Leader of world’s best agri-food university visiting New Zealand

The Riddet Institute will host the President of the world’s leading Agri-Food University, Professor Louise O. Fresco, during her visit to New Zealand this  week.

Professor Fresco, from Wageningen University and Research, is in this country from December 3-7.  She will meet with thought leaders, primary industries and key research partners.

The Riddet Institute will be hosting a summit at Te Papa in Wellington on Thursday where Professor Fresco will be the keynote speaker.  The summit will address the challenges of food production and nutrition that must be tackled to sustainably feed an ever-growing world population.   It will also address the impact of this on the New Zealand economy and primary industries.

Professor Fresco and other strategic leaders in the areas of food economics, research and production will speak on this theme from a global perspective and the implications for New Zealand as a food producing nation.

Riddet Institute director and Massey University Distinguished Professor Harjinder Singh says the visit is a highlight of the year.

“We are extremely proud and honoured to host Professor Fresco. This visit is another important milestone in the continuing relationship between Wageningen University, the Riddet Institute and Massey University,” says Professor Singh.

The Riddet Institute and Massey University have a special relationship with Wageningen University, a collaboration that goes back over 30 years. Over that shared history, there have been many collaborative projects, along with staff and student exchanges.

During her visit, Professor Fresco will spend time at Massey University, where she will meet with the University leadership team, as well as key academics.

Wageningen University is celebrating its centenary this year and during this visit special events will be held to commemorate the anniversary.  Massey University’s Vice-Chancellor Professor Jan Thomas and Professor Fresco, will plant a special UniversiTREE to symbolise the continuing relationship between Wageningen University and Massey’s Manawatū campus. The iplanting will form part of a “virtual forest” of trees that Wageningen has planted with other collaborating institutions around the world this year.

There will also be events where the Wageningen delegation meets past and present academic, post-doctoral and postgraduate staff including a special event at the Netherlands’ Embassy in Wellington on Friday, December 7.

Professor Fresco, a high-profile leader in the Agri-Food sector globally,  is a highly recognised academic, has her own TV programme, has written several best-selling books on her research and has given many lectures on the subject of feeding the world, including a TED Talk. She has a long academic career at both Wageningen and Amsterdam Universities, with extensive involvement in policy and development programmes.

Professor Fresco is a member of eight Scientific Academies and for 10 years was Assistant-Director General at the Food and Agriculture Organisation of the UN. She has also served on the boards of companies including Rabobank and Unilever.

This week she also will meet with a variety of industry and government representatives including Dr Megan Woods (Minister for Research, Science & Innovation), David Parker (Minister for Economic Development), the Global Women Showcase Dinner in Auckland and a public lecture at the Beehive hosted by Damien O’Connor (Minister for Agriculture, Trade and Export Growth, Biosecurity & Food Safety).

Source:  Riddet Institute


Massey offers new horticultural science degree

Massey University will offer a stand-alone horticulture degree in 2019, the Bachelor of Horticultural Science.

The degree was developed with the horticulture industry.

The Head of the School of Agriculture and Environment, Professor Peter Kemp, says the excitement for the degree from the industry and students has been incredible.

“It goes to show that this degree was really needed.

“It will give students the broad knowledge they will need in future jobs. They will learn about horticultural science, technology, production, logistics and pre and post-harvest management with an applied focus on experiential learning and real-world competencies. The feature of the degree is its interdisciplinary approach that combines science, technology and business applied across the whole value chain from genetics to the final consumer in the international markets, as opposed to focusing on one part of the value chain and one discipline.”

Professor Kemp says co-development was key from the start and the degree has been developed with close engagement from industry leaders, with particular support from the Horticultural Capability Group, Horticulture New Zealand and their respective member entities.

“Together we have been looking at how to best educate future graduates for what will be needed and we’ve been looking at how we may attract more people into the well-paying careers.”

Bachelor of AgriScience student Cam Vincent, based in Christchurch and studying via distance, plans to switch to the new horticulture degree.

“My passion is horticulture and my plan is to become a horticultural entrepreneur, creating environmentally friendly businesses which focus first on staff, then customers, then profits.

“The new degree seems to focus more on horticultural production and technologies used in horticulture, which I believe will help prepare me and others for the future horticulture is bringing to New Zealand.”

Mr Vincent said he finds horticulture is changing rapidly with new technologies. To focus on the new breakthroughs in horticulture excites him.

