Students' research showcased

Cate RocchiThe West Australian

Almost 100 agricultural students, academics and supporters heard some inspiring ideas and research programs at the Young Professionals in Agriculture Forum in Perth recently.

Held at the CSIRO Centre for Environment and Life Sciences, seven finalists presented the results of their varied subjects, including wheat growing, jarrah forest rehabilitation, the impact of supplements on sheep grazing, research in preventing dark cutting in meat and consumer preference for high-welfare reared chooks.

The winner was Benita Moir, who is studying agricultural science at The University of Western Australia.

She found, by using supplementary feed, sheep grazing could be dispersed more evenly and there was evidence of more uniform grazing distribution throughout the crop.

Ms Moir said crop grazing had gathered renewed interest among mixed crop and livestock farmers in lower to medium rainfall areas of the State, because it provided good-quality feed for sheep during late autumn and early winter.

"However, grazing crops in lower rainfall areas can be associated with the risk of uneven or patchy grazing," she said. "This can be attributed to the large paddock sizes (associated with lower rainfall areas) and the corresponding low stocking rates.

"This then increases the risk of crop yield penalty in those areas of the crop, which are overused by the sheep."

Her experiment was conducted in Tammin in June and July last year.

Second prize was awarded to Joshua Barton for his work on the effect of genetic selection for lean meat yield breeding values.

Sheree Walters took third prize for research on the impact of phosphorus application and the long-term restoration of the jarrah forest. That forest spreads from Gingin to Albany.

Ms Walters found the levels of phosphorus, applied when forests were replanted after being cleared for bauxite mining, still remain elevated 20 years later.

She said evidence showed phosphorus continued to influence vegetation.

Areas which had phosphorus added did not generate the variety of plant species, decades after, as areas that had not had phosphorus.

There was a 20 per cent decline in species richness in forest that had been cleared for mining, then replanted with phosphorus applied.

Best presentation winner was Claire Payne, who spoke on the impact of dietary urea on insulin and adrenaline regulation of glucose metabolism in sheep.

Ms Payne, a graduate of Animal Science at Murdoch University, completed her honours in meat science. She competed in the Intercollegiate Meat Judging Association competition in 2012 and found a passion for meat science.

This project sought to understand how to decrease the risk of dark cutting in meat.

"Dark cutting is a massive economic cost to the industry," Ms Payne said. She said it damaged the appearance of the meat and was caused by high PH levels.

"In general, if consumers see dark meat on the shelf, they are not going to buy it," she said.

Another presenter Jacinta Patterson, of Gnowangerup, spoke about consumer preferences for the welfare-friendly production of broilers or meat chickens in WA.

"From the results, it is clear consumers do seem to care but they don't really know much about how a chicken is actually treated in WA," she said.

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