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Diverse projects recieve new Government funding

29 August

Diverse projects aimed at boosting agricultural productivity and ensuring more effective pest control are among those that have received significant new Government funding.

Landcare Research scientists have secured funding of $14 million in the Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employments 2013 science investment round for Biological Industries and the Environment.

In the Environment sector Landcare Research secured $5.1m in projects around smarter natural resource management and developing trustworthy biodiversity measures. In the Biological sector the Crown Research Institute secured a total of $9.4m for the projects we lead around maximising the value of irrigation and the ‘Trojan Female Technique’ of pest control.

Maximising the value of irrigation

Researcher Carolyn Hedley will lead a project aimed at enhancing the efficiency of irrigation systems which will mean maximising the efficiency of how we apply water and in doing so achieve economic and environmental benefits. The six year project is in collaboration with Plant & Food Research, Foundation for Arable Research, Massey University and Lincoln AgriTech.

Dr Hedley has spent much time developing the idea of variable rate irrigation where the amount of water applied to a paddock is determined by the type of soil and its specific requirements for water.

New methods for interpreting data into high-resolution soil maps and methods for linking these data to software tools for irrigation management will be developed while crop-focused research will develop new methods to forecast irrigation requirements accurately in specific areas of paddocks that can then be scaled to wider on-farm outcomes.

This work will determine the best options for irrigation hardware, advanced scheduling and control systems that ensure water is applied where, when, and in the amount needed. It will also provide effective audited self-management systems that provide accurate estimates of nitrogen leaching under irrigation and recommendation and demonstration of soil, crop and irrigation management to improve retention of water for plant use in soils.

The Trojan Female Technique

Landcare Research will collaborate with the University of Otago, Monash University (Australia) and the Agribusiness Group and Department of Primary Industries (Victoria, Australia) on a novel approach for specific, persistent, non-lethal and non-GMO pest control using a unique system called the ‘Trojan Female Technique’ or TFT.

Researcher Dan Tompkins says TFT works quite simply.

“Naturally occurring mutations that cause male infertility have been identified in maternally inherited DNA. They have little or no impact on females, and hence are minimally or not selected against. While these mutations have only been identified in model systems such as fruit flies and mice, they are likely to be widespread in nature.”

The researchers aim to harness these mutations to develop a widely applicable capability for pest control, through the release of Trojan females carrying the mutations.

The TFT could provide effective control at greatly reduced effort and cost and would be widely applicable - from possums, rabbits, stoats and rats, to mites, aphids, moths and weevils and could reduce current pest impacts (and associated management costs) as well as combat new pest incursions. Once developed, TFT application to new species would be inexpensive.

The TFT would be highly complementary to and most effective when combined with conventional pest control, Dr Tompkins says.

Biodiversity measures

In another project, researchers will develop robust processes for building credible, reliable and repeatable biodiversity metrics – or indicators – that allow for meaningful reporting to local communities and national and international forums.

The processes will be applicable to a range of environmental metrics and their use will support New Zealand in efforts to maintain and grow our $25.4 billion agricultural-export and $5.8 billion tourism industries, meet national and international reporting obligations, identify at-risk biodiversity components and facilitate their management and finally.

Researcher Catriona MacLeod says actively involving stakeholders in the design process for biodiversity metrics will ensure communication strategies for reporting that are useful, trusted and clearly understood.

“Applying robust and harmonised processes for aggregating and scaling metrics will enable reporting that is comparable from local to national scales, reflects different biodiversity values and preferences, and is fit-for-purpose such as to track NZ’s biodiversity status, support and enhance branding campaigns, environmental credentials and market access; and demonstrate the value of partnerships.”

Trust in biodiversity metrics will be built by tailoring them, and associated communication strategies, to meet specific stakeholder goals and values.

Smarter natural resource management

Another 6 year research project is designed to enable better resource management by mainstreaming biodiversity and ecosystem services (ES) in decision-making, through design of a

process to understand the flow of ES from biodiversity and to assess impacts of policy and practices on biodiversity and the subsequent flow of ES from landscapes.

Ecosystem services include products like clean drinking water and processes such as the decomposition of waste that are supplied by ecosystems. Current resource management tends to focus on the ES that have direct economic benefits, or target single issues of concern or greatest public profile.

Researcher Suzie Greenhalgh says the project will provide an alternative approach to resource management decision-making that recognises the importance of biodiversity and considering the multiple ES that underpin green growth and market credentials, protect our investments in primary production and enhance our quality of life.

Managing ecosystems well will boost the productivity and value of NZ’s environment-based industries. However, development and intensification of land use often results in degradation of biodiversity and many ecosystem services (ES).


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