Tag Archives: Agriculture

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.

Agroforestry: Sustainable Agriculture in PNG

Agroforestry is a system of land use where harvestable trees or shrubs are grown to preserve or enhance the productivity of the land. It can include activity which is quite different from the conventional understanding of ‘forestry’ such as short-rotation fuelwood production systems in Papua New Guinea (PNG) which is currently being funded by ACIAR.

Dr Ian Nuberg, a senior lecturer at the University of Adelaide’s School of Agriculture, Food & Wine currently supervises the ACIAR research conducted in PNG.

Dr Nuberg, whose main focus is in agroforestry, specifically in the context of developing countries, works on two ACIAR projects run out of PNG. They are “Promoting diverse fuelwood production systems in Papua New Guinea” and “Facilitating the establishment of charcoal producer groups in Papua New Guinea

Tony Bartlett, ACIAR’s Forestry Research Program Manager, recently travelled to PNG to see how the research to produce and sell the fuelwood was going. To read about his experience click the link below:


This week on Harvest: grapevines, nitrogen and food security

This week on Harvest , we’ll be talking to Associate Professor Brent Kaiser from the School of Agriculture, Food and Wine about his research on nitrogen uptake and utilisation in plants as well as the Bachelor of Viticulture and Oenology program in the lead-up to the University’s Open Day

We’ll be continuing our ‘Grape to Glass’ segment by heading a little further up the plant with a look at grapevine physiology, and we’ll also be continuing our look at Food Security when we talk to Dr Andrew Jacobs from the ACPFG about the role that science plays.

We’ll also be having our regular look at some of the agriculture, food and wine stories in the news. Join us from 3.00pm to 4.00pm SA time on 101.5 FM in Adelaide, on digital radio or online at https://radio.adelaide.edu.au/

Podcasts of the interviews will be available after 5.00pm SA time at https://radio.adelaide.edu.au/program/harvest/

New partnership for Radio Adelaide and the University of Adelaide’s Waite Research Institute

Harvest version 3

What we eat and drink, how it’s grown, and how science and innovation can help meet the challenges of food quality and security – this is the focus of Harvest; a new partnership between Radio Adelaide and the University of Adelaide‘s Waite Research Institute.

The radio program will feature research and topical issues related to agriculture, food and wine and will be broadcast on Radio Adelaide from Wednesday the 7th of August each week from 3.00pm-4.00pm South Australian time.

Radio Adelaide’s General Manager Deborah Welch said that the partnership is in line with Radio Adelaide’s long history of supporting life-long learning and using a variety of platforms and technologies. “We deliver an audience of enquiring minds from all walks of life to the University of Adelaide, and by extension to the Waite Campus” she said. “Our listeners are curious people who are looking for more information about their world. They are interested in social issues and influencing decision making. And they like to eat!”

Professor Mike Wilkinson, Director of the Waite Research Institute said that the partnership provides a unique opportunity to engage the community in the issues in food production. “Producing a radio program gives us the opportunity to present our research in a way that is personally relevant to the listener, and by working with Radio Adelaide, we are going to reach a much larger and more diverse audience than we ever could alone. Whether you are from the city or the country, food production, quality and safety is relevant to you.”

For Radio Adelaide journalist Chris Brunner, producing Harvest is unique opportunity. “I’m interested in documentary-style radio and current affairs, and there are so many stories to tell about the work at the Waite and how it relates to the bigger agriculture, food and wine landscape” he said. “And to be able to have so many key people in one place is a journalist’s dream.”

The Waite Research Institute’s Public Engagement Officer, Dr Heather Bray will co-produce and co-host the program. “Agriculture is exciting, diverse and personal – its science you can eat. As a science communicator, I’m really looking forward to working with a journalist to present agricultural science stories in a personally relevant and engaging way.”

In addition to the program’s live audience in Adelaide, people will be able to listen to the program from all over Australia either via Radio Adelaide’s live stream or podcasts at radio.adelaide.edu.au/program/harvest. Podcasts will also be available through iTunes.

Harvest will also use Twitter and Facebook to interact with the audience. Links to podcasts will also be shared here on the Waite Research Institute’s blog as well as the WRI Twitter channel and Facebook page.


