Ground Cover North : Ground Cover 095 November-December 2011 - North
By Melissa Marino n Until she took part in a Primary Industry Centre for Science Education (PICSE) scholarship program last year, Brydie Creagh had wanted to be an actor. That changed after a week spent at the University of Western Australia's PICSE Activity Centre and a related industry placement with the Department of Food and Agriculture, WA, where she saw first-hand agricultural research being put into practice. "We learnt what research is taking place, the opportunities involved -- and how science relates to agriculture," says the Albany Senior High School student. It was work, she says, that has an impact in the real world. "I saw research into pastures and crops and there was one pasture that stayed green during drought-stricken months," she says. "That was amazing and it hit home that agriculture is probably the most important industry in the world." Now at the end of Year 12, Brydie has agricultural science as her first university preference. "A bit different from acting," she says. But her change of mind was vindicated by her winning the new PICSE-Dow AgroSciences Student Travel Award for the year's most outstanding PICSE scholarship student from across its 10 mostly university-based activity centres. PICSE national director David Russell explains that from the hundreds of students who took part, three were shortlisted for the award based on their passion for food security, communication skills and leadership potential. "We got outstanding reports from the scientists Brydie worked with and in terms of her communication skills and her vision for the future this award could help take her to the next step," he says. PICSE is supported by several government, industry and educational institutions led by the federal Department of Education, Employment and Workplace Relations and for nearly a decade by the GRDC. The GRDC also provides funding for PICSE's national travel scholarship for students to experience agricultural challenges facing different parts of Australia through its networks of activity centres and it was on this model that the new international travel award was based. The award will allow Brydie to travel to New Zealand in January to the Dow AgroSciences Global Discovery Research Station near New Plymouth. Fungicides, herbicides and insecticides are researched there and scientists are characterising novel molecule activity on a range of targets. Dow AgroSciences Australia and New Zealand research and development leader Matt Cahill says Brydie will help the scientists compare different molecules for their activity levels. "So it's a slightly different flavour of agricultural research for a student like Brydie," he says. Brydie says she is excited about witnessing overseas research and seeing the types of jobs that are available in agricultural research. Dr Cahill says it is important for the future to attract the brightest students to agricultural research. This is why Dow AgroSciences has recently doubled its funding to PICSE for three years, extending its support from one to four of PICSE's activity centres and sponsoring the new student award, as well as a new Science Education Officer (SEO) Professional Development Award. Associate Professor Russell says such awards create additional interest and demand among students at the 'pointy end' of the program. The SEO award recognises the work of science teachers based at PICSE's activity centres who liaise with industry and secondary schools and oversee the scholarship program. This involves a 'camp' at an activity centre for 20 to 25 students and an individual industry placement. This year's inaugural award went to Sue Lanham, who has guided growth at the University of the Sunshine Coast Activity Centre from one part-timer, herself, to three full-time staff in just three years. □ GRDC Research Code UT00019 More information: Matt Cahill, 02 9776 3409, firstname.lastname@example.org; Associate Professor David Russell, 03 6430 4935, email@example.com; www.picse.net; www.grdc.com.au/UT00019 n Cropping research in the Mungindi district on the Queensland/NSW border was ramped up over the recent winter crop season with the establishment of canola, nitrogen and plant population trials on Andrew Earle's property, 'Bullawarrie'. Stuart Pilcher, a St George-based extension agronomist with the Queensland Department of Employment, Economic Development and Innovation (DEEDI), says the trials have been seeking viable rotation crop options and crop data specific to the north-west NSW and south-west Queensland crop-production areas. Mr Pilcher says there were considerable time and cost savings and logistical benefits from locating the trials at one site. The GRDC has thrown its funding support behind the trials, following a regional visit by the GRDC Northern Panel last year. The GRDC is also supporting new National Variety Trials (NVT) at 'Bullawarrie' this season. Mr Pilcher said two canola variety trials were planted in May to provide yield and quality data for different varieties. "The trials are the first activities in a new DEEDI project funded by the GRDC to evaluate the potential for canola, juncea canola and mustards as rotational crops for north-west NSW and south-west Queensland," he says. "This project will investigate a range of issues relating to brassica crops including planting time, varietal performance and impact on pests and diseases. "It will also investigate the impact these crops may have on grain yield of following wheat crops in a rotation." Education / Crop rotations NOVEMBER -- DECEMBER 2011 GROUND COVER 39 Dow AgroScience's Matt Cahill with Albany Senior High