Posts Tagged ‘AgResearch’

Fencing of waterways an effective tool to combat pollution

Fencing of waterways has proven very effective where it has been used to combat the risks of contamination from agriculture, AgResearch says.

AgResearch’s Professor Rich McDowell, the chief scientist for the Our Land and Water National Science Challenge, was speaking after the publication of a study looking at policies for fencing waterways on contamination loads in New Zealand waterways.

His paper was published in the American Journal of Environmental Quality.

The Ministry for the Environment’s Our Freshwater 2017 report indicates that urban waterways have the worst overall water quality in New Zealand, but much of the public focus in recent years has been on the impact of agriculture – particularly dairy farming – on waterways in rural areas.

“Fencing is very effective at reducing contaminant loads to waterways – by 10 to 90 per cent depending on the nature of the contaminants and local issues,” Prof McDowell says.

“Fencing works especially well for the likes of E. coli or phosphorus contamination that can result from animal wasteor stream bank destabilisation. However, fencing all waterways in New Zealand is impractical and in some places other good management practices may be more cost-effective.”

“A combination of better awareness of the issues and the use of good management practices (including fencing) in the right place is starting to reverse degrading trends in the likes of phosphorus and sediment in the water over the last decade,” Prof McDowell says.

Dairy farmers had invested in a major programme of fencing waterways to the equivalent of nearly 27,000km. They should continue to do so as it is effective at reducing waterway contamination, Prof McDowell says.

“The fact that most of the contaminant load comes from areas not requiring fencing reflects the much greater number and areas occupied by small streams – potentially from steeper country where dairy farming is unlikely to be present. Other work also indicates that a substantial proportion of contaminant concentrations may be from natural sources.”

AgResearch Research Director Greg Murison says there is a big focus by his own organisation and others, including DairyNZ, to support farmers in developing management practices that reduce the risk of water contamination.

“The number of science programmes looking at these issues demonstrates how scientists are being responsive to what is important to New Zealanders.”

You can read the study HERE.

Advertisements

Decades-old DNA match aids battle against pasture pests

AgResearch research associate Nicky Richards and her colleagues, recently confronted with a Porina (Wiseana) caterpillar found in Southland, were challenged with identifying which species of the pasture-munching Porina pest they were looking at.

Some species of Porina pose a much greater threat to pasture on New Zealand farms than others. Although seven Porina species are recognised, and the species can be identified by sight at the adult moth stage, it is impossible to do the same with the caterpillars because they look identical.

The research team suspected the caterpillar found in Southland was from an elusive Porina species known as Wiseana (W.) fuliginea.

To confirm this they needed to analyse an adult moth of the same species.

Mrs Richards explains:

“Unfortunately, no adult W. fuliginea had been found by us in our previous 20 years of field collections. So we had to find another way. Our connections led us to museum specimens held in the New Zealand Arthropod Collection hosted by Landcare Research. There we found dried adult W. fuligineaspecimens that had been identified and preserved after their deaths 33 years ago.”

“We took legs from these long-dead moths to generate genetic sequences – which takes more work when the DNA has broken down over time. It’s basically like putting together pieces of overlapping Lego to build what you need.”

Information gleaned from the 33-year-old specimens proved identical to the sequence from the caterpillar found in Southland. In other words, the researchers had a DNA match.

The work has helped in the development of a new DNA-based method to identify Porina caterpillars. By building a better understanding of this pest, scientists can learn how best to help farmers prevent the hundreds of millions of dollars of damage it can do to pasture on New Zealand’s farms each year.

Environmentally friendly treatments for Porina outbreaks can be explored and species that are the key pasture annihilators targeted, Richards said.

More can be learned about Porina and other pests at www.agpest.co.nz.

Ground is broken on new ag-science development at Lincoln

The start of a joint $200 million development between Lincoln University and AgResearch demonstrates a strong commitment to agricultural research and teaching in Canterbury, Tertiary Education Minister Paul Goldsmith says.

A ground-breaking ceremony was held today for the five-building facility at Lincoln to house around 700 staff from Lincoln University, AgResearch and Dairy NZ.

“Students want to study in the best facilities and learn from the best. The environment around them makes a big difference both to their experience of studying, and to choosing to go there in the first place,” Mr Goldsmith says.

“This investment from the Government, Lincoln University and AgResearch allows both institutions to deliver that quality experience for not only students, but teachers, and researchers as well.

“With the closer linking of research and teaching and scientific disciplines, students can be immersed in the very best agricultural science.”

