APEC economies commit to a 10-year food security roadmap

The implications for ag/hort scientists were still being studied , when AgScience posted this news.

But it involves food production and food security, so our expertise is bound to be required.

Agriculture Minister Damien O’Connor made the announcement.

Agriculture and food ministers from APEC economies have committed to delivering a new roadmap to guide efforts to boost food security over the next ten years, he said.

The commitment was made at the virtual Food Security Ministerial Meeting which Mr O’Connor hosted as part of New Zealand’s hosting of APEC 2021.

“Ensuring the world has a consistent supply of food is one of the biggest challenges facing APEC economies and the rest of the world, particularly as we recover from COVID-19,” Damien O’Connor said. Continue reading

Resilient Kiwi spirit kept agriculture strong through the pandemic

Kiwi ingenuity and a drive to “make it work” have been pivotal in New Zealand’s agriculture sector getting through the COVID-19 pandemic with relatively little impact, according to a new study by AgResearch and its partners.

Farmers and others working in the agriculture and food systems in New Zealand and Australia were surveyed or interviewed about the impacts of COVID-19 in the period through to June 2020, which included national lockdowns.

While acknowledging overall negative effects, additional stress and pressures from the pandemic and response, only 47 per cent of New Zealand survey respondents viewed the effect on their farms or businesses as negative over that period. A further 37 per cent said the effect was neutral. Continue reading

How genome sequencing could help eliminate COVID-19 – and mycoplasma bovis (among other infectious diseases)

Genome sequencing — the mapping of the genetic sequences of an organism — has helped track the spread of COVID-19 cases in Auckland, but it also plays an important role in the control of other infectious diseases in New Zealand.

In an article published on Sciblogs (and originally published by The Conversation), Professor Nigel French cites Mycoplasma bovis, a global cattle disease which New Zealand also hopes to eliminate, as an example.

The disease was first detected on a South Island dairy farm in July 2017 and has subsequently been found on 250 properties across the country. It remains active on one farm.

Professor French writes: Continue reading

Science Media Centre consults the experts on the state of biosecurity in NZ

One virus has caught the world’s attention this year, the Science Media Centre reports today.  It’s COVID-19 (for readers who haven’t been paying attention) and the Government yesterday announced further measures to secure the border.  It is increasing the number of defence force personnel supporting the Managed Isolation and Quarantine System and maritime border, further bolstering protections against community COVID-19 spread.

Around 500 more defence personnel will be deployed taking the total to about 990 defence personnel at our managed isolation facilities following ongoing checks and assessments of the managed isolation and quarantine system as part of a continual improvement process.

But the SMC reminds us that the government’s focus (and the media’s) on COVID-19 by no means means efforts to keep New Zealand’s ecosystems safe from other pests haven’t stopped.

The SMC has asked experts to comment on what they think are New Zealand’s biggest biosecurity concerns, and how the COVID-19 pandemic has affected their research.

These fields include:

* Overall views of NZ’s biosecurity threats
* Myrtle rust
* Marine biosecurity
* Freshwater

The SMC received these responses o its questions –

Continue reading

Zoom fatigue? Technology shows pros and cons to working from home

As ag/hort scientists join their fellow New Zealanders in bracing  for a return to lockdown and parts of Australia wrestle with a recent surge in case numbers, a new study shows how we can do better in the COVID-enforced work from home (EWFH) experience.

The study, by researchers at Auckland University of Technology (AUT), University of East Anglia (UEA), University of Greenwich, and Phone Free Day, is the first international empirical study of its kind. The findings highlight how technology used during the pandemic-enforced work from home (EWFH) period has changed the tools and culture of teamwork.

The article, “An Affordance Perspective of Team Collaboration and Enforced Working from Home During COVID-19”, is published this week in the European Journal of Information Systems.

During the near-global EWFH period, from 15-26 April, the researchers interviewed 29 knowledge workers from New Zealand, Australia, UK, USA, Sweden, Austria, Germany, Denmark and Switzerland.

They were asked about the role of technology during their EWFH experience. The study found that people working remotely used team collaboration technologies to enhance their delivery of outputs, and to maintain or foster relationships with their colleagues. In so doing, they established a new norm for the culture and practices of team collaboration.

Overall, the new way of working had a near-equal mix of positive and negative implications for teamwork, particularly in terms of knowledge-sharing, virtual meetings and networking.

Knowledge sharing

Without easy access to a shared physical space, EWFH employees noted they had to have scheduled, rather than spontaneous, interactions with colleagues.

While this approach led to a decrease in the number of interruptions, it also impacted the kind of knowledge-sharing that comes through ad-hoc or unplanned discussions among workmates. Junior employees, in particular, felt hamstrung by the inability to easily gauge if a colleague was busy or available to provide advice or input.

