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Young trailblazers take out agronomy award

by Neil Lyon, 29 September 2017

TWO rising agricultural stars from Tasmania and NSW have been presented with the 2017 Agronomy Australia Young Agronomist Award at the 18th Australian Agronomy Conference in Ballarat, Victoria, this week.

Matthew Harrison

Tasmanian Institute of Agriculture (TIA) senior research fellow, Dr Matthew Harrison, Burnie, and NSW Department of Primary Industries (DPI) research agronomist, Dr Felicity Harris, Wagga Wagga, received the awards for their contribution to agricultural research.

The awards recognise an agronomist aged 36 or under for their record of publications, supervision of PhD candidates, research funding, service to the industry and research impact.

Dr Harrison received his award in recognition of an outstanding scientific research and publication record.

“Over the past five years at TIA, I have worked on systems modelling research across several fields including crop genetics, climate science, soil microbiology, plant physiology and livestock production,” he said.

“For example, weight gain of prime lambs, greenhouse gas emissions from the soil in dairy farming systems, impacts of climate change on beef farming systems and incorporating new genes into barley and wheat genotypes and how that might affect grain yield.

“Before that I completed post-doctoral fellowships at the Institute National de la Recherche Agronomique in Montpellier in France and at CSIRO in Canberra, as well as working as a research scientist at other institutions in Australia and internationally.”

Recently, Dr Harrison was part of a collaborative research team that developed an online framework known as the Pasture Predictor, a free online tool and mobile app to help Tasmanian farmers predict pasture growth to maximise productivity.

The Pasture Predictor was developed in collaboration with Sense-T, CSIRO and Dairy Australia.

“The Pasture Predictor uses real-time climate data and nine-month weather forecasts to predict pasture growth and leaf appearance rates, estimate optimal nitrogen application and support decision-making about livestock rotations,” Dr Harrison said.

Fellow recipient, Dr Harris, is the lead researcher for cereal agronomy and physiology projects under the NSW DPI and Grains Research and Development Corporation (GRDC) Bilateral investment.

Felicity Harris

DPI group director plant systems Dr Alison Bowman said Dr Harris possessed diverse skills in crop physiology, general agronomy, communication with farmers and advisers, and was developing skills in complex statistical analysis, making a significant impact to the productivity of Australian agriculture.

“Dr Harris’s current research focus is about the interaction of growth and development of dryland cereals – using management to adjust the timing of crop development to maximise yield in a variable climate,” she said.

“Her most original contribution to research has been to identify a genetic source of vigorous growth characteristics in wheat, associated with 18 per cent faster growth.

“This finding will assist wheat breeders to produce varieties with a degree of vigour appropriate for various environments and farming systems.”

Dr Bowman said Dr Harris’s enthusiasm, knowledge and skills had brought a new focus to the cereal agronomy projects, with advisers and researchers getting the information they needed on phase development and its impact on grain yield.

“Her expertise and strong interest in frost and heat impact on phase development of cereals is the underlying science supporting the new cereal program in the Bilateral Agreement with the GRDC,” Dr Bowman said.

“Dr Harris has been very proactive through collaboration with other entities including CSIRO, Charles Sturt and Adelaide Universities. She has co-supervised two honours students at CSU and presented guest lectures and field walks for crop agronomy students.”

Sources: UTAS, NSW DPI

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