Women embrace agri-scientist role

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How do you ensure trained people are readily available to take 7000 precision gas samples timed around seeding and rain events in excess of 10mm, on two farms 350km from the nearest research university?

Simple — you discover the hidden scientist in our farming women.

In addition to being the chief financial officers of their farm business, wives, mothers, beef feedlot co-managers and many other jobs, Sharon Hinck and Jill Fotheringhame are performing this detailed task on their farms at Hyden and Karlgarin.

The WA Lot Feeders' Association was a successful applicant for the Commonwealth Government Department of Agriculture's Action on the Ground round 2 program, securing funds for a research project to look at building soil carbon in cropping systems and study the impact on greenhouse gas emissions using cattle feedlot compost.

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The University of Western Australia is providing the science leadership, while Kerrigan Valley and Pederah Creek beef feedlots are hosting the trials, providing the compost and the technical labour.

The project will determine the benefits and impacts of applying compost to cropping systems.

The work takes place over three years on 15 quarter-hectare plots on each farm, where combinations of compost, dry manure and urea/compound fertilisers have been applied.

Project manager and consultant to WALFA Steve Jones of Bluesee said the project was an opportunity to get an on-ground understanding of the greenhouse gas issues connected to manure and compost.

"This is where the technical services of two great farming women have come to the fore," he said.

Every April/May of each trial year, it is a requirement of the project to undertake gas sampling for eight consecutive days after compost and manure application, and then conduct more testing after the first two major rain events.

Mr Jones said it was a technical process, but the two women had taken the project, and all the required training, in their stride.

The gas samples are collected in custom-made collection chambers, then injected into vacuum-sealed vials and shipped to the Queensland University of Technology, where the analysis is undertaken.

Mr Jones paid tribute to UWA's science team, which he said had designed a project that linked farming with science.

He said UWA had provided the gas sampling training to the women and was also performing all soil sampling and analysis work.

"But the real heroes of this trial are the two ladies who have agreed to become science technicians in the field," he said.

"The biggest challenge of designing this project was to find the science labour so far from Perth.

"However, we have demonstrated that with training, we can overcome that hurdle and generate a system that provides quality data collection for an important industry project."

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