Young agriculture professionals awarded

Headshot of Bob Garnant
Bob GarnantThe West Australian
UWA graduate Kimberley Adams was awarded top honours for 2014.
Camera IconUWA graduate Kimberley Adams was awarded top honours for 2014. Credit: Countryman

University academics packed the house at the Young Professionals in Agriculture Forum held last week at CSIRO's Centre for Environmental and Life Sciences auditorium in Floreat.

Co-ordinator Joe Steer said he was overwhelmed by the interest as the crowd swelled to a record 95, all anticipating the diverse research topics of the six graduate finalists.

Organised by the WA Division of Ag Institute Australia, immediate past president Bruce Robinson welcomed four agricultural campuses and told the finalists to "be bold and enjoy the experience".

University of WA graduate Kimberley Adams, whose research was to determine if stubble had an effect on soil water repellence, was awarded top honours for 2014.

In taking out the first prize, the 22-year-old Landmark agronomist may have just twitched the productive ear of her farming father, Mark Adams, of Yaralla Pastoral, Mt Barker, after years of trying.

She said she was surprised with the win and was looking forward to representing WA at the national forum later in the year.

"My research is very relevant in the South-West where 38 per cent of all agricultural land incurs uneven wetting-up of the soil," Kimberley said.

"This can cause staggered germination and delayed seeding."

Kimberley said the challenge also hit home, where parents Mark and Heather plant an annual 3500 hectares of crop, half to mostly barley and some wheat, the balance to canola.

With more than 30 years of no- till, using discs with full stubble retention, the couple were fully supportive of Kimberley's work on the effects of different stubble management options on wetting soils.

Kimberley said she was very passionate about having some influence on the family farm, but, she admitted "most farmers in their 50s pretty much know it all".

Out to prove otherwise, she set up a seven-month trial at Yaralla to discover the results of stubble retention and the impact on soil water repellence in sandy soils.

Mark Adams freely admitted he was anxious to know the results of his daughter's findings.

"Southern coastal farmers are having continual issues with water repellent soils," he said.

Mr Adams said after many years of toiling the soil "we become wary of change and innovation which is why young people, like Kimberley, are so important for the future of agriculture".

Knowing this, Kimberley made sure her experimental design covered all the bases, including stubble treatments on standard, double, horizontal and burnt samples.

The methodology involved eight measurements including stubble biomass, soil carbon content, soil water repellence, soil water content, emergence counts and various others.

With the exceptional 2013 season, which began with a 67mm of rainfall at Yaralla in March, Kimberley's work was met with challenges.

The results she tabled at the forum showed no significant difference or change in soil water repellence under any treatments or in plant emergence counts.

The outcome did, however, find that poor crop performance under double stubble was not related to soil water repellence or soil water content.

Kimberely deducted that higher levels of stubble retention have no short-term effect on soil water repellence but can reduce canola crop growth.

"Further research was needed to determine the long-term effects of stubble residues," she said.

Questions followed her presentation, in which she concurred that different outcomes could arise in wheat, barley or lupin trials.

The second place prize was awarded to UWA graduate and WANTFA carbon farming project officer Nikki Dumbrell, who spoke on her research findings on farmers' willingness to adopt carbon farming practices.

"Carbon sequestration is storing CO2 in soil or vegetation which can aid in abating climate change," she said.

She said 54 per cent of the farmers surveyed believed climate change was occurring and think human activities are at least partly responsible.

"However, only 29 per cent of those surveyed thought carbon sequestration was an appropriate way to reduce Australia's greenhouse gas emissions," she said.

She said in mixed farming and cropping-only systems, farmers' preference was retaining stubble, from all the survey selections, as best practice adoption.

"Farmers want to adopt practices that are easy to implement, are profitable and could potentially deliver co-benefits related to soil health," Nikki said.

Other top winning presentations were awarded to UWA graduate Georgia Pugh and Department of Agriculture and Food WA (DAFWA) development officer Liam Ryan.

Georgia's research on dark-cutting beef, found it was a massive cost to the Australian industry ($38 million) and needed to be minimised to reduce financial losses and abide by animal welfare concerns.

"Consumers need to have a good experience when purchasing beef, they prefer cherry-red colour," she said.

She concluded that it was best to keep beef animal groups divided as per gender, marketing them at a young age and maintain stress levels in regards to nutrition and transport.

Liam Ryan, who was judged as having the best presentation, opened the door to new research platforms to explore the factors affecting plant turgor (the maintenance of well-hydrated leaves).

Using probes, Liam monitored the changes in 10 wheat varieties from full turgor to a nearly turgoless state, measuring patch pressure (hydration levels) in drought- sensitive and tolerant genotypes.

In summary, the research helped to reveal how different varieties respond to the onset of drought stress, but he said further studies needed to determine how much confidence can be applied to the interpretation of patch pressure profiles and their relationship to various physiological parameters.

Other finalists included Thinza Vindevoghel and Hannipoula Olsen.

DAFWA grains industry executive director Mark Sweetingham said the forum, supported by DAFWA, aimed to attract promising young professionals to the sector by promoting diverse careers.

"The exceptional 2013 season reminded us why we are all in agriculture, WA is showing the way," he said.

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