Nitrogen-reducing plantain recognised with Fieldays Award

A plantain that started life as a common weed has been recognised for its contribution to the future of farming with an Innovation Award from Fieldays.

Ecotain is an environmentally functional plantain that significantly reduces nitrogen leaching on livestock farms.

It was officially launched in September 2017 when proprietary seed company Agricom announced major research findings that showed Ecotain reduces nitrogen leaching from the urine patch, an area containing high concentrations of nitrogen from animals’ urine.

Ecotain won the Launch NZ Innovation Award, which recognises innovative products being launched into New Zealand’s agricultural market. Each year, the Innovation Awards attract dozens of entries across multiple categories, and winners are announced at the Innovation Breakfast.

This year also marks Fieldays’ 50th year of showcasing agriculture and innovation, with the theme being the “Future of Farming”.

Initial research from Agricom, alongside Lincoln and Massey universities and Plant + Food Research, found Ecotain can function in pasture systems to reduce nitrogen leaching in four ways, known as dilute, reduce, delay and restrict. Consuming Ecotain increases the volume of cows’ urine which dilutes the concentration of nitrogen, it reduces the total amount of dietary nitrogen in animals’ urine, it delays the process of turning ammonium into nitrate in the urine patch, and it restricts the accumulation of nitrate in soils growing Ecotain.

Agricom’s lead scientist Dr Glenn Judson says he’s proud to receive the Innovation Award as acknowledgement of a “big year” for his team.

“As with most research projects, Ecotain has been a hugely collaborative effort and we are fortunate to have the support and expertise of some of New Zealand’s best researchers and scientists joining us along the way.”

He says the Innovation Award tops off the positive industry response Ecotain has received so far.

“It’s great to see excitement in the industry that finally we may have a tool to solve nitrate leaching from livestock farms, and receiving the Innovation Award tells us we’re moving in the right direction.

New Zealand National Fieldays CEO Peter Nation says the awards judges were impressed with Ecotain’s scientific backing and the potential it has for the future of farming in New Zealand.

“It was clear a lot of research had gone into developing Ecotain, and given the theme of Fieldays this year – the Future of Farming – it was great to see science being used with the future of farming in mind,” says Mr Nation.

“One of the reasons New Zealand is so well-regarded for its agricultural innovations is because those within the industry aren’t afraid to step outside the box and think about solutions to problems in a different way.

“My congratulations to Ecotain and to all of the Innovation Awards winners this year.”

The Fieldays Innovation Awards highlights innovation across several industry areas, including dairy and drystock farming, horticulture, information and communication technology, cloud and mobile-based software, animal health and genetics, water and waste management, environment and clean-tech, animal and farm management, farm safety and leading research.

Source:  HMC Communications


Don’t overlook Lincoln’s improved performance in those university rankings

The headline on an NZ Herald report this week was a tad unfair on Lincoln University. It said “Staff cuts drag NZ universities down in world rankings – but Waikato University jumps”.

Was Lincoln’s positive performance not spectacular enough for the headline writer?

The Herald report said staff cuts despite growing student numbers have dragged most New Zealand universities down in the latest world rankings.

The biggest six of the country’s eight universities have all tumbled in the London-based QS rankings, which are regarded as the most important for attracting international students.

Only our two smallest universities, Waikato and Lincoln, have moved up the ranks.

Seven NZ universities were marked down this year on their academic reputation, based on asking 83,000 academics around the world to list the top universities in their fields.

Six declined in a survey asking 30,000 global employers which universities provided their most competent, innovative and effective graduates.

But New Zealand’s worst result was on staff/student ratios.

“The increase in enrolments – and the decrease in faculty numbers – reported by the country’s universities sees all eight receive a lower score for faculty/student ratio,” QS said.

Universities NZ director Chris Whelan told the Herald this reflected a funding squeeze.

This year’s Budget provided no increase in per-student funding at universities, the first nil increase in at least 17 years and a cut in real terms of $5 million to $10m for the University of Auckland alone, according to the Herald.