Similarly, while screensharing of documents became common practice, it did not replace the value of in-person discussions.

Virtual meetings

EWFH participants agreed that regularly scheduled virtual team meetings helped mitigate feelings of isolation and maintained a sense of collegiality. However, the lack of boundaries between work and home proved challenging for some, particularly those with family commitments.

They reported that frequent meetings could feel burdensome as they tried to simultaneously manage work duties with children and other carer responsibilities.


Particularly for those respondents who usually work offsite, EWFH created a welcome sense of inclusivity and collegiality. This was largely because teams used the same technology channels to communicate during their EWFH. This shared approach helped “flatten” traditional perceptions of hierarchy among employees and enabled workers to meet colleagues they would not previously have connected with.

However, virtual networking events were also marked by a sense of “rigidity” because technological limitations meant that only one person at a time could speak.

Lead author, AUT’s Dr Lena Waizenegger, said the research team was surprised at how quickly employees and organisations pivoted to new technologies and approaches to work.

“We were amazed by the innovation capabilities and creativity of teams and businesses,” said Dr Waizenegger. “EWFH showed that remote or flexible working is not only feasible, it also has various positive effects that should be maintained even after the pandemic.”

Dr Wenjie Cai (University of Greenwich) said that the speed and ubiquity of lockdown helped create a strong virtual community.

“Organisations did not have time to provide proper training to their staff, and many knowledge workers did not have the chance to fully prepare for remote e-working. But on the other hand, we were all in this together. For the first time in history, remote e-workers were not the marginalised group. People genuinely supported each other from a distance.”

Dr Brad McKenna (UEA) said EWFH created new possibilities for hybrid approaches to work.

“Employers were forced to simultaneously test and embrace a high-trust culture. Overall, employees proved that they can be trusted in this kind of environment, so that will influence how we work now and in the future.”

Taino Bendz (Phone Free Day) noted that the study offers important insights into maximising the benefits of hybrid working.

“When managed and communicated well, EWFH can provide opportunities to improve productivity – for example, so employees can spend less time commuting and more time focused on digital transformation. These kinds of efficiencies are invaluable for companies in these uncertain times.”

The research can be found  here.

Source:  scimex

No long-term climate benefits from COVID-19

Policies to prevent the spread of COVID-19 will have a negligible impact on long-term warming, according to new research.

Scientists have calculated that recent reductions in greenhouse gas emissions and air pollutants may only result in climate cooling of 0.005–0.01 °C by 2030. But the findings in a paper just published in Nature Climate Change also suggest that if governments pursue a ‘green recovery’ from the pandemic, then global warming might be kept within 1.5 °C above pre-industrial levels by 2050.

The enforcement of policies to limit the spread of Covid-19 around the world has had a significant impact on travel and work.

This lack of mobility has led to substantial declines in greenhouse-gas emissions and air pollutants.

Previous research has examined the immediate impacts of COVID-19 policies on emissions but the long-term impacts are not well understood.

Piers Forster and colleagues analysed mobility data from 123 countries to estimate emission changes due to the COVID-19 restrictions from February to June 2020. Their analysis suggests that the reductions in emissions are likely to have peaked in April 2020.

The authors suggest that nitrogen oxides (NOx) declined by 30% in April, which contributed to short-term cooling. However, this was offset by a 20% decline in sulfur dioxide (SO2), which weakened the aerosol cooling affect and contributed to short-term warming.

They use these estimates to project future changes and compare them to a baseline scenario of current national policies. They found that these short-term effects end by 2025, leaving a longer term slight cooling of 0.01 °C from reduced atmospheric concentrations of carbon dioxide compared to concentrations under baseline policies.

To assess the longer-term impacts, the authors modelled four recovery scenarios, including a fossil fuel-based recovery and green stimulus packages. They suggest that the different scenarios have a minimal impact on the 2020–2030 climate response, but that differences emerge after 2030.

They find that the two-year ‘blip pathway’, where the economic recovery maintains current investment levels, and a recovery with fossil fuel stimulus are likely to result in warming of over 1.5 °C by 2050. Conversely, choosing a strong green recovery that includes low-carbon energy supply as well as energy efficiency and does not support bailouts for fossil firms could limit warming by 0.3 °C and keep warming within 1.5 °C above pre-industrial levels.

The authors highlight that economic recovery choices will affect the warming trajectory by the mid-century and argue that a green recovery is important for ensuring the goals of the Paris Agreement are met.

Source:  scimex

Dr Trevor Stuthridge on agriculture post-COVID – his optimism is echoed by MPI and primary sector Ministers

On the same day that Agriculture Minister Damien O’Connor said primary sector exports are on track to grow by $1.7 billion on last year, helping underpin NZ’s Covid-19 recovery, AgResearch has posted an article by Dr Trevor Struthbridge, in which he expresses optimism about New Zealand’s agriculture sector.

