AgResearch finds pasture pests costing economy billions

Pests most commonly targeting New Zealand’s pastures are costing the economy up to $2.3 billion a year, an AgResearch study has found.

The study is the first of its kind to estimate the financial impact of invertebrate pests such as the grass grub, black beetle, nematodes and weevils in terms of lost productivity for pastoral farming.

The full science paper has been published this week in the New Zealand Journal of Agricultural Research and can be found HERE.

Of the total estimated annual losses of between $1.7 billion and $2.3 billion in `average’ years, up to $1.4b billion occurs on dairy farms, and up to $900 million on sheep and beef farms.

“Our research shows that the impact of the grass grub alone costs dairy farms up to $380 million, and sheep and beef farms up to $205 million, each year,” says AgResearch scientist Colin Ferguson.

Losses attributable to these pasture pests are usually determined either on the basis of the amount of foliage they consume, or reductions in pasture production.

However, AgResearch’s study has used the reduction in pasture production to estimate the impact on milk production revenue for dairy farms, and on meat production revenue for sheep and beef farms.

“What this provides us is a good picture of the challenge we and farmers face with pasture pests, and it reinforces the need to invest in new and cost-effective ways to better control these pests,” Mr Ferguson says.

“AgResearch is looking at pest control on a number of fronts, including the development of new biopesticides – naturally occurring organisms that can be used to target specific pest species, instead of chemical treatments that can be expensive and have unwanted impacts on the environment.”

The study was initiated as part of Pastoral 21 Next Generation Dairy Systems and funded by DairyNZ, Fonterra, Dairy Companies Association of New Zealand, Beef + Lamb New Zealand and MBIE – and has been completed with funding from AgResearch.

Source: AgResearch

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AgResearch chief reviews reports on the science addressing livestock emissions

AgResearch chief executive Dr Tom Richardson has posted an article which highlights two important pieces of work released in the past two weeks, saying they bring into stark focus the challenge New Zealand faces around its greenhouse gas emissions from agriculture.

The first of these was modelling released by the Parliamentary Commissioner for the Environment (PCE) on the impact of methane emissions from livestock, which sets out the kind of reductions New Zealand needs to achieve to contribute to the global challenge of climate change, Dr Richardson says.

The second, a comprehensive report by the Productivity Commission on transition to a low emissions economy, calls for changes to the structure and methods of agricultural production, including greater diversification of land use and greater adoption of low emissions practices on farms. The commission at the same time pointed to the need for “significantly more resources” from government for innovation in this area to support this transition.

Dr Richardson says:

While much of the recent public debate around methane (the single biggest contributor to NZ’s agricultural greenhouse gases) has been about the degree to which it contributes to climate change, the science is now clear its impact is significant. The modelling from the PCE provides some potential starting points for planning – including an estimated 10-22 per cent reduction in methane emissions that would be required by 2050 to avoid any further warming contributed by NZ above current levels (the number within that range to depend on the action of other countries).

The PCE’s full report is still to be released, but the numbers in front of us now have already ignited a fresh debate about how we address them. One approach being put forward is a simple reduction in livestock numbers, with the resulting economic impacts, while others are promoting the potential of science and technology to significantly reduce the emissions per unit of production.

With AgResearch being a key player in the science to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, predominantly methane from livestock – I see plenty of reason for optimism that the latter approach will continue to yield benefits.

Working with partners such as the New Zealand Agricultural Greenhouse Gas Research Centre (NZAGRC) and Pastoral Greenhouse Gas Research Consortium (PGgRc), our scientists are looking at promising methods to reduce methane emissions through changes in farming systems, animal feed, breeding, and potential inhibitors and vaccines to name a few.

Some of the exciting prospects currently in development include the following:

High Metabolisable Energy (HME) ryegrass
With the support of Government and industry partners including DairyNZ and Grasslanz Technology Ltd, we are currently field testing a genetically modified ryegrass in the United States that has been shown in glasshouses to reduce methane emissions from livestock by up to 23 per cent. Not only has the HME ryegrass shown potential for methane reduction, it also has features of reduced nitrate leaching, and its increased photosynthesis allows for faster growth and increased energy for the animal, as well as improved resistance to drought. So less methane, and greater productivity.