Waikato University jumped 8 places overall and climbed into the top 100 (92nd) for citations per academic in international journals.

The University of Auckland slipped three places to 85th, Otago fell 24 places to 175, Victoria dropped to 221, Canterbury to 230, Massey to 330 and AUT to 464.

Lincoln University did its  own cheer-leading on its website –

Lincoln is one of the two New Zealand universities to improve its position in the 2018/19 QS World University Rankings released today.

Lincoln moved ahead of Massey University for the first time, rising a place to sixth in the national rankings.

It is also now among the top 60 in the International Student Ratio section of the Rankings, highlighting Lincoln’s appeal to students from around the world.

Lincoln is now ranked globally at 317, continuing its upward trajectory.

Lincoln University Chancellor Steve Smith said:

“We have the goal of being one of the world’s top universities in Agriculture, and among the top overall in New Zealand, and to see that rise already happening locally is gratifying.”

The news on the Waikato University website told of the university rising 127 places in five years.

It is now firmly placed in the world’s top 300 universities at #274.

The University of Waikato has been on a strong upward trajectory and in the last year rose 18 places, moving against the trend in New Zealand’s challenging tertiary landscape.


Lincoln says delay with joint facility is not unusual for major project

Lincoln University has confirmed a delay to the construction of the joint facility with AgResearch.

The decision to delay construction was approved by the Lincoln University Council and AgResearch Board in late April following a proposal to return to market for further build quotes.

Early and enabling works continue in the meantime, a news item on the Lincoln University website advises.

Tenders close in late July and it is anticipated that a main contractor will be appointed by the end of August.

Murray Strong, Chairman of the Partnership Board, has made this statement:

The Joint Facility project has been managed under a two-stage Early Contractor Involvement (ECI) procurement method. The ECI process brought together a construction contractor, architects, designers, and specialist sub-contractors, such as façade fabrication and steel suppliers.

This ECI approach has allowed for the construction contractor to undertake early and enabling work (site clearance) and to work with the client on the full design of the Joint Facility. Both the early and enabling works, and the building’s design are now completed.

Through this process, the Lincoln University AgResearch Joint Facility Limited Partnership Board sought a Main Contract Tender price for construction which came in higher than expected.

The Board felt strongly that this initial tender price did not provide appropriate value to the project’s shareholders, (Lincoln University and AgResearch), and the Government.

With a completed design, the Lincoln University AgResearch Joint Facility Limited Partnership Board has been able to undertake further value engineering work (refinement of quantity survey estimates) and to realise some significant cost savings as a result.

In March, the Board initiated a new competitive tendering process for the main construction phase (‘Build-only”), and this process is currently under way.

The Joint Facility Partnership Board now expects to receive initial tender prices in a competitive process by 20 July, and will make its final recommendation on a preferred contractor to shareholders, in August.

This will enable the Implementation Business Case to be submitted to the Government with a preferred contractor and contract price.

The Lincoln University AgResearch Joint Facility project remains within its capital budget.

While this sort of delay is always frustrating, it is not unusual in large-scale construction projects like this. This process has taken place during a period of significant recent impacts on the construction sector[1] and with the pricing of risk robustly negotiated between the parties.

Construction of the 27,000 square metre, $206 million Lincoln University and AgResearch education and research centre at the Lincoln campus will then start later this year and, when complete, will be the largest land-based sciences research centre in the southern hemisphere.


Source: Lincoln University

Lincoln tackles land-use issues with multi-discipline initiative

A new Lincoln University initiative is responding to the need for new ways of using our land more productively while ensuring New Zealand’s future prosperity and enhancing lives.

Maori spiritual concepts look likely to be incorporated with the science. Lincoln University’s Director Kaiarahi Māori, Dr Dione Payne, said an important aspect of the programme for her was protecting and sustaining “the Mauri of te taiao”.

The initiative, called Designing Future Productive Landscapes, is multi-disciplinary and aims to find alternatives to “current and narrow models of land-use options and practices”, the university says on its website.

