Tag Archives: agriculture

Protecting our crops—partners in food security

Australia and America are farming nations

The science underpinning modern farming has enabled our farmers to become more efficient, and more profitable.

Take grain for example. American farmers grow over 440 million tonnes of grain each year. Australia produces about 40 million tonnes. Together that’s about one-sixth of global grain production. Good science has contributed to a tripling in grain production over the past half century.

Both nations export to the world. But whenever we store and transport grain the bugs bite. The latest collaborative research between our two nations is changing that.

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Academy recognition

Photo: Wouter Schellart’s geodynamics research into the activity of the Earth’s mantle, including the Mt Etna volcano, earned him the AAS Anton Hales medal for Earth Sciences. Credit: NASA

The Australian Academy of Science recognised five individuals for their career achievements in 2013.

Granular plant protection

A farmer whose onion paddock is hit by the fungal disease “white rot” faces the loss not only of that crop but of productive use of the field for several years. Relief could be at hand, however, thanks to a novel granulated fungicide now being tested in the field in Victoria.

A new granulated fungicide will help onion farmers treat white rot. Credit: iStockphoto

“In the case of white rot, there is no existing commercially acceptable treatment and if a farmer has an infestation in their field they can’t use it for onions or similar crops for up to 15 years,” says Anthony Flynn, managing director of the agricultural chemical research company Eureka! AgResearch. “They’ve just had to move the crop on to the next paddock.”

The new granulated fungicide targets the soil-borne fungus Sclerotium cepivorum.
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New chlorophyll a gateway to better crops

A chance finding has led to the first new chlorophyll discovered in 67 years, opening up possibilities for biofuel and food crops to use sunlight more efficiently.

2011 Life Scientist of the Year Min Chen. Credit: Prime Minister's Science Prizes/Bearcage
2011 Life Scientist of the Year Min Chen. Credit: Prime Minister’s Science Prizes/Bearcage

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Australian farmers bring climate research to the paddock

Leading grain farmers are guiding climate researchers as part of Australia’s Climate Champion initiative.

Australian farmers bring climate research to the paddock
Farmer Simon Wallwork has worked with climate scientists on his farm. Credit: GRDC
They hope the results will help farmers to adapt to Australia’s increasingly challenging and variable climate.

Scientists supported by the Managing Climate Variability program asked the farmers about what they needed to know about climate in their areas—what forecasts and predictions would be most helpful and how they should be presented.
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Giving farmers more timely weather and climate forecasts

Seven days. Three months. We can now get accurate rainfall and temperature forecasts for these periods, but what if a farmer had access to quality outlooks that sat between the two—multi-week forecasts?

Giving farmers more timely weather and climate forecasts
Dr Andrew Watkins forecasts for farmers. Credit: Bureau of Meteorology

Multi-week forecasts would allow farmers to make better harvesting and sowing decisions before or after drought or flood events.

Australia’s Managing Climate Variability research and development program is working with the Bureau of Meteorology and CSIRO scientists to fill this gap.
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Stopping parasite means more, safer meat

The world’s meat production could be lifted by 10 to 15 per cent if a vaccine can be found to combat the liver fluke.

Stopping parasite means more, safer meat
Juvenile liver fluke parasites which cause serious disease in livestock and humans. Credit: D Piedrafita (Monash); T Spithill (La Trobe).
This is the aim of a collaborative bioscience group at the new $288 million Centre for AgriBioscience (AgriBio).

An effective vaccine against liver fluke could not only boost meat production but would also lead to a large reduction in the amount of drugs given to livestock, says Prof Terry Spithill, who is co-director of AgriBio and based at La Trobe University.
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The kangaroo genome – marsupials filling the gap

Analysing the genomes of Australia’s iconic marsupials will provide insight into how they turn off and on the development of the early embryo; give birth to very underdeveloped young, and why marsupial milk changes radically over the months of lactation.

This knowledge could lead scientists to new treatments for premature births, better milk production in cows, as well as novel antibiotics. Marsupials fill an evolutionary gap between the distantly related birds/reptiles and the more closely related placental mammals (such as humans and cows).

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Animals contribute to greenhouse gases

Smoke-belching coal-fired power stations and factories and fossil fuel-guzzling motor vehicles may be seen as the big villains of the global climate change debate, but they aren’t the only ones contributing to the greenhouse effect.

Australia’s hundreds of millions of cattle, sheep, pigs and other agricultural animals – not to mention our native fauna – also release significant amounts of methane and other gases into the atmosphere.

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