Category Archives: Debate

Debate@TheWaite: Agriculture contributes more to society than Medicine

RoseworthyThe cultivation and domestication of plants and animals for human food in ancient times led to the development of civilisations and ultimately modern society. These days, however, agriculture and the science behind it is apparently seen as less important than other human endeavours, in particular medicine (and medical research).

The Australian health care and social assistance industry is the largest employing sector in the country, providing work to 1.3 million people. In 2010, there were more than 10 times the number of graduates from health-related degrees than there were from agricultural and environmental sciences. It is also incredibly costly to support this sector, but these resources are needed to care for our aging population. Thanks largely to medical advances, our life expectancy is approximately 30 years longer than it was a century ago, but this also brings a raft of challenges with it.

Hippocrates, considered the ‘father’ of medicine, understood the importance of food and diet in maintaining good health, and surely, prevention is better than cure? In fact, agricultural science has pioneered many essential medical techniques – even the discovery of vaccination relied on dairy farming.

Agriculture contributes enormously to our GDP/export earnings, provides essential food and fibre, manages vast areas of our landscape and has helped shape our national identity. Despite this, no agriculturalists have ever been named ‘Australian of the Year’ in the 54 years since that award was established, compared to 10 people who worked in health/medical research (and no less than 14 sports people). Agriculture wasn’t mentioned in the National Research Priorities between 2002 and 2013, while health and medical research was front and centre.

If, as it seems, doctors are more esteemed and rewarded in our society than farmers, why do we feel less appreciative towards those who provide the daily food that keeps us alive and healthy than we do towards medical practitioners who we only see when we feel bad? Given that both farmers and doctors help us thrive, why do we attribute more status to one than the other?

Isn’t it time that agriculture, its products and those working within the sector, got the recognition, esteem and priority they deserve? Or does agriculture rightly deserve a smaller share of the limelight than medicine?

In this exciting and important debate, moderated by Mr Ian Doyle, six experts in two teams will argue for your vote.

For the affirmative team …

  • Dr Kim Ritman, Chief Scientist, Australian Bureau of Agricultural and Resource Economics and Sciences
  • Professor Bob Seamark,  Flinders University and The Robinson Institute
  • Associate Professor Sven Anders, Resource Economics & Environmental Sociology
    The University of Alberta

For the negative team …

  • Associate Professor Mark Hutchinson, Discipline of Physiology, School of Medical Sciences, University of Adelaide
  • Professor Steve Wesselingh,  Executive Director, SA Health & Medical Research Institute
  • Dr Jennie Louise, School of Population Health, The University of Adelaide

DATE: Thursday 27 March 2014
TIME: 6.00pm – 8.30pm
PLACE: Lirra Lirra (Aroma Café), McLeod House,
Waite Road, Urrbrae
Finger food and cash bar provided
BOOKINGS: Register online at http://www.adelaide.edu.au/wri/events/debate/

The event will be tweeted live via @waiteresearch and podcasts of the Debate will be available via our debate webpage or via the Harvest radio program webpage.

Debate: Grape and wine quality doesn’t matter – it’s marketing that sells wine!

Green Vines

The Australian wine industry has made huge gains based on investment in research and development during the past 30-50 years, giving us the edge in a competitive global market. Industry levy and government-funded research has led to knowledge and applications that have enabled significant improvements in grape and wine quality, as well as productivity and yield increases.

In an era of more costly inputs and diminishing returns, and with Australian wine no longer the ‘flavour of the month’ internationally, is it time to shift investment to support marketing efforts that increase the future growth and profitability of the industry? Many winemakers feel the challenging global economic and market forces they now face are more immediate and grave than longer-term environmental threats such as soil salinity and climate change.

On the other hand, the fruit of much labour in R&D is slow to reveal itself – a 20-year time lag between discovery in the lab and application in the field is commonly cited in agricultural science. In some areas this has dropped to as little as six years to meet industry imperatives. An exciting period lies ahead, with many more possibilities evident on the knowledge horizon, but the rising costs of research, funding cuts and a diminution in the perceived value and importance of R&D to the industry are real threats.

Why bother making better wine if we can’t sell it? Can consumers tell the difference between average wine and great wine anyway? Is increasing the marketing spend (especially if it’s at the expense of R&D) a sound investment strategy, or a sign of desperation from an industry under pressure in a world that has become short-sighted, shallow and dollar-driven?

In this exciting and important debate, moderated by Dr Paul Willis, Director RiAus, six experts in two teams will argue for your vote.