Breeding lower emission animals
Our scientists have shown that livestock can be bred to produce less methane emissions. With investment from the PGgRc and NZAGRC, we have bred sheep with a 10 per cent difference in methane emissions between the average animal in the high and low methane breeding lines. Other benefits appear to be leaner meat and increased wool growth. This breeding approach can also be applied to cattle.

Vaccines and inhibitors
Again with the investment of the NZAGRC and PGgRc, our scientists are working towards the development of a vaccine and inhibitors that can be applied directly to the livestock to reduce the amount of methane they produce.

Some are seeking a silver bullet where it comes to technologies to reduce emissions from livestock. Whilst there are exciting developments, more likely a combination of strategies such as those above, and more diversified land uses that reduce emissions, will be required to get us to where we need to be as a country.

Whatever we do, we will need to achieve consistent reductions in our environmental footprint while maintaining our regional and national prosperity. I’m confident that continued investment in our world-class science will enable us to get there.

Source: AgResearch

Minister says potential partnership between two universities shows promise

The prospect of a partnership or merger between Lincoln University and Canterbury University has been welcomed by Education Minister Chris Hipkins.

He said he was looking for it to demonstrate how it would significantly enhance Lincoln’s unique contribution to the land-based sectors of the New Zealand economy.

“We need to encourage more people to study and work in the land-based sectors to meet industry demand, increase productivity and tackle technological and environmental challenges,” Mr Hipkins said.

“Canterbury and Lincoln’s proposal to explore a merger or partnership might help to achieve that by enhancing Lincoln’s capacity to deliver world-leading teaching and research.

“It is critical that New Zealand has strong and stable, multi-disciplinary, university-based teaching and research that best supports the land based sector, and this process will help determine whether a partnership or a merger with Canterbury would achieve this at Lincoln.”

Both parties are expected to submit their formal proposal by the end of the year.

Government commitment of up to $85 million of Crown capital funding to help Lincoln fund its share of a joint education and research facility with AgResearch is not affected by this process, Mr Hipkins said.

The Government has declared it is committed to Lincoln remaining at its present site and retaining its brand and identity.

Source: Minister of Education

Sheep wool offers a source of healthier diets for pets

Proteins from wool can be added to the diets of animals to improve their health, AgResearch scientists have shown.

The positive findings in the diets of domestic cats open up exciting possibilities for new uses of sheep wool to improve digestive health for a broader range of animals, and potentially human beings.

The findings have just been published in the Royal Society of Chemistry’s Food & Function journal and are available by clicking here.

“There is a lot of work going on to discover new uses of wool to support the sheep industry in New Zealand,” says Dr Jolon Dyer, AgResearch’s Science Group Leader for Food and Bio-based Products.

“The research is telling us that sheep wool has many useful attributes, and one of those now appears to be proteins derived from the wool that could be used as a dietary supplement to improve digestion and nutrition, and therefore overall health.”

Scientists used a method called controlled hydrolysis to extract the wool proteins. These protein hydrolysates taken from the wool were then added as an ingredient in a pet food formulation targeted towards cats, and compared against standard cat food formulations.

The findings indicate that the wool protein hydrolysates offer promise as a functional ingredient in pet foods, and also as a new nutritional ingredient in foods generally.

AgResearch senior scientist Dr Santanu Deb-Choudhury, who led the study with fellow scientist Dr Emma Bermingham, says the hydrolysates offer real potential as a supplement for pet diets.

The next steps for the research will be to study the effect of the wool hydrolysate on animals other than cats.

There’s big potential in terms of how this can add to the wellbeing of pets and other animals, and even people, but further research is needed, Dr Deb-Choudhury says.

Source:  AgResearch

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

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