Posts Tagged ‘AgResearch’

Benefits of pre-lamb drenching come under the AgResearch spotlight

The latest research is challenging the popular belief that drenching ewes around lambing time will consistently provide production and financial benefit.

At the recent Beef + Lamb New Zealand AgInnovation conference in Palmerston North, AgResearch parasitologist Dr Dave Leathwick reviewed the science around the production benefits from drenching ewes at lambing. This showed some new data on the benefits of focusing drench treatments on ewes with low body condition scores.

One common theme emerged from the  review of all on-farm trials conducted in New Zealand since the 1960s – there is no consistent production benefit from drenching ewes around lambing time, whether farmers use an oral drench, a long-acting injection or a capsule.

This means that sometimes there is a measurable benefit and sometimes there isn’t, Leathwick says in a media statement (HERE).

“But it’s a bit more complicated than that, because many of the trials didn’t actually measure all the variables necessary to make a proper decision on the benefits of treatment.”

“This was clearly seen in the recent series of trials conducted by farmers in the Wairarapa, the ‘Wairarapa Anthelmintic Trial’.

This study was largely run by farmers and was funded by a complex of industry agencies and companies. It was by far the most comprehensive study ever conducted in New Zealand on this topic.

“The key outcome from this work was that in nearly 50 per cent of the trials, there was a net financial loss as a result of drenching ewes. This came about because while treated ewes and their lambs tended to be heavier at weaning, there tended to be fewer of them ie. ewes treated with long-acting drenches, on average, weaned fewer lambs.

“The fewer lambs effectively cancelled out any benefit from the heavier ewes and lambs. Further, the financial analysis showed that the biggest driver of dollar return on investment, was, in fact, the number of lambs weaned, rather than ewe or lamb weaning weights. The results showed the biggest driver of financial benefit was lamb survival.”

An unexpected result from the Wairarapa study was that the response to treatment was independent of ewe body condition score pre-lambing. In other words, all ewes responded the same regardless of their condition.

AgResearch scientists have been following up on this finding over the past year and have further analysed data from both the Wairarapa study and other trials. Their recent findings show that over the period from pre-lambing to weaning, some ewes increase in condition, some lose condition and some stay the same.

“The proportions following this pattern are exactly the same whether the ewes were drenched or not, and the type of drench was irrelevant,” Dr Leathwick says.

“We interpret these data as telling us that low body condition in ewes at this time of year is unlikely to be caused by worms. Even when skinny ewes are given a long-acting drench, many of them don’t improve in condition, and some lose condition.”

The message seems to be that ill-thrift in ewes is probably due to other factors.

Work from Massey University has suggested subclinical pneumonia and facial eczema are more likely to be involved. While the causes of ill-thrift remain uncertain, it seems worms are not important.

“So, if you try and solve an ill-thrift problem in your ewes by drenching you will probably fail.

“Therefore, while farmers may, in some situations, see some benefit from drenching ewes around lambing, they should be cautious, as a positive financial benefit is not certain. The benefits of treating ewes pre-lambing are not at all reliable or consistent, and there may be much better ways to spend your money.”

The best advice for maximising kg lambs weaned/ewe mated, Leathwick says, seems to be to get as many ewes as possible to condition score 3 before lambing starts.

AgResearch helps with the development of pollution masks using wool filters

As air quality becomes an increasing concern for people around the world, AgResearch has announced it is doing its part in the development of innovative pollution masks .

AgResearch scientists have worked with fibre innovation company Lanaco (formerly Texus Fibre) in the development of its wool filter technology that traps harmful substances before the users breathe them in, as well as being easy to breathe through.

The technology is used in pollution masks now being marketed around the world.

The products launched to date include one mask branded the “world’s most breathable urban lifestyle air pollution mask”, and another range launched recently by Auckland firm Healthy Breath working with leading fashion designer Karen Walker.

“Basically we sat down with Lanaco and applied our specific knowledge to figure out what sort of wool would work best in the filters, which sheep we need to get the wool from and how best to source it,” says AgResearch Science Team Leader Stewart Collie.