Source: Massey University

Sophisticated new “plumbing” for Keeble paddocks

Massey University’s sheep and beef research farm, Keebles, will be a focal point for new nutrient leaching research for sheep and beef farming with the instillation of a sophisticated water and nutrient collection system.

Located just outside of Palmerston North near Massey’s Manawatū campus, Keebles Farm comprises 287.1 hectares. The recently installed system sits underneath the farm’s dedicated research paddocks and each plot has been equipped with an isolated drainage system, which allows all water to be collected and studied.

Deputy head of the School of Agriculture and Environment, Professor Paul Keyon, says Keebles Farm will be the first to employ a collection system of this type for sheep and beef research in New Zealand.

The system allows for the collection of soil water from the various isolated research plots at the same time within the research area. This allows the researchers to examine the effects of differing herbage types and / or stocking rates on leaching at the same time on the same type of soil. They will also be able to do this across the seasons and years.

The project is being led by Dr Lydia Cranston, Associate Professor Dave Horne, James Milner and Dr James Hanly.

“We are continuing to progress our understanding of what goes on beneath the soil in farms, but like any good research project, you need the right tools to measure it accurately. Thankfully, we’ve known for quite some time that to measure nutrient loss and water runoff from paddocks is actually quite simple, but it takes a substantial investment to install,” says Dr Cranston.

A similar system has been used in Massey’s Number Four dairy farm for several years, used most recently to evaluate the effectiveness of plantain to reduce nitrate leaching.

“We are just excited to get out there and use it. There are a lot us ready to test ideas we’ve long theorised. I have no doubt that it will further establish Massey at the forefront of the nutrient loss research in the world under pastoral conditions” says Dr Cranston.

The trials on the farm will start in six months, including a PhD studentship under the supervision of Dr Cranston around nutrient loss under intensive sheep grazing.

Associate Professor Tommy Boland, from the University College Dublin in Ireland, is currently at Massey to learn about what Massey is doing at Keebles because a similar system is being installed there.

The pilot study will compare nitrate leaching when sheep grazing either; a winter brassica forage crop, a plantain based mix, or a ryegrass/white clover mix. Animal performance including ewe liveweight and condition score, lamb weaning weight will also be monitored so they we can gain a good understanding of the effect of each forage type on the overall farm system. The systems will all utilise a high stocking rate reflecting an intensive sheep production system.

“There is clear potential for our two groups to work together on this research,” Dr Boland says.

“Being in two different hemispheres will allow for quicker progress in understanding the potential impacts across the various seasons because for example we will be able to investigate two winters in a 12 month period.”

In the future, the research site may be used to look at the effect of grazing management and other mitigation procedures on nitrate leaching and look at alternative water contaminants.

Source: Massey University

‘Wormy lambs’ video takes out national award

Massey University PhD student Seer Ikurio has won a Royal Society Te Apārangi award for his video about lambs and worms.

Mr Ikurio won the Future Leader Award as part of the Royal Society Te Apārangi Early Career Researcher video competition – 180 Seconds of Discovery. The award comes with a $3000 prize.

His video was titled, ‘Wormy lambs: Using sensing technologies to make targeted treatments’.

The competition asked New Zealand-based postgraduate students to share their research in a three-minute video, uploaded to Thinkable.org. The videos received over 20,000 views from around world and a total of 1326 votes.

Earlier this year, Mr Ikurio, from the School of Veterinary Science, was voted the People’s Choice Award of $1000 for his presentation titled, ‘My lamb is behaving odd, it might have worms’ at the Massey University’s doctoral Three-Minute Thesis final.

The video was edited by David Achegbulu.

Source:  Massey University

The breed could be right on the tip of a calf’s tongue

Massey University research suggests their tongues may hold a clue to identifying the breed of a new-born calf.

The New Zealand dairy herd is comprised predominantly of Holstein-Friesian, Jersey and Holstein-Friesian-Jersey crossbreed cattle.

A Jersey calf is easy to identify but both the Angus-cross and Holstein-Friesian-Jersey calves may have a completely black coat, making it difficult to identify the breed of new-born calves.

Research aimed at finding if tongue colour could be a useful predictor of breed in Angus-cross-dairy and dairy-breed calves was led by PhD student Lucy Coleman after an Angus breeder noticed the tongue colour trend.

