance of their progeny in a standardised environment.

Overseen by Beef + Lamb New Zealand Genetics, around 20 sires (a mix of maternal and terminal breeds) are selected to take part in the Central Progeny Test (CPT) every year. Run under commercial conditions to ensure its relevance for commercial sheep breeders, the CPT operates at two sites; Glenside, a commercial hill country property in the Wairarapa, and at AgResearch’s Invermay research station.

The purpose of the CPT is to create genetic linkages (or connections) across breeds that would not happen naturally in industry. These connections underpin the New Zealand Genetic Evaluation (NZGE) – the across-flock and across-breed evaluation that provides indexes and breeding values (BVs) to industry.

Sarah Powdrell, B+LNZ Genetics’ Sheep Operations Specialist, says every year breeders or breeder groups nominate their flocks to take part in the CPT and the successful flocks are selected based on the benefit their connections will provide to industry. Continue reading

AgResearch sets up new group to harness mātauranga Māori

Mātauranga Māori should be seen as adding to the toolbox to tackle the big issues for agriculture and other sectors, rather than something that threatens the science status quo, says the head of AgResearch’s new Māori Research & Partnerships Group, Ariana Estoras.

The new structure led by Mrs Estoras is central to AgResearch’s vision to have the knowledge system of Mātauranga Māori in equal footing with Western science and existing structures that have helped support positive change in farming practices and food production in Aotearoa over the decades.

The move also helps embed Te Ara Tika into AgResearch’s everyday work, which is a national plan to embrace Te Ao Māori values and tikanga-based principles to better respond to Māori needs and better deliver to Māori aspirations. Continue reading

Joint dairy research facility in Manawatū boosts on-farm research

Work is close to completion on Massey University’s Dairy 4 Farm, after the university partnered with AgResearch to boost on-farm research capability and facilities in the lower North Island.

The facility will enable greater interaction between staff and students of Massey and AgResearch and provide scope for a range of independent trials to operate at any one time.

The Dairy 4 Farm, adjacent to Massey’s Manawatū campus, has approximately 600 spring calving cows and is the largest of the university’s two farms.

Professor Paul Kenyon, Head of Massey’s School of Agriculture and Environment, says the new facilities will enable detailed research projects on the farm to be carried out at the same time as usual operations. Continue reading

Research to breed low-methane livestock and Plant & Food scientists are recognised    

The work of AgResearch scientists to successfully breed low methane emitting sheep, as a tool to combat climate change, has been recognised with the Supreme Award at this year’s Science New Zealand Awards.

Science New Zealand represents the country’s seven Crown Research Institutes. The annual awards recognise research excellence at each CRI.

Outstanding research by three Plant & Food Research scientists and teams – an accomplished fruit crop scientist, a consortium working on myrtle rust disease and an emerging researcher looking at foods that support human health – were recognised, too.

Dr Jill Stanley received a Lifetime Achievement Award for her contribution to plant physiology and crop science over four decades. During her career, Dr Stanley has worked on a range of crops in varied locations, including the UK and Spain, collaborated with numerous researchers and growers and now leads a team of 40 people.

Her summerfruit research has focussed on improving practical outcomes for growers by enhancing productivity and fruit quality. Dr Stanley’s work has helped growers use resources more efficiently to lift returns and has delivered quality fruit for consumers. Continue reading

Regenerative agriculture research receives Government funding boost

The Government is investing in two new research projects to investigate the impacts of “regenerative farming” practices.

As NZIAHS members are aware, this is a contentious issue in science circles.  Questions have been raised about the definition of “regenerative” farming and growing and cautions sounded about the need for zealous champions of regenerative practices to base their enthusiasm on reliable New Zealand research data, not on something reported from countries with different conditions and farming methods.

Mr O’Connor announced the government is contributing $2.8 million to a $3.85 million five-year project with co-investment by Synlait Milk and Danone that aims to understand how to measure and manage soil health to boost environmental and economic performance on New Zealand farms.

The announcement on Sunday coincided with World Soil Day, which aimed to raise awareness of the importance of maintaining healthy ecosystems and human well-being by addressing the growing challenges in soil management, fighting soil salinization, increasing soil awareness and encouraging societies to improve soil health.

“We simply cannot take soil health for granted,” O”Connor said.

“It’s the basis of our food systems, and also New Zealand’s economic health.” Continue reading