“It’s fantastic to see New Zealand wool being a foundation for these products that will be used around the world to improve peoples’ health, and our science being a part of that too.”

“We are now entering into the next phase in our relationship with Lanaco around the research and development going into the filter technology, and we’re excited to continue to play a part in the continued growth of these products.”

Lanaco Chief Executive Nick Davenport says his company, in partnership with AgResearch, has been able to develop  a revolutionary, high-value product using local science, research and development “right here in New Zealand”.

The product will improve the health of millions of people worldwide while providing an opportunity for New Zealand farmers and economic benefit through increased demand and value of wool.

Endangered beetle faces ‘unholy alliance’ of rabbits and redbacks

An “unholy alliance” between rabbits and Australian redback spiders is threatening the existence of an endangered New Zealand species, a study led by AgResearch has shown.

Carried out with the Department of Conservation (DOC) and University of Otago, the study has illustrated the struggle for the ongoing survival of the Cromwell chafer beetle – a nationally endangered native species that can now be found only in the 81 hectare Cromwell Chafer Beetle Nature Reserve between Cromwell and Bannockburn, in Central Otago.

The study found numerous rabbit holes that provided shelter for the rabbits were also proving ideal spaces for the redback spiders to establish their webs. Investigation of those webs in the rabbit holes found the Cromwell chafer beetle was the second-most commonly found prey of the spiders.

These findings “give a fascinating insight into the almost accidental relationships that can develop between species in the natural world, and how that can impact on other species,” says AgResearch Principal Scientist Dr Barbara Barratt.

As a result of the research, DOC has carried out a programme to break down old rabbit holes and hummocks in the reserve to destroy spider nests, and does regular rabbit control. An annual survey for beetle larvae with AgResearch will show whether these actions are having an effect.

Beetle larvae will be surveyed next summer to see what effect reducing redback spider nests is having on the Cromwell chafer beetle.

The Cromwell chafer beetle (Prodontria lewisi) is a large flightless beetle that lives underground in the sandy soils of the Cromwell river terrace. In spring and summer adult beetles emerge from the ground at night to feed on plants and to breed.

AgResearch CEO says NZ will benefit from new science links with China

AgResearch has announced it intends to form a joint international research centre with China’s largest state–owned food company and largest university research department specialising in food science and nutrition.

A Collaboration Arrangement was signed earlier this month in Beijing with the Nutrition and Health Research Institute within the China Oils and Foodstuffs Corporation and with the College of Food Science and Nutritional Engineering of China Agriculture University.

The parties will explore opportunities to work together formally in the name of a “Joint International Research Centre for Food Science” to promote international exchange, research and productivity, with a particular focus on further enhancing a China/New Zealand relationship”.

The arrangement states:

“The overall goal of the collaboration is to initiate activities that are of mutual benefit to the parties in terms of knowledge development, scientific and technological innovation and economic benefit”.

AgResearch chief executive Tom Richardson says the relationship with such influential institutions – from the world’s most populous country with a rapidly expanding middle class – opens up a host of opportunities for AgResearch, and agriculture and agribusiness in New Zealand.

Some of the key research areas where AgResearch expects to work closely with COFCO and CAU are food science, processing, food assurance and safety, and human nutrition.

Long-distance survival: effects of storage time and environmental exposure on soil bugs

Contaminated soil, widely recognised as a vector for non-native species, is a biosecurity threat to agriculture and horticulture and to natural ecosystems.

But although soil is the target of management practices that aim to minimise the spread of invasive alien species, not much is known about the relative survival rates of transported soil organisms, nor about their establishment probabilities.

A recent study, led by Mark McNeill from AgResearch’s Biosecurity and Biocontrol team at Lincoln and published in the open access journal NeoBiota, shows that biosecurity risks from soil organisms are to increase with declining transport duration and increasing protection from environmental extremes.

The scientists had aimed to find out if soil organisms are still risky after a year in the sun.

To find out, the  team collected soil from both a native forest and an orchard and stored it on, in and under sea containers, as well as in cupboards. They tested it after three, six and twelve months for bacteria, fungi, nematodes and seeds.