Dr Struthbridge’s article has been reproduced from Farmers Weekly.

He has written:

Amid all of the disruption and challenges brought on by the COVID-19 crisis, some bright lights have shone through that provide reason for optimism for New Zealand in a post-pandemic world.

One has been the performance of our agriculture sector, which has stoically carried on through the health crisis – ensuring a safe, quality food supply to New Zealanders, and maintaining crucial earnings from our export markets.

Another has been the level of public trust placed in our scientists – particularly in the health sciences – and how those scientists have stepped up to provide the best advice to keep New Zealanders safe and guide our country through this. Continue reading

Minister announces $25m fund (established several weeks ago) for innovative solutions in response to COVID-19

Dr Megan Woods, the Minister for Research, Science and Innovation, has been curiously silent  in recent weeks while the government set about tackling COVID-19 and – to buttress its credibility – firmly rooted its proclamations in science.

The last press statement from her as Minister of science was on February 4. At that time she announced the Government had signed a memorandum of understanding with urban air mobility company Wisk (the new trading name of Zephyr Airworks) to support a world-first passenger transport trial of the company’s all-electric, self-flying air taxi ‘Cora’ in Canterbury.

Today the silence ended with the Minister announcing the Government is investing $25 million to speed up the trial and deployment of innovations to help New Zealand’s response to COVID-19.
Continue reading

Plant & Food chief advises customers, collaborators and partners on the transition to COVID-19 alert Level Three

New Zealand moved from COVID-19 Alert Level 4 to Alert Level Three at 11.59pm last night and – according to Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern’s announcement last week – the country will stay in Alert Level 3 for two weeks before a further review and Alert Level decision on May 11.

At Level Three, 400,000 more New Zealanders  returned to work, with key sectors for economic recovery like construction, manufacturing and forestry starting up again.

Plant and Food Research chief executive David Hughes, in a message to customers, collaborators and partners – said Level Three gives greater scope for commercial operations but maintains stringent criteria for how those operations can be conducted. Continue reading

Covid 19 coronavirus shows Kiwis are more likely to trust experts in crisis

New Zealand Herald science writer Jamie Morton has talked to the Prime Minister’s chief science advisor, Professor Juliet Gerrard, at a time when the public is being bombarded with news and views about Covid-19.

He asked:  How do we separate the fact from the fudge? Are Kiwis more likely to trust their institutions than other countries’? And are they more likely to listen to experts in times of crisis than they would under normal circumstances?

He referenced Otago University’s Professor Nick Wilson, who  noted that New Zealand has the advantage of trust in our Government, which makes steps like the current lockdown easier for society to take.

Then he asked Professor Gerrard if she feels we similarly have a good level of trust in our experts, compared with other countries?

She responded:

There isn’t great data on how much New Zealanders trust scientists, but what there is suggests that we have relatively high trust in experts.

The good thing in the case of the response to Covid-19 is that the Government and the vast majority of the science and public health community have been very well aligned.

Soon after the PM announced the alert level system and moved the country to level 2, there was a loud chorus from all sectors of science and society to increase the level.

There was huge social and cultural licence for the Government to follow the expert advice and act.

Morton next asked if Professor Gerrard suspects people are more likely to listen to and trust experts in a clear-and-present health crisis like this than they would under “normal” circumstances, such as with vaccination or fluoride?

Professor Gerrard:  Yes, definitely.

People are much more inclined to welcome expert views in the face of an immediate crisis than with one looming on a more distant time horizon.

Faced with constant TV footage of overloaded hospitals and unnecessary deaths overseas, people seem hungry for answers with evidence behind them.

Maybe I have missed it, but I am not hearing any call to *not* urgently find a vaccine for Covid-19.

Morton asked which particular science communicators have stood out as exemplars, and why?

Professor Gerrard:  A hat tip to all our rock star communicators, but especially Dr Ashley Bloomfield, Professor Michael Baker, Dr Michelle Dickinson, Professor Shaun Hendy and Associate Professor Siousxie Wiles.

I think what distinguishes them is an authenticity and a willingness to answer questions honestly, including simply saying “we don’t know yet” or “I’ll get back to you on that”.

They have worked tirelessly to answer endless questions and make sense of an unprecedented situation for the public.

Professor Gerrard had sound advice for New Zealanders who have been bombarded with a constant flow of information about Covid-19, to ensure they can good from the bad.

She said:

The simplest way is to sense check it against trusted sources of information.

The World Health Organisation and New Zealand’s Covid-19 website are a great place to start. 

And for newer information that is still under debate, remember that this disease has only existed for a few months and there is much that we still don’t know.

We all need to take a deep breath and accept that our understanding, advice, and opinions need to be constantly checked and reviewed.

That’s how science works and it is good to see it in action.