For the affirmative team …

  • Professor Pascale Quester Deputy Vice Chancellor & Vice-President (Academic), The University of Adelaide
  • Professor Larry Lockshin Pro-Vice Chancellor, Strategic Coordination, Professor of Wine Marketing and Head of the School of Marketing, University of SA
  • Dr Roberta Veale Program Director – Wine Business The Business School, Marketing, Faculty of the Professions, The University of Adelaide

For the negative team …

Will you be for or against?

Date: Thursday 17 October 2013 Time: 6.00pm (for a 6.30pm start) to 8.30pm
Place: Lirra Lirra Café, McLeod House, Waite Road, Waite Campus, Urrbrae Finger food and cash bar provided
Event is free. Please register at http://www.adelaide.edu.au/wri/events/debate/

Debate @ the Waite in the City … on soils

“Australian soils are more fertile now than they’ve ever been”

Our understanding of the soil has changed dramatically over the last 150 years, from ‘ground-up rock’ to a dynamic, living ecosystem.

Soils contribute significantly to Australia’s food and fibre production, worth $23.6 billion, in 2009-2010, as well as supporting the economic growth of rural and regional communities. An estimated 63% of the Australian landscape is managed under agriculture or forestry. Food production on Australian soils provides 93%of our domestic food supply and feeds another 40 million people outside Australia every day.

Soil fertility refers to the physical, chemical and biological attributes of the soil which affect the availability of nutrients for plants to use. Soil fertility is lost when more nutrients leave the soil than are added to it, as well as through processes such as erosion and salinity. The impact of European land use on Australian soils was extreme, with severe erosion, organic matter loss and nutrient depletion commonplace across large areas.

We now know that the way we’ve managed our fragile Australian soils in the past was unsustainable at best, and at worst, caused permanent infertility and lost production potential. However, with increasing knowledge we have improved our farming practices to maintain, and in some areas increase soil fertility. For instance, conventional cultivation, where ploughing the soil is the main method of managing crop residue and controlling weeds, was reduced to 1.4% of the area used to grow crops in 2011.

So have we learned to manage our soils sustainably? Or did we learn the lesson too late and have permanently limited our productivity?

In this debate, moderated by Dr Paul Willis, Director of the RiAus, we will explore these issues as six experts in two teams argue for your vote.

Team for the Affirmative
Associate Professor Ann McNeill
Soils Research Group, School of Agriculture, Food and Wine, The University of Adelaide
Dr Nigel Wilhelm
Research Leader, Farming Systems, SARDI
Professor Rob Fitzpatrick
Professorial Research Fellow & Director, Acid Sulfate Soil Centre, The University of Adelaide

Team for the Negative
Dr Patrick O’Connor
Visiting Research Fellow, School of Agriculture, Food and Wine, The University of Adelaide
Dr Ashlea Doolette
Research Fellow, Soils Research Group, School of Agriculture, Food and Wine, The University of Adelaide
Mr Richard MacEwan
Senior Research Scientist, Department of Environment & Primary Industries, Victoria

When: Thursday 11 July, 2013 6.00 – 8.30pm
Where: RiAus, The Science Exchange, 55 Exchange Place, Adelaide. Finger food provided and cash bar available

Admission is free, but prior registration is essential as seats are strictly limited.
Live-streaming of the event will be available from 6.30 pm CST.
To follow the debate on Twitter use #agchatoz and follow @waiteresearch and @RiAus

Debate wrap up: Cutting Australia’s meat consumption by half would be better for us and the planet

On Thursday the 21st of March, more than 150 people attended one of our more controversial debates on whether Australians should reduce their meat consumption. For more information on the topic and speakers, please refer to our previous posts on the debate.

In our closest debate ever, the negative team were announced winners by our moderator, Dr Paul Wills, Director of the RiAus, after converting a pre-debate vote of 68% for the affirmative and 32% to the negative into a vote of 67% for the affirmative and 33% for the negative.

The Waite Research Institute would like to thank all involved in making our debate a success.

To listen to the debate please click here (approx 1.1 hour, 22 Mb, mp3 format)

To see a collection of tweets from the debate, click here

Debate: Announcing our speakers for “Cutting Australia’s meat consumption by half will be better for us and the planet”

With only one week to go until our next Debate @ The Waite on “Cutting Australia’s meat consumption by half will be better for us and the planet“, the Waite Research Institute is pleased to announce our speakers for the event. For more information on the debate topic, please see our earlier post here.

