Ag@Otago is tapping into university expertise to improve farm management systems

Otago University has launched a research arm it hopes will influence the future of agriculture, Farmers Weekly reports in its June 11 issue.

This doesn’t seem to be hot-off-the-press news but it escaped AgScience’s attention when it was reported on the Farmers Weekly website in February:

The report on the web and the report in the newspaper are the same, noting that Ag@Otago has been established to tap in to the university’s expertise by aiming to improve productivity and use science and technology to develop sustainable and profitable management systems that add value to primary industries.

Unit director Professor Frank Griffin said Ag@Otago was one of 15 specific research themes at the university, each supported by its own funding and designed to aggregate skills of researchers and scientists.

An estimated 70 university researchers could contribute but Professor Griffin said the unit’s approach to developing research programmes would differ.

They would seek input from a variety of farmers on what the sector’s future looked like, from low density, low input operators through to those with intensive operations and everything in between.

Those ideas would be compiled and after further input from farmers, a research programme supporting the goals would be developed.

Professor Griffin said:

“The challenge of the food industry is to go from the $6 a kilogram commodity to a $60 branded product targeted at the cuisine sector, not just trying to feed people.

“If we stay as commodity producers, it is a race to the bottom.”

But besides affirming the standard nutritional and medicinal information they seek, consumers want messages supported by science to assure them the food they are paying a premium for is sustainably produced and whether it has a low carbon footprint, little impact on water and comes from well-cared-for, grass-fed animals.

Griffin is a microbiologist who worked for many years studying tuberculosis in deer and Johne’s disease in cattle, deer and sheep.

More recently he was the director of Disease Research.

The Farmers Weekly report goes on:

Griffin said Otago University researchers offer a different skill set that has been applied to humans but is equally applicable to primary production.

It includes microbiology, neuroendocrinology, toxicology, reproduction, nutrition, food science, statistics, plant development, genomics and pathogens.

The university has also introduced an applied science in agriculture degree. Griffin said this is an extension of the agribusiness course being offered for NCEA in secondary schools and blends business, technology and environmental science.

The role of the Treaty in science and consultation with Maori: columnist sparks heated debate

The latest shots in a debate triggered by science writer Bob Brockie have been fired today by Dame Anne Salmond, Distinguished Professor of Māori Studies and Social Anthropology at the University of Auckland and Vice-President (Humanities and Social Sciences), Royal Society Te Apārangi,

One of Dr Brockie’s targets was the work of the Royal Society of New Zealand and the establishment of Te Whāinga Aronui o Te Apārangi.

This body is chaired by Dame Anne as Vice-President (Social Sciences and Humanities), who serves on the Royal Society Te Apārangi Council.

The forum provides advice to the society on matters of concern to the humanities and social sciences community and responds, on request, with advice on humanities and social sciences issues.

The Presidents (or their nominees) of the several constituent organisations contribute to the forum. These organisations are listed HERE.

They include the Australian and New Zealand Communications Association; Institute of Registered Music Teachers of New Zealand; Philosophy of Education Society of Australasia; Association of Social Anthropologists of Aotearoa/New Zealand; and Sociological Association of Aotearoa NZ. 

Dr Brockie contends some from “the art world” believe there are no such things as facts; rather, there are

… just different opinions about facts, ambiguity is OK, everybody’s opinions are of equal value, whether of a quantum physicist or a Stone Age nobody, and that other people’s beliefs and opinions must never be questioned (thereby committing the sin of “decontextualisation” aka political incorrectness).

Some humanities grandees badmouth the intellectual gains of the Enlightenment and would knock science off its perch.

Te Whāinga has called for the Royal Society “to place the Treaty of Waitangi centrally, and bring alongside that inequity and diversity issues in a holistic manner“. Dr Brockie argues the Treaty has no place in scientific endeavour.

His second target is the Otago University requirement that Ngāi Tahu must be consulted about “all areas of research” before scholars undertake their work. All proposals must be submitted to the Office of Māori Development.

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AgResearch, Invermay and genetics – scientist goes out to bat for Otago University

Peter K Dearden, associate director of the National Research Centre for Growth and Development and Scientific Director of Genetics Otago, has blogged here on the AgResearch decision to move its genetics/genomics team from Invermay near Dunedin, to Lincoln.

This move has excited a great deal of attention in the Otago press and some consternation around Otago University, he points out.

Genetics Otago has been drawn into the controversy as a centre of research excellence and hub for genetics and genomics that AgResearch is linked into.

Dearden has decided to write something from his point of view, emphasising that the opinions he expresses are his own, and not necessarily those of the University of Otago, his employer.

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NZGL publishes progress report

New Zealand Genomics Limited, established in 2010 to ensure NZ scientists have access to advanced genomics technology onshore, has published its 2013 Impacts & Outcomes Report.

The company is a collaboration involving the University of Auckland, Massey University and the University of Otago, and is supported by the Government (represented by the Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment).

Its report summarises the collaboration’s performance in the 12 months to 30 June. During that period, NZGL worked on 209 projects worth a total of $3.5m.

NZGL chief executive Tony Lough, in a media statement, says the report is positive reading.

“Our clients are happy. They are finding the data quality is of a high standard and they are recommending us to their fellow scientists.”

“We have worked on some significant projects, including commercial research within the sheep and dairy sectors, clarifying the source of the kiwifruit/PSA contamination, discovering key genetic information that will assist in the conservation of native species, and working alongside medical researchers to build knowledge around human diseases.”

In addition to service delivery, NZGL has several other objectives, including nurturing and retaining world-class researchers in New Zealand.

“In the past two years, NZGL has developed the capability of scientists across New Zealand by working alongside 300 principal investigators, 270 postgraduate and undergraduate students, and 30 research staff.”

NZGL chair Graham Crombie says NZGL will continue improving its services to clients, while working alongside other sector organisations to ensure best use is made of scarce resources.

Otago study shows the legacy of pesticides is difficult to avoid

A University of Otago study shows that the tell-tale legacy in rural South Island areas of pesticides banned many years ago remains, regardless of the type of sheep and beef farming now taking place on the land.

The research, led by Department of Chemistry recent PhD graduate, Dr Pourya Shahpoury, and just published in the international journal Environmental Pollution, nevertheless shows that average pesticide levels found in sediments of streams running through the 15 South Island farms assessed as part of the study were still within recommended thresholds.

A media statement from the university says the most frequently detected pesticide (chlorpyrifos) found in the stream beds is one that is approved in New Zealand for current use against pests.

But the study also found the presence of chemicals (or their toxic degradation products) that had been widely used many years ago before they were banned.

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