Tag Archives: Waite Research Institute

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 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.

Every Australian child should be taught Agriculture at school

Image courtesy of Lisa Claessen

Australia’s agricultural workforce is aging. The median age of farmers is 53, compared to 39 for other workers. Our agricultural workforce is also shrinking, declining 22% in the last 12 years.

Agriculture is facing more than a skills shortage; we need a ‘Generation F’ – the next generation of educated, ambitious young people to ensure Australia’s role as a food-producing nation into the future. But where will they come from?

A recent survey showed that Australian school students knew little about agriculture; 75% thought cotton socks were an animal product and 45% could not identify that everyday lunchbox items such as bananas, bread and cheese originated from farms. Students who know little about agriculture are even less likely to consider it as a career path.

Farming is usually portrayed in the media as a tough gig. Farmers work longer hours and are at the mercy of the weather and economic factors that are largely beyond their control. Why would our best and brightest want to go into agriculture when so many industry stories focus on ‘doom and gloom’?

Making agriculture compulsory in schools would not only improve food knowledge, but also highlight the role of business skills and specialised technical knowledge in modern agriculture, revealing the opportunities for young people in this vital and dynamic industry. But with so much already crammed into the school curriculum, do we need to be prepared to lose something to attract more people into agriculture?

So, should we be exposing all school students to agriculture and encouraging our young people into the sector with the promise of a brilliant career?

Or is it really up to the agricultural sector itself to make the industry more attractive to young people and remove some of the barriers that prevent them from entering it more easily?

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

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

When: Thursday 18 October 2012, 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-school.eventbrite.com/

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

The Waite Research Institute is a proud supporter of the Australian Year of the Farmer

Innovation in agriculture has led to fast food. it’s time to slow down

The Waite Research Institute was pleased to be working with the Cooperative Research Centres Association to present a debate in celebration of the Australian Year of the farmer as part of their Collaborate Innovate 2012 conference this week. The debate topic was:

“Innovation in agriculture has led to fast food. It’s time to slow down”

Innovation has always been part of Australian agriculture. From the ‘stump-jump’ plough to Federation wheat, our early agriculturalists adapted, invented and experimented with technology and techniques to create a national economy largely dependent on food and fibre production, one that “rode on the sheep’s back”. Newer developments such as minimum tillage, precision agriculture and the application of genetics and genomics to animal and plant breeding have enabled our agricultural sector to feed approximately 60 million people annually.

However, Australia is now a mostly urban society, increasingly disconnected from food production. Australians are amongst the most obese in the world and a recent survey showed that 45 per cent of school students could not identify that everyday lunchbox items such as a banana, bread and cheese originated from farms. Concern for the environment is leading some consumers to reject food produced using technology-based methods.

Is it time for a ‘back to basics’ approach to reconnect Australians with food production? Has technology led to industrial agriculture and cheap food that is not understood or valued by consumers?

Or is continued investment in innovation the only hope for Australian agriculture to remain internationally competitive and feed an increasing global population with minimal impact on the environment?

Team for the affirmative

Sophie Thomson, Gardening consultant

Dr Rosemary Stanton, Nutritionist

Andre Ursini, Chef

Team for the negative

Professor Rob Lewis, Research manager

Professor Mark Tester, Plant scientist

Philip Bruem AM, Farmer

Moderator

Dr Paul Willis, Director, Royal Institution of Australia (RiAus)

After an exciting and informative debate, the negative team where pronounced winners on the night!

To listen to the debate please click here (approx 58 minutes, 20 Mb, mp3 format)

To see how the debate looked on Twitter please click here .

The Waite Research Institute would like to thank all who contributed to making the event a success.

Ancient genes and modern science deliver salt tolerant wheat

This post was first published on the Scientific American Guest Blog on the 18th of April, 2012. To go to the original article click here.

By Heather Bray and Matthew Gilliham

Ten thousand years ago, somewhere in the ‘fertile crescent’ near modern day Turkey, several small but amazing events kick-started the spread of farming, the birth of civilisation and ultimately changed the world.

Although we are still learning about the precise nature of these events, we know that at this time people began to collect seeds from local wild grasses to grow them for food, selecting the best seeds to grow in subsequent seasons. During this process of selection and cultivation the wild grasses cross-bred, or hybridised, leading to domesticated forms of ancient wheat such as einkorn and emmer. Selection and cultivation continued, giving rise to both modern bread wheat and durum wheat, used for making pasta and couscous. Wheat is now the most cultivated crop in the world and forms the staple food for 35% of the world’s population. However, thousands of years of repeated selection and crossing to obtain the best yields and quality has significantly narrowed wheat’s gene pool.

For a team of Australian researchers looking at the problem of salinity tolerance in durum wheat, the solution was clear: look at the ancestors and wild relatives of modern wheats for tolerance to salt and re-introduce these genes into modern wheat lines.

“It was some pretty big thinking about 15 years ago by our collaborators at CSIRO that started this work,” says Dr Matthew Gilliham of the University of Adelaide and the ARC Centre for Plant Energy Biology. Matthew is senior author on a paper recently published in Nature Biotechnology announcing the development of a line of durum wheat which is salt tolerant under commercial farming conditions.