These land-use options and practices limit sustainability and the resilience of landscapes and the agroecosystems embedded within them, the website post says.  They also constrain regeneration of land, environment and culture.

The initiative follows the recommendations of last year’s Transformation Board Report urging Lincoln to deliver positive changes in land, food and ecosystems.

The Lincoln website says:

It will involve students working in a “living laboratory”, “incubating” ideas in the classroom that can be “hatched” in the field.

The initiative involves academics from agricultural, landscape and Māori perspectives, and is the first of three to be announced this year.

Its comprehensive research programme involves projects in hill country, dryland and irrigated landscapes.

Professor Pablo Gregorini, the initiative lead, said production landscapes – te taiao –  underpin cultures and prosperity of societies worldwide.

But a number of transformations and pressures are affecting landscapes here and around the world, diminishing biodiversity, reducing water and air quality, and accelerating loss of soil and plant biomass (among other factors).

“Given New Zealand’s economic reliance on food agricultural production and provenance, our global brand, prosperity and well-being are at risk,” Professor Gregorini said.

“We want to create adaptive agroecosystems to re-connect our landscape, our livestock (agriculture) and ourselves, by restoring broken linkages among plants, herbivores and humans with diets that nourish and satiate, as well as heal our planet.

“Our objective demands a multi-disciplinary response, integrating skills and knowledge across farming systems, ecology, landscape design, social science and other disciplines.”

Some of the areas the initiative could address  – the website announcement says –  include:

• Reshaping and reimagining Māori productive landscapes that will support and sustain the mauri of te taiao while continuing to grow the Māori economy;

• Encouraging regional councils to develop approaches for identifying and designing distinctive ways to increase a landscape’s full range of productivity;

• Helping Government agencies to establish new baselines and benchmarks for monitoring landscape value and productivity.

Potentially, the initiative could involve all staff across the entire disciplinary range at Lincoln University.

Key collaborators could involve CRIs and other universities, in New Zealand and internationally, and ideas could be trialled on some of the University’s farms.

An initiative team member, Associate Professor Mick Abbott, said his main concern lay with how future landscapes can be designed to better integrate the multiple ways we use and protect land for the benefit of ourselves and the environment.

Source: Lincoln University  

New scholarships offered for organics course at Lincoln University

Ten new tuition fees scholarships are being offered for Lincoln University’s fledgling organics course, matching the needs of prospective students who don’t qualify for fees free.

The Diploma in Organic Agri-food Production prepares students to work in the organic food industry at farmers’ markets or supplying restaurants with produce.

Māori and Pasifika agricultural methods are an important part of the diploma.

Lincoln University’s Director Kaiarahi Māori, Dr Dione Payne, said it was felt the course may also appeal to people changing career, or who may have completed qualifications and were ineligible for the Government’s fees free scheme.

Lincoln is also offering $5000 scholarships for Māori and Pasifika students fully enrolled in the Diploma and staying in the University’s Halls of Residence (though a student cannot accept both).

The Diploma programme, which starts in July, is a 120-credit level 5 diploma for students with or without University Entrance.

Programme director Bill Martin says graduates of the Diploma will be able to seek employment in organic primary production or other sectors related to organics, particularly education and hospitality.

The university webpage says the full-time programme will provide foundational, transferable knowledge and experience with the theory and practice that make up contemporary organic agri-food production.

Study is undertaken in a context of tikanga together with the academic skills necessary for successful study in a university context. The programme includes Tikanga and Mahinga Kai components delivered through two courses.

Graduates of the Diploma will be well placed to seek employment or to work entrepreneurially in urban and rural settings for organic agri-food production; in organic primary production or other sectors related to organics, particularly education and hospitality.

Graduates moving into organic primary production will tend to be involved in smaller-scale operations such as supplying farmers’ markets and restaurants.

Graduates moving into or returning to the education sector will be able to embed the principles and practices of organics and sustainability in educational delivery.

Hospitality sector graduates can involve themselves in smaller niche ventures such as food stalls, catering, cafes and farmers’ markets.