“Identifying the breed of calf prior to four days of age is important, so that the dairy farmer is able to retain appropriate dairy-breed heifers as replacements, and dairy-beef calf rearers are able to purchase beef-cross calves for rearing. The best option for identifying breed is DNA testing for parentage. However, this is expensive, and results take longer than four days to obtain,” she says.

“Holstein-Friesian cattle possess a gene which causes the white patches in the coat and a pink coloured tongue, whereas Angus and Jersey cattle lack this gene and have black tongues. So we wanted to see if the colour of their tongues could be an indicator of breed.”

An initial study of the tongue-colour of 476 Angus-cross-dairy and dairy calves shortly after birth was conducted as part of Miss Coleman’s PhD project.

The findings showed that selecting calves to rear for beef solely on having a black-coloured tongue, would correctly identify 73 per cent of Angus-cross calves, and 90 per cent of dairy-breed calves.

“The initial study provided useful clues for breed identification, however was not infallible as the occurrence of spotted tongues raised an issue of whether to keep or sell that calf,” Miss Coleman says.

A second study was conducted the following year, recording the presence of horns and tongue colour of 418 Angus-cross-dairy and dairy calves. The majority of dairy calves (95 per cent) had horn buds present at birth, while none of the Angus-cross calves had horn buds, indicating that horns were exclusive to the dairy breed calves.

The outcome of the second study, provided separate recommendations for dairy farmers, and calf-rearers buying beef-cross-dairy calves.

Dairy farmers should keep only calves with horn buds as replacement dairy heifers, meaning no Angus-cross calves would be incorrectly identified and kept.

For calf rearers, the recommendation was to buy only calves without horn buds (polled) and with a black tongue which greatly reduces the chances of inadvertently purchasing dairy breed calves.

The experiments were conducted with calves from the Beef+Lamb NZ Genetics dairy-beef progeny test based at Limestone Downs farm in Port Waikato.

The first study, titled Breed variation in tongue colour of dairy and beef-cross-dairy calves was co-authored by Professor Hugh Blair, Professor Nicolas Lopez-Villalobos, Dr Penny Back and Associate Professor Rebecca Hickson of the School of Agriculture and Environment.

It’s a snip – learner vets provide cut-price de-sexing service

An item of news from Massey University’s publicity department drew attention – it seemed – to activities worthy of some sort of protest. Or some glimmer of public concern, at least.

It was headed 500th surgery for de-sexing programme and featured a picture of the programme coordinator, two students and (his, her or its identify camouflaged by a sheet) the 500th patient.

So what’s going on?

According to the opening sentence:

A Massey University programme that has been providing discounted de-sexing surgeries for community service card holders reached an impressive milestone of 500 surgeries.

The demand for this sort of medical intervention from community service card holders with an urge to be neutered is bigger than we ever imagined, obviously.

The article went on:

The clinics have been running on Saturdays and Sundays at the Massey Veterinary Teaching Hospital since August last year with more than 250 staff and student volunteers involved so far.

Programme coordinator Dr Carolyn Gates decided to set up the clinics up after being involved with a similar initiative while she was a veterinary student at University of Pennsylvania in the United States.

Only when we read on do we get a hint that maybe this is not a service providing cut-rate de-sexing procedures for low-income people; it is being provided for their pets.

“I wanted to create a similar programme here because I saw how much value there was for the students, cats and community. In a short amount of time, we have made real progress in improving student confidence with basic clinical procedures while also providing a valuable low-cost desexing service to the community.”

SPCA Palmerston North maintains the waiting list of clients and the Massey Veterinary Teaching Hospital provides the facilities and equipment.

With more than 150 cats still on the waiting list, it shows no sign of slowing down.

All Bachelor of Veterinary Science (BVSc) and Bachelor of Veterinary Technology (BVT) students can help out in various roles based on their experience level. These range from administrative and assistant roles for first year students (responsible for client communication, patient restraint, and medical record keeping) to anaesthesia and spay surgeon roles for fourth and fifth-year BVSc students.

“Before participating, the students are required to read detailed step-by-step guides outlining the tasks and responsibilities for each role to make sure we are keeping the patients safe at all times,” Dr Gates says.

“We have two fabulous student leaders from the BVSc4 [fourth-year Bachelor of Veternairy Science] class, Maggie Gater and Dani Harris, who have done an amazing job preparing the training materials and coordinating the army of volunteers.”