“Soil can carry unwanted microbes, insects and plants, and this study showed that some died faster when exposed, than when protected in a cupboard. This work shows some of the risks presented by soil contamination,” Mark says.

“The results showed that viability of certain bacteria, nematodes and plants declined over 12 months, irrespective of soil source and where the soil was stored. But mortality of most organisms was higher when exposed to sunlight, moisture and desiccation than when protected,” he explains.

“However, bacterial and fungal numbers were higher in exposed environments, possibly due to ongoing colonisation of exposed soil by airborne propagules.”

The results were consistent with previous observations that organisms in soil intercepted from seaports tend to carry less bugs than soil found on footwear.

The research also raises wider questions, because some results were unexpected, including trying to understand why the microbe numbers went up and down like they did in the soil sitting on the sea containers when everything else died off.

Was it the circle of life or just new microbe migrants creating new populations?

The team hopes the work will be useful for plant quarantine authorities to assess the risk presented by transported soil based partly on where the soil is found and the age of the soil.

This would help authorities to optimally allocate management resources according to pathway-specific risks. Importantly, the study will assist in the development of recommendations for increasing management efficiency and efficacy at national borders.

 

Journal Reference:

Mark R. McNeill, Craig B. Phillips, Andrew P. Robinson, Lee Aalders, Nicky Richards, Sandra Young, Claire Dowsett, Trevor James, Nigel Bell. Defining the biosecurity risk posed by transported soil: Effects of storage time and environmental exposure on survival of soil biota. NeoBiota, 2017; 32: 65 DOI: 10.3897/neobiota.32.9784

EPA to consider AgResearch application to evaluate new grass species

AgResearch’s Margot Forde Germplasm Centre has applied to the Environmental Protection Agency to evaluate 18 new grass species in real farm conditions, rather than in the laboratory or containment facilities.

The EPA, which is  calling for submissions on this proposal, says the new grass species could help make New Zealand’s pastures become more tolerant to disease, pests and drought. This could improve productivity, increase returns to farmers and enhance the environment.

The grasses are all closely related to perennial ryegrass, New Zealand’s most common pasture grass. The aim is to transfer desirable traits from the 18 species to ryegrass by integration and crossbreeding. The new species would not themselves be grown as pasture.

While new to New Zealand, the 18 grass species are distant relatives of New Zealand native grass species. The EPA says it is therefore highly unlikely they would hybridise naturally with native grasses. They are wild relatives of pasture grass species already in cultivation in New Zealand.

The new grasses have adapted to harsher growing environments overseas and possess desirable traits such as drought tolerance, pest and disease resistance, and being nutrient efficient. Incorporating these traits could improve the resilience of local pasture and reduce the need for fertiliser, irrigation, pesticides and herbicides, lowering farmers’ input costs and enabling more sustainable, environmentally friendly farming practices.

Another potential benefit is being able to reduce grazing animals’ methane emissions, which would help New Zealand to meet its target under the UN Paris Agreement on Climate Change.

AgResearch says it will pay particular attention to the potential for any new cultivars to become weeds affecting maize, wheat, barley and other crops, and will work with Plant and Food Research on this issue. After a weed risk assessment it ruled out one species for entry into New Zealand.

Public submissions on the proposal opened on Wednesday and will close at 5pm on Wednesday 22 February 2017.

AgResearch establishes new international science links

New relationships are being forged between AgResearch and key overseas science organisations.

The first is a strategic partnership with Uruguay’s National Institute of Agricultural Research, Catalonia’s Research & Technology & Food & Agriculture and Ireland’s Agriculture and Food Development Authority. It will focus on sustainability of the dairy, beef and sheep sectors.

In Uruguay, AgResearch is part of a family farm improvement project funded by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade. Knowledge built up in New Zealand will help lift the productivity and profitability in family farming in Uruguay, as well as helping in its retention of farmers in remote areas.

Another agreement between AgResearch and Teagasc is focussed on developing the next generation of scientists in both New Zealand and Ireland.

The agreement will mean co-funding seven PhD students who spend time between the two countries, and working in key areas that include greenhouse gas emissions, food safety and parasite control.