A field of salt tolerant durum wheat grown in northern New South Wales, Australia, as part of a CSIRO field trial. (Richard James, CSIRO)

Salinity affects over 20% of the world’s agricultural land and is a major issue in Australia’s prime wheat-growing areas, with nearly 70% of this land susceptible to salinity. “Through the years, wheat has lost genetic diversity for things such as tolerance to harsh environmental conditions. That’s why we need to go back in time, get some genes from wild relatives and ancestors that grow in these harsh conditions and cross them back in.”

To find genes for salt tolerance, researchers from Australia’s CSIRO looked at Triticum monococcum, also known as einkorn. It is not a direct ancestor of bread wheat or durum, but it is closely related to the grasses that were, and it still grows in some parts of the world today. It can also grow in salty soil.

When the initial crosses between durum and the T. monococcum were made using traditional plant breeding methods, whole pieces of chromosomes containing thousands of genes were introduced. More years of crossing and selection were needed to reduce the number of genes from the T. monococcum in the durum lines and by 2009, researchers were trialling durum wheat lines with increased tolerance to salinity. But what where the genes and how did they work?

In salty soils, sodium ions from salt enter wheat plants via the roots. From there they enter the plant’s water-transport system from where they can be taken to the leaves. “The hypothesis we were working on is that salinity tolerance in cereal crops, especially wheat, is related to the ability to exclude sodium ions from the leaves. If you build up sodium levels in leaf cells you start to inhibit essential life processes like photosynthesis, so wheats that exclude salt from their leaves grow better in salty soils” explained Matthew.

“Our group, including researchers from the Australian Centre for Plant Functional Genomics, used a range of molecular and physiological tests to work out that the important gene in this story was the sodium transporter gene TmHKT1;5-A. We worked out where the gene was turned on, and what it did. This gene makes a protein that acts as a sodium selective transporter, which prevents the sodium from entering the shoots by filtering it out at the root level, it essentially turns the roots into a sodium selective sponge. Compared to the shoots, the build up of sodium in root cells does not inhibit cellular metabolism very much at all.”

Location of the gene encoding for the ancestral sodium transporter in cells (stained blue) surrounding the xylem of modern durum wheat roots. (A. Athman, University of Adelaide)

Although the understanding of the function of the sodium transporter involved transgenic (genetic modification) techniques, the introduction of the genes into the durum lines did not, meaning that the lines of wheat could be tested under commercial conditions without going through Australia’s strict regulatory framework for genetically modified organisms.

The durum line was trialled on a variety of field sites across Southern Australia including a commercial farm near Moree in northern New South Wales, These trials were led by CSIRO researchers Richard James and Rana Munns. Farmers in this area usually harvest about 2.5 tonnes per hectare, a typical and profitable yield for broad-acre, rain-fed (non-irrigated) cropping in semi-arid areas. However, like many farms in the grain producing areas of Australia, salinity is beginning to affect yields. On this farm, a commercial durum variety and the line with the introduced sodium transporter genes had the same performance on normal soil. But at the highest salinity level, the new line outperformed the commercial variety by approximately 25%. This means farmers can use varieties developed from the improved line across their farms, even in paddocks only partly affected by salinity with a significant yield advantage over the current varieties.

“Our research is the first to show that sodium exclusion genes increase grain yield in the field” said Matthew, which is why the group’s work is attracting a lot of attention, including publication in the prestigious Nature Biotechnology. But the team’s work is not over yet. They have already identified other genes from ancient relatives that may be useful in improving salinity tolerance further, highlighting the huge potential for improving modern wheat using the diversity already present in nature. “There are other aspects to the salt- tolerance story and more genes to identify and characterise” adds Matthew. “We haven’t solved the problem, we have just put one piece back in the puzzle.”

About the author: Dr Heather Bray is a science communicator with the Waite Research Institute and a research fellow in the School of History and Politics at the University of Adelaide. She is fascinated by both the science in agriculture and the social aspects of food production in contemporary Australia. Twitter handle: @heatherbray6

Dr Matthew Gilliham is a senior research fellow in the School of Agriculture, Food and Wine, supported by the ARC Centre for Plant Energy Biology. His research focuses on how plants use, transport and exclude nutrient elements and aims to develop more nutritious and productive plants tolerant to abiotic stresses. Twitter handle: @ionplants

Wine debate wrap up

Our debaters: (L to R) Prof Vladimir Jiranek, Dr Dan Johnson, Prof Steve Tyerman, Mr Brian Croser AO, Dr Sue Bastian, Prof Barbara Santich

Our debate last week on the topic “The future of the Australian wine industry will be based on technology, not tradition” was a fantastic success attended by approximately 230 people on the night.

At the beginning of the evening the audience was split roughly 2:1 in favour of the proposition, that technology would be the basis of the Australian wine industry’s success in the future. All of our debaters argued their case passionately, however the negative team was unable to persuade the audience to change their minds and the affirmative team were declared winners.

To listen to the debate please click here (approx 55 minutes, 20 Mb, mp3 format)

To see how the debate looked on Twitter please click here.

For more information on the debaters, please see our previous post.

The Waite Research Institute would like to thank all who contributed to making our event a success.