School student Brydie Creagh and her student travel award. AWARDS AWAKEN STUDENTS TO HIGH-TECH AGRICULTURE seed when grazing," Mr Mann said. Jon Bennett, technical sales representative CropCare, said he benefited from the face-to-face interaction with researchers and networking with other people involved in grains production. The Sustainable Grain Production course is intended to provide specialist training in modern grain production. Funded by the GRDC, the course offers agricultural advisers, agronomists, researchers, grain traders, agricultural teachers and growers the opportunity to gain, update and upgrade formal agricultural qualifications. The course covers the background and principles in four core areas: grains production, crop protection, grains and environment, and grains industry systems. new fungicides and helping breeders release more resistant varieties, we hope to have the disease under control in the next three years." In addition to the research benefits, Professor Oliver says the Mildew Mania project is engaging students in agricultural science -- a career he believes has an image problem. "The general media is portraying a predominantly negative picture of agriculture and agricultural science is seen as remote, old fashioned and environmentally challenged, whereas it's actually feeding people and is scientifically advanced." He says schools need to teach students adequate science to an advanced level so that by university they can then be trained (for example in crop protection). But currently students can drop science at an early age, which limits their later interest -- at a time when Australia is not producing enough agricultural scientists to meet its needs. "This mildew experiment is real for students. At primary school level we are encouraging students to experience science as an investigative process; to grow, look after and observe the plants. Secondary students are being introduced to the concepts of plant disease, genetic resistance, fungicide control and fungicide resistance." Burrendah Primary School teacher Sherryl Crouch says her Year 7 students are enthusiastic about being involved in research that could increase the security of WA's grain crops and reduce fungicide use. "The attraction is that this is real science; they're manually checking pots on a daily basis as part of an authentic investigation," she says. "I try to get students interested in what's going on in the world, to value what they're learning. Mildew Mania provides a valuable opportunity for students to do relevant experiments that will have a real impact." Professor Oliver is hoping to establish a network of schools through Curtin University's Science Outreach program to provide long-term data about the distribution of disease pathogens. Science Outreach coordinator Emma Donnelly says Mildew Mania illustrates what the Science Outreach program stands for: the expansion of awareness of science and to demonstrate its importance, capturing the interest of prospective students along the way. "We're not trying to sell anything except science; it's about pulling down the barriers and making science more accessible," Ms Donnelly says. "It's also a great forum for getting scientists out into the public domain." □ GRDC Research Code CUR00010 More information: Richard Oliver, 08 9266 7872, firstname.lastname@example.org; Emma Donnelly, 08 9266 1021, email@example.com or scienceoutreach@ curtin.edu.au; for more on the Mildew Mania project see http://science.curtin.edu.au/outreach/citizen- science.cfm; www.grdc.com.au/CUR00010 Students who already have a university degree and who complete all four units will be awarded a Graduate Certificate in Rural Science (Sustainable Production). This can be converted to a Master of Agriculture with the successful completion of four additional units. Students without a university qualification can study an additional four units in topics including agronomy, soils, precision agriculture and consulting for a Diploma in Agriculture. □ GRDC Research Code UNE00015 More information: Craig Birchall, lecturer, UNE School of Environmental and Rural Science 02 6773 2721; Sustainable Grain Production course, www.une.edu.au/ grainproduction; www.grdc.com.au/UNE00015 "I SAW RESEARCH INTO PASTURES AND CROPS AND THERE WAS ONE PASTURE THAT STAYED GREEN DURING DROUGHT- STRICKEN MONTHS. THAT WAS AMAZING AND IT HIT HOME THAT AGRICULTURE IS PROBABLY THE MOST IMPORTANT INDUSTRY IN THE WORLD." -- BRYDIE CREAGH Also underway are GRDC-supported trials as part of the National Adaptation and Mitigation Initiative Project (NAMI). "This is a climate change project engaging primary producers and their advisers through on-farm trials and demonstrations to adapt mixed-farming systems to changed climate conditions," Mr Pilcher says. "It is about road-testing climate change adaptation strategies with the tools we currently have at our disposal to reduce risk and maximise profitability. "The purpose is to demonstrate and test a range of available cropping decision-support tools, such as computer crop simulation models, nitrogen products and application technologies, to test and demonstrate nitrogen management options in winter cereals. "We will also examine the economics, risk and practicality of different options." The NVT trials are testing early and main season plantings of wheat varieties and a single planting of chickpea varieties. □ More information: Stuart Pilcher, DEEDI, 07 4620 8122 Trials seek new rotation options Andrew Earle (second from left) is hosting GRDC- supported trials in the Mungindi district.
Ground Cover 096 January-February 2012 - North
Ground Cover 094 September-October 2011 - North