The de-sexing procedures involve basic surgical skills including making an incision, identifying different organs in the abdomen, tying off blood vessels, and suturing the body wall and skin closed.

The students practice these skills on simulated models to make sure they are competent before working with live patients. With an experienced teaching vet guiding the students through the entire procedure, there is a very low risk of things going wrong.  Most students are ready to go “solo” after about six to nine supervised procedures, Dr Gates says.

The programme is now financially self-sustaining and will continue as long as there are  staff volunteers willing to come in on weekends to help teach.  How much the programme is impacting students and the community is being monitored.

Source: Massey University

Almost $1.2m secured in health research funding to reduce the burden of leptospirosis

A Massey-led study has been awarded $1,199,841 from the latest Health Research Council of New Zealand funding round to undertake a nationwide case-control study of the disease leptospirosis.

A common workplace hazard in the agricultural sector, leptospirosis can cause disease and death in animals. It can also transfer to humans through direct or indirect contact with infected urine or contaminated water, resulting in anything from a minor flu-like sickness to admission to hospital and long-term illness.

The three-year study will attempt to address gaps in knowledge about leptospirosis to  inform control strategies by identifying risk factors, sources and pathways for human infection. The study will recruit 150 incident cases, including patients from GP practices, hospitals and recruited through Medical Officers of Health.

The principal investigator, Massey’s Associate Professor Jackie Benschop, says the ultimate goal is to reduce the increasing burden of the disease in New Zealand.

“Two-thirds of patients are hospitalised, many suffer long after infection and numbers are increasing – 91 in the first half of 2017 compared to 33 in 2016 and we are tracking for a high number in 2018,” she says.

“The use of protective equipment does not necessarily prevent infection, animal vaccines do not cover all strains, and it is popping up where people had previously thought it would not. The disease is placing an unacceptable burden on New Zealanders in the agricultural industries and in rural communities.

“We and others have been doing a lot of work on the infection, but with this study the focus is on those ill with the disease. We aim to provide an improved evidence base for policies and practices to lower the incidence and health consequences of leptospirosis in New Zealand and contribute new knowledge about this globally important emerging health hazard.

“Direct benefit will occur through the reduction in incident cases, a more productive work force, and potentially provision of information to reduce livestock infection and identification of new animal vaccine candidate strains.”

The study will seek to understand existing and emerging environmental pathways by employing molecular tools, genomics and modelling from other disease studies. This will include a study of risk factors, infecting species, and sources of infection.

“We have observed that the demography of patients is changing,” says Dr Benschop.

“Our pilot work suggests the disease patterns are changing with more rodent sources and environmental pathways, including flooding, becoming increasingly important in disease transmission, with more women affected, as well as more patients employed outside of the traditional high risk occupations.”

Traditionally the disease is thought to infect pigs, sheep, cattle, goats, rodents and possums, but cases have been found in animals not previously considered as carriers, such as domestic cats, alpacas and horses, so these too will be investigated so for decisions to be made about widening vaccine targets.

“Our environment is changing, the disease is changing with it, so we must keep studying it as these changes occur, to understand the developing risks,” she says.

The study’s findings will aid the development of intervention and control strategies and assessment criteria for the Accident Compensation Corporation.

“ACC access can be challenging for those with the disease or suspected of having the disease. ACC receives approximately 30 claims annually, 75 per cent of which are from farmers and 12 per cent from meat workers. Apparently many people are not claiming ACC partly because there is under diagnosis of leptospirosis,” Dr Benschop says.

“We will explore associations between attributes of cases with accepted claims and those with rejected claims, including the level of support from the patient’s employer to make an ACC claim, patient’s interaction with their GP and other factors.”

It’s time to look, too, at people’s attitudes.

Detailed in-person interviews of 30 cases with occupational exposure will be conducted including assessment of work-place attitudes to personal protective equipment and decisions on vaccination of animals.”

School of People, Environment and Planning’s Dr Gerard Prinsen will lead the qualitative interviews.

Dr Prinsen and Dr Benschop have demonstrated the success qualitative interviews in investigating attitudes to red meat safety in butcher and meat sellers in Northern Tanzania.

The work will be undertaken with the University of Otago, the Institute of Environmental Science and Research, with GPs and within several departments within Massey University, including the Centre for Public Health Research and the Institute of Fundamental Sciences.