Speaking for the affirmative team we have:

  • Professor Randy Stringer, Agriculture & Food Policy, Global Food Studies Group, School of Economics at the University of Adelaide
  • Professor John Crawford, Judith and David Coffey Chair in Sustainable Agriculture, The University of Sydney
  • Professor John Coveney, Professor Public Health and Associate Dean in the School of Medicine, Flinders University

Speaking for the negative we have:

Our moderator will once again be Dr Paul Willis, Director of the RiAus.

When: Thursday 21 March 2013, 6.00 pm – 8.30 pm
Where: Lirra Lirra Cafe, Waite Road, Waite Campus

Finger food provided. A cash bar will be open throughout the event.

Admission is free, but prior registration is essential as seats are strictly limited.
To register to attend the event go to http://waitedebate-meat.eventbrite.com/

To join the debate on Twitter, follow @waiteresearch and use the hashtag #agchatoz

Debate: Cutting Australia’s meat consumption by half will be better for us and the planet

Cows at sunset

Image from istockphoto

These days, deciding what to eat is about more than just filling our stomachs. Increasingly we are asked to consider the effect that our food choices have on our communities and the environment, as well as ourselves. We are asked to eat foods that are produced sustainably, locally and ethically. “You are what you eat” has become “what you eat affects us all”.

Meat production is often targeted as having a large environmental impact. Different methods have been used to estimate the amount of water needed to produce a kilogram of beef varying between 500 and 50,000 litres, and methane emissions from ruminants are estimated to account for 10% of Australia’s total greenhouse gas emissions. Just over half of Australia is used for grazing animals, with more used to grow feed for more intensively raised animals.

In 2009 Australians, on average, each chewed their way through nearly 108 kg of meat, just over 2 kg per week, and we are one of the top meat-consuming nations of the world with only approximately 5% vegetarians. By comparison, the British ate 84 kg per person and the Chinese about 58 kg per person. The average meat consumption in India per person for the year, the lowest in the world, was only slightly more than what we consume in a fortnight at 4.4 kg. Our meat-heavy diet has been associated with chronic health issues and there are many that question whether it is morally right to raise and kill animals for food at all.

Reducing meat consumption is often suggested as a way to reduce our impact on the environment. But if Australia as a nation decided to halve our meat consumption, what would replace it in our diets? Is Australia’s climate and geography suited to producing the large amounts of plant foods needed to feed us? Could the water we currently use to produce meat actually be diverted and used for another purpose? Would we ever be the nation that says “throw another veggie on the barbie?”

This debate, moderated by Dr Paul Willis, RiAus, will explore all these issues, as six experts in two teams argue for your vote.

When: Thursday 21 March 2013, 6.00 pm – 8.30 pm
Where: Lirra Lirra Cafe, Waite Road, Waite Campus

Finger food provided. A cash bar will be open throughout the event.

Admission is free, but prior registration is essential as seats are strictly limited.
To register to attend the event go to http://waitedebate-meat.eventbrite.com/

To join the debate on Twitter, follow @waiteresearch and use the hashtag #agchatoz

Debate wrap-up: “Every Australian child should be taught Agriculture at school”

NB: More content will be added to this post as it becomes available.

Dr John Willison taking the podium for the negative tean, Debate @ the Waite, October 2012

On Thursday the 18th of October, more than 80 people (plus our largest online audience to date) were treated on one of our most entertaining debates. For more information on the topic and speakers, please refer to our previous post on the debate.

Both sides argued passionately, using costumes and props and were ably wrangled by our moderator, Dr Paul Willis, Director of the RiAus. However, it was the negative team that were announced winners, after converting a pre-debate vote of 84% for the affirmative and 16% to the negative into a vote of 65% for the affirmative and 35% for the negative.

The Waite Research Institute would like to thank our moderator and our wonderful speakers:

Team for the Affirmative:
Associate Professor Amanda Able, School of Agriculture, Food and Wine, University of Adelaide
Mr Ian Joseph, Chair, Agribusiness Council of Australia
Mr Nick van den Berg, Second year student, Bachelor of Agricultural Science, University of Adelaide

Team for the Negative:
Professor Derek Leinweber, Head of School, Chemistry and Physics, University of Adelaide
Ms Lynne Strong, National Program Director, Art4Agriculture and Farmer
Dr John Willison, School of Education, University of Adelaide

To listen to the debate please click here (approx 1.25 hour, 25 Mb, mp3 format)

To see more images from the debate on Flickr click here

To read Lynne Strong’s blog post on the debate, click here

We’ll be uploading a collation of tweets showing the online conversation from the evening in the coming days.