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

Agricultural Sciences student numbers jump

Story orginally posted in News from the University of Adelaide, Wednesday 6 February, 2013

Agricultural Science students

Agricultural Science students

Interest in studying Agricultural Sciences at the University of Adelaide has significantly increased this year with both first preference applications and offers up more than 50% on last year.

“There are very good signs for a large increase in the numbers of students starting Agricultural Science this year based on offers and early acceptances,” says Professor Eileen Scott, Acting Head of the School of Agriculture, Food and Wine.

“This is good news for the local agriculture sector, which is crying out for skilled graduates in this area, and great news for our rural communities.”

Professor Scott said there appeared to be a combination of factors surrounding the heightened interest. “There is much better awareness of the large range of career opportunities that a degree in Agricultural Sciences can lead to,” she says.

“A lot of our graduates work with agricultural consultants, who are actively seeking out our students. Our graduates also work in banks, rural press, chemical companies, government departments and agencies, and local councils – they are in extremely high demand.

“There also seems to be a growing awareness of the need to look at new ways of feeding the world in the coming years. Many young people are interested in being able to make a difference in global issues.”

Professor Scott said moving past the drought years to a much more positive farming outlook may also be an important factor.

“The University of Adelaide’s School of Agriculture, Food and Wine has worked hard to get these positive messages across,” she says.

“Last year we had a strong presence at the Royal Adelaide Show, field days and schools where there was a lot of interest in our program.”

Other factors included revitalised campus activity and offering more work experience opportunities to school students.

“Our first crop of students from our new Bachelor of Agricultural Sciences program graduated last year and they are great ambassadors for the degree.”

There are still places available on the Bachelor of Agricultural Sciences. Please enquire with the University Contact Centre on 8313 7335.


New future for an old crop: barley enters the genomic age

Story orginally posted in News from the University of Adelaide, Thursday 18/10/12

Barley research at the University of Adelaide’s Waite Campus. Photo by Randy Larcombe

Higher yields, improved pest and disease resistance and enhanced nutritional value are among the potential benefits of an international research effort that has resulted in the mapping of the barley genome.

The work – conducted by the International Barley Sequencing Consortium (IBSC), which includes Australian researchers based at the University of Adelaide’s Waite Campus – is described in a paper published today in the prestigious journal Nature.

Barley is the world’s fourth most important cereal crop, and the second most important crop in Australian agriculture. Australia produces around seven million tonnes of barley a year, 65% of which is exported at a value of $1.3 billion annually. Australia also accounts for one third of the world’s malting barley trade.

The Australian research team was led by scientists at the Australian Centre for Plant Functional Genomics (ACPFG) and the University of Adelaide, who worked with colleagues at the ARC Centre of Excellence in Plant Cell Walls.

“This new analysis of all the genes in the barley genome is a major step forward for agricultural science and industry,” says Australian research leader and a senior author of the Nature paper, Professor Peter Langridge, Chief Executive Officer of the ACPFG.

“This will greatly accelerate the work in Australia and elsewhere to improve the quality of barley, enhance its disease and pest resistance and, most importantly, support efforts to improve the tolerance of barley to environmental stresses such as heat and drought.”

First cultivated more than 15,000 years ago, barley belongs to the same family as wheat and rye. Together, they provide about 30% of all calories consumed worldwide.

“Because barley is very closely related to wheat, these results from barley will have a major impact on wheat research,” Professor Langridge says. “Wheat is Australia’s most important crop, and improvements in wheat production globally will be a key to ensuring global food security.”

The barley genome is almost twice the size of that of humans. Determining the sequence of its DNA has presented a major challenge for the research team. This is mainly because its genome contains a large proportion of closely related sequences, which are difficult to piece together.

The team’s Nature paper provides a detailed overview of the functional portions of the barley genome, revealing the order and structure of most of its 32,000 genes. It also includes a detailed analysis of where and when genes are switched on in different tissues and at different stages of development.

The team has described regions of the genome carrying genes that are important to providing resistance to diseases, offering scientists the best possible understanding of the crop’s immune system.

The Australian component of this research has been funded by the Australian Research Council (ARC), the Grains Research and Development Corporation (GRDC) and the South Australian Government.

For more background on this story, please refer to the original here