AgScience

Four more centres of research excellence funded

Four more centres of research excellence have been selected by the Tertiary Education Commission at the end of the second round of CoREs funding.

Tertiary Education, Skills and Employment Minister Steven Joyce has commended successful applicants, the Bio-Protection Research Centre (Lincoln University), The Riddet Institute (Massey University), QuakeCore: Centre for Earthquake Resilience (University of Canterbury) and Ngā Pae o te Māramatanga (The University of Auckland.)

The successful CoREs will focus on sustainable pest management solutions, food science and human health, earthquake disaster resilience, and Māori research.

The announcement means the number of cross-institutional centres of research excellence around the country will increase from six to 10. All 10 will receive five years of funding from 2016 to 2020.

Joyce said CoREs provided an excellent collaborative environment for the delivery of world-leading, innovative and strategically focused research.

The work of all 10 CoREs would deliver benefits to New Zealand across economic, environmental and social platforms that will make a difference to the lives of all New Zealanders, he said.

The announcement followed a comprehensive selection process managed by the Royal Society of New Zealand and the Tertiary Education Commission.

All 21 unsuccessful applicants from the 2013/14 selection round of funding had the opportunity to re-submit a new application for the remaining CoREs places. Applicants had the opportunity to strengthen their proposals between the selection rounds.

Three of the four CoREs selected this time are previous CoREs which were not successful in the first round of funding last year, while QuakeCore is a brand new research centre.

CoREs have been operating in New Zealand since 2002. In that time the Government has provided over $434.5 million in funding to current and previous CoREs.

Feds weclome climate change conversation

Federated Farmers has welcomed the Government’s public consultation on climate change, ahead of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change in Paris, in December.

Anders Crofoot, the federation’s climate change spokesman, said it was important for the public to be part of the discussion in setting New Zealand’s post-2020 climate change target.

A critical element to having that discussion was that everyone understood the issues and trade-offs involved in setting our contribution.

New Zealand’s economy was driven by exports with 73 percent of our merchandise exports coming from the primary industries, worth $35.2 billion, Crofoot said.

UN projections showed the global population peaking at 11 billion by 2075 and FAO estimates show agricultural output must increase by 60 percent by 2050 to meet this growth.

Crofoot said:

“While New Zealand cannot feed the world we will play our part. It would be irresponsible of us to squander or underutilise our resources.

“Aside from being a net food exporter in a world of increasing food shortage, New Zealanders can be very proud that our farmers are among the most carbon efficient in the world. This puts us at an advantage on a global scale both scientifically and economically.

“Through our commitments with the Global Research Alliance on agricultural greenhouse gases and the Palmerston North based Pastoral Greenhouse Gas Research Consortium (PGGRC) our country’s leadership extends beyond being an efficient producer of quality food and puts us on the world stage in our ability to reduce emissions.”

Farmers and their investment in science through levy bodies had reduced their emissions per unit of meat and milk produced by 1.3 percent a year since 1990, Crofoot said.

Its scientific and innovative advances could be exported to the rest of the world’s primary producers.

Continued investment in institutes like these would ensure New Zealand’s climate change commitments were met while growing a strong and vibrant economy.

Funding confirmed for bioprotection research

The Bio-Protection Research Centre – a Centre of Research Excellence located at Lincoln University – has had its funding confirmed for another five years.

Established in 2003, the centre’s primary goal is to strengthen the value of New Zealand’s pastoral, horticultural and forestry industries through research to generate next generation bioprotection (biosecurity and biocontrol) solutions.

“We are absolutely thrilled that the Tertiary Education Commission has continued to fund the Bio-Protection Research Centre until 2020. The work this Centre does is fundamental research that underpins plant bioprotection and plant biosecurity for New Zealand and is strategically relevant,” says Lincoln University Deputy Vice-Chancellor – Scholarship and Research, Dr Stefanie Rixecker.

The BPRC brings together New Zealand’s leading experts in bioprotection, and is a partnership between Lincoln University, AgResearch, Massey University, Plant & Food Research and Scion.

It includes collaborations with several other national and international research institutes and incorporates one of the strongest bioprotection postgraduate training groups in the Southern Hemisphere.

Former students are employed in research, industry and policy positions throughout the world.

The centre has three main research themes focussed on protecting the plant-based systems in New Zealand: pests and pathogens, biological controls, and biosecurity and invasion.

“The BPRC research is led by outstanding scientists who are leaders in their respective fields and the quality of their scientific work is highly respected,” says Bio-Protection Research Centre Director, Professor Travis Glare.

The funding gave financial security to the centre for the coming five years to continue to work very closely with other government organisations and industry, to develop novel bioprotection tools and solutions, Professor Glare said.

Search under way for 2015 winners of PM’s Science Prizes

Entries have opened for the 2015 Prime Minister’s Science Prizes, which will award a total of $1 million to New Zealand’s top scientists and researchers.

Science and Innovation Minister Steven Joyce says the prizes celebrate scientific achievement, highlight the impact science has on New Zealanders’ lives, and aim to attract more young people into science careers. 2015 is the seventh year the prizes will be presented.