The new facility is a significant physical and financial undertaking, with a total floor area of 27,000 square metres, or nearly three hectares.

Both Lincoln University and AgResearch’s facilities were damaged in the Canterbury earthquakes and the Government was keen to see a new joint facility between the two to increase research collaboration.

“This is a stake in the ground for the future of agricultural research in New Zealand and will mean new ways of working and learning for everyone involved,” Mr Goldsmith says.

“Removing the barriers between university and industry researchers and introducing the best new facilities will be key for attracting the best staff and students for years to come.”

The Government is contributing $85 million to Lincoln University for the project, with the rest coming from AgResearch and Lincoln.

The new buildings will be a key part of the Lincoln Hub – a specialist land-based innovation cluster in partnership with Lincoln University, AgResearch, Plant and Food Research, Landcare Research and DairyNZ

The economic impact of weeds seems much greater than previously estimated

The true cost of weeds to New Zealand’s agricultural economy is likely to be far higher than previous research would suggest, according to a new study funded by AgResearch.

AgResearch and Scion scientists worked with economists from Lincoln University’s Agribusiness and Economics Research Unit to review the available published research on the costs of weeds to New Zealand’s productive land (for the pastoral, arable and forestry sectors). That review reached a conservative overall estimate of $1.658 billion a year (based on 2014 costs).

“The research on weed costs done previously used differing approaches, and the numbers were sometimes outdated or contained guesswork,” says AgResearch principal scientist Dr Graeme Bourdôt.

“In addition, the estimate of $1.658b only covers the few weed species – 10 of the 187 pasture weeds, some arable land weeds and forestry weeds – that have been the subject of research into their impacts. The focus has largely been on the loss of production. The substantial costs of weed control, such as the use of herbicides, was not always considered.”

“Given all of these limitations, the true cost of the weeds to the agricultural sector is likely to be much higher than the $1.658b estimate.”

The study looked at the economic impact of some of the more widespread and destructive weed species such as gorse, broom, yellow bristle grass and Californian thistle.

“We also developed a dynamic approach for estimating the potential costs of weeds that have not yet realised their potential range in New Zealand, taking account of possible rates of spread, maximum geographic extent and changes in consumer prices for agricultural products,” Dr Bourdôt says.

“This dynamic approach applied to the Giant Buttercup weed in dairy pastures indicates that this weed alone would cost the dairy industry $592 million per year in lost milk solids revenue if it were to spread across its entire range over the next 20 years.”

“New Zealand has one of the highest levels of invasion by introduced plant species in the world, and there has always been a shortage of information when it comes to their economic costs on productive land.”

Knowing more about these costs is important to developing cost-effective ways to tackle weeds, and in quantifying the benefits of research aimed at ensuring New Zealand does not lag other countries.

$85 million for new education and research facilities at Lincoln University

The Government will provide Lincoln University with $85 million to support the construction of new education and research facilities to be shared with AgResearch on the university’s campus.

The investment will help Lincoln University’s recovery from the Canterbury earthquakes by replacing earthquake damaged buildings with modern teaching and research spaces.

Tertiary Education, Skills and Employment and Science and Innovation Minister Paul Goldsmith, announcing the investment today, said it would benefit “students, the primary sector, and New Zealand as a whole”.

“The new 27,000m² joint facility will enable increased collaboration, with researchers and academics organised by discipline rather than organisation, leading to an increase in the quantity, relevance, and quality of agricultural related research.

“The new facility will make an important contribution to creating a globally competitive agri-tech industry. By creating better links between research and industry the new facility will improve innovation and the applicability and speed of technology transfer to industry,” Mr Goldsmith says.

The new buildings will be a key part of the Lincoln Hub – a specialist land-based innovation cluster in partnership with Lincoln University, AgResearch, Plant and Food Research, Landcare Research and DairyNZ.

“The new facility will assist the growth of the ecosystem of science and education at Lincoln. It will play an important role in promoting a career in the agricultural sector for prospective students and staff, and will increase the number and quality of land-based sector graduates.

“I’m excited for this innovative new facility and I look forward to seeing its benefits realised,” Mr Goldsmith says.

The new facility will accommodate almost 700 staff, students and academics and is comprised of five linked buildings which will be home to Lincoln University science research and teaching spaces, AgResearch laboratories, corporate facilities, and office spaces and facilities for DairyNZ.

Construction of the new buildings is scheduled to be completed by December 2019.

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.