Dr Payne said aligning the scholarships to the Diploma supports the delivery of the programme and acknowledges its Māori content, in particular mahinga kai, which is a key component of Lincoln University’s Māori Strategy.

Source:  Lincoln University

Owl Farm is going strong in the face of challenges

A focus day at a dairy demonstration farm this week will reflect on the standout progress the North Island farm has made during “an incredibly challenging season”, says Demonstration Manager Louise Cook.

A 16 per cent lift in standardised profit shows the strength of journey Owl Farm is on, despite milk production being lower than the year before, she says

The demonstration farm, located in Cambridge, is a joint venture between St Peter’s School and Lincoln University and aims to help build a profitable and sustainable dairy farming future.

Ms Cook says the focus day will include a discussion on how the farm’s use of plantain has improved operations over the past 12 months.

“One year on, we’ve learned a number of things about integrating plantain into our dairy farm.

“We’ll also talk about how we’ve been supported to optimise soil fertility levels and ensure we use the right product at the right time to get the best out of our fertiliser inputs.”

The focus day will conclude with a review of the changes in the Waikato River Plan change variation and what this means for Owl Farm.

The event is open to the public.


Wednesday, 23 May, 10.15am-12.30pm, followed by lunch

1716 Cambridge Road, State Highway 1, Cambridge (3km north of Cambridge on SH1)

Source: Lincoln University

Government applauded for signalling the need for change in NZ agriculture

Lees_Nic (1)

Dr Nic Lees … a question of taking the pain now or later.

A senior lecturer in agribusiness management at Lincoln University, Dr Nic Lees, says Environment Minister David Parker is right to signal New Zealand agriculture cannot continue with business as usual.

Intensive dairying is profitable only because it is not bearing the full costs of its production systems, Dr Lees said in a news post on the university website (HERE).

“It is not paying the cost to the environment of its production. We are all picking up the tab and especially our children for the impact on our waterways and climate,” he said.

“Currently intensive dairy farming is addicted to high production per cow. This means adding in concentrated feed such as palm kernel and high levels of nitrogen fertiliser. This increases costs, which means these systems are only profitable with high production and high commodity prices.”

Dr Lees said this shows New Zealand’s future is not in maintaining our position as the lowest cost producer of meat and dairy products.

“The longer that the beef and dairy industries hold on to a commodity model based on increasing output and lowering costs the greater will be the future farmer pain.

“I think we need to have conversations around ‘peak cow’ and the future of our animal production industries.”

He said the Labour Government is clearly signalling New Zealand’s future is not in commodities.

“Facing up to ‘peak cows’ will benefit New Zealand and farmers in the long term. It is either some pain now or a lot of pain later.

“If not alternative proteins will take out our commodity agricultural products in the same way nylon took out wool as a fibre.”

Minister Parker has said there is potential to change towards cropping, horticulture, which are high-value land uses, Dr Lees noted.

“He is right to say there are too many cows, however the potential for cropping and horticulture to replace dairying is simply not going to happen.

“There is no way horticulture and cropping can replace any significant portion of dairy farming land even if it was suitable for horticulture and cropping, which it mostly isn’t.”

Dr Lees said cropping and horticulture land takes up about 2.5 per cent of New Zealand’s total land (422,400 ha). About 1.7 per cent of that is in grain crops and less than 1 per cent for growing fruit and berries. In comparison dairy takes up about 20 per cent (2.6 million ha).

However, there is potential for the horticulture sector to increase the value of our exports. The horticulture industry already produces $5.6 billion in exports from just 200,000 ha. This is in comparison to the dairy industry producing $13 billion from 2.4 million ha.

Dairying can also learn from the sheep industry.

NZ reached peak sheep at 60 million in 1984, Dr Lees pointed out.

Now we have only 30 million but produce the same volume of lamb at significant higher value.

Fewer animals mean less greenhouse gasses and reduce nitrate leaching.

There is the potential to see this happen in the dairy industry also.

Source: Lincoln University