A total of five prizes are awarded each year. The Prime Minister’s overall Science Prize of $500,000 will be awarded to an established scientist or team of scientists for a transformative discovery or achievement. Other prizes will go to a top emerging scientist ($200,000), a leading science teacher ($150,000), a leading science communicator ($100,000), and a secondary school student who is excelling in science ($50,000).

“The prizes play a key role in delivering on the Government’s commitment to encourage more students into science and technology-based careers,” Mr Joyce says.

“They also aim to inspire our scientists by celebrating world-leading research occurring here in New Zealand which is vital for our economy, our society, and our international competitiveness.”

The 2014 winner of the Prime Minister’s Science Prize, the top award, was a 28-member team of scientists who have worked nationwide for more than 15 years to address issues related to poor-quality housing, particularly as it affects vulnerable groups such as children and those with chronic health conditions.

Top awards from previous years have been for work in the areas of inductive power transfer technology, nuclear magnetic resonance imaging, superconductivity, climate change science, and food innovation.

Entries can be lodged up until 31 July 2015.

More information can be found here.

New research unlocks genetic secrets behind footrot in fine-wool sheep

New Zealand’s fine wool sector is a step closer to eradicating footrot thanks to ground-breaking research in sheep genetics.

The FeetFirst project, part of a Primary Growth Partnership between The New Zealand Merino Company and the Ministry for Primary Industries, is using genetic testing to identify fine-wool sheep with resistance to footrot. Researchers say they are close to developing a simple test for growers to eliminate footrot using selective breeding.

It is estimated that footrot costs New Zealand’s fine wool sector up to $10 million each year in lost productivity and treatment.

John Brakenridge, NZ Merino’s chief executive, said finding an answer to reduce footrot in fine wool flocks would significantly improve the sector’s profitability.

“Enquiries for New Zealand fine wool is increasing because it is of the very highest quality and integrity.

“Footrot is one of the biggest barriers to producing fine wool. It also limits the expansion of fine wool breeds beyond the high country because wetter, warmer conditions are more conducive to infection.

“The answer will be a simple and effective genetic test that farmers can use to combat footrot through selective breeding.”

More than 3500 DNA samples have been genotyped so far using SNP (single nucleotide polymorphism) chip technology.

Geneticists based at the Animal Genetics and Breeding Unit of the University of New England have done initial tests on the dataset to see how accurately a sheep’s resistance (or susceptibility) to footrot can be determined from DNA samples.

NZ Merino’s Production Science Manager, Dr Mark Ferguson, said the goal of the project was to develop a new genomic breeding value (gBV).

“Genetics plays a major role in fighting footrot because some sheep are genetically less susceptible to the disease. The development of an accurate gBV will be a major breakthrough in allowing breeders to predict footrot resistance from a single DNA sample.”

The next phase of the FeetFirst project is to further build the accuracy of the gBV through progeny testing of an additional 100 fine-wool rams over the next two breeding seasons.

“We’re making encouraging progress,” said Dr Ferguson. “Ultimately we could see footrot bred out of the New Zealand fine-wool flock. That would be a tremendous result for farmers and the fine-wool industry.”

Submissions sought on modified reassessment for herbicide

The Environmental Protection Authority is calling for submissions on a modified reassessment of the herbicide Callisto. This is an already approved herbicide, which contains the active ingredient mesotrine.

The current approval for Callisto has restrictions on the rate at which the product is applied and the number of applications. The applicant, Syngenta Crop Protection, is seeking to increase the application rate and frequency, and extend the use of the substance to include turf. There would be no change to the application method.

If approved, the substance would be marketed as Tenacity Turf Herbicide.

The application is being notified due to application changes.

The submission period for this application started on 28 April and will close at 5pm on 10 June.

Further information on submissions and the hearing process can be found here.

The EPA’s role is to decide on applications under the Hazardous Substances and New Organisms Act to import and manufacture hazardous substances. It puts controls in place to manage the risks of hazardous substances to safeguard people and the environment.

Clarification of council jurisdiction on GMO sought

GE Free Northland and the Soil & Health Association of NZ with 19 other parties have sought clarification in the Environment Court on whether there is jurisdiction in the Resource Management Act for local control of outdoor use of GMOs.

Judge Newhook reserved his decision, which will be made in the next few weeks.

The Northland/Auckland “Inter Council Working Party on GMO Risk Evaluation & Management Options” was formed in 2003 to look at the emerging issue of GMO’s for the whole region. After more than 10 years of public consultation this resulted in precautionary GE provisions being placed in the Northland new Regional Policy Statement.

Before the hearing GE Free Northland spokesperson Martin Robinson applauded the efforts of various NZ councils to put in place an additional tier of local protection against the risks of outdoor use of GMOs to local regions’ biosecurity, GE free primary producers, economy, environment, and food sovereignty.

Claire Bleakley, president of GE Free NZ, said it was important for regional councils to have the power to implement precautionary measures to protect their communities’ economy by preserving the GE Zero tolerance policy regarding land uses.

GE Free NZ is supporting the stance of Whangarei District Council, GE Free Northland, Taitokerau mana whenua and Soil & Health Association in this case.

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