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Thursday, 14 June 2018 10:51

Ag science whiz kids gonged

Australia’s top young scientists each received the prestigious ICM Agrifood Award at the ATSE Innovation Dinner held in Melbourne on Wednesday night, recognising their contribution to the Australian agriculture and food sector. 
Dr Angela Van de Wouw and Dr Shu Kee Lam each received the Award, which was presented by Professor Lindsay Falvey from the University of Melbourne’s Faculty of Veterinary and Agricultural Sciences on behalf of Mr Doug Shears.
“It is wonderful to see two very high calibre young scientists recognised and lauded for the wonderful research and its impact in industry,” Professor Falvey said.
“The insights delivered by their research has already led to significant practical on-farm and industry outcomes for the benefit the broader Australian agrifood industry. 
Presented by the Australian Academy of Technology and Engineering (ATSE), one of the four Learned Academies of Australia that house the country’s top brains, the ICM Agrifood Awards is sponsored by ICM Agribusiness. The early-career Award is presented annually to the two most outstanding young Australian scientists or technologists, one male and one female, for their contribution to and achievement in a field critical to continued improvement of the overall Australian food sector.
“Initiated by a group of retired agricultural scientists, the Old Agriculture Fellows [oafs.live], the selection of winners for the Award is a scientifically rigorous and robust process, with some of Australia’s leading scientists and research elders on the selection panel. 
“We received a veritable heap of applications, showing the strength and depth of research and development being undertaken in this important sector.
“Being able to recognise the efforts of this year’s Award recipients is an absolute pleasure and a reassurance that the future of food and Australia is in good hands.”

Award recipient Dr Angela Van de Wouw

Dr Angela Van de Wouw is a senior research fellow at the University of Melbourne’s School of Biosciences. She has published more than 36 papers and is internationally recognised as a leading expert on canola blackleg disease.
Blackleg is a fungus that almost wiped out the Australian canola industry in the 1970s. 
“Blackleg is one of the most severe canola diseases in Australia,” Dr Van de Wouw explained.
“We take a multidisciplinary approach to fighting this disease, considering genetic solutions whereby we identify resistant canola genes for breeding into improved crop varieties, and we have also developed molecular tests that can predict outbreaks.”
By taking a ‘genome to paddock’ approach, she helps prevent crop losses worth many millions of dollars every year – in an industry worth $2.5 billion to Australia, the potential benefits of her integrated technology is measured in hundreds of billions of dollars per year. 
“We work closely with breeders, researchers and the broader industry to make sure growers are armed with effective management options to protect their canola crops,” she said.
“It is important that our research delivers new insights and practical solutions to help growers control this devastating disease.”
Dr Van de Wouw’s research also played a critical role in overcoming Chinese trade restrictions, addressing fears of blackleg contamination.
“It is an honour to receive such a prestigious Award. To be recognised for my research, and the impact it is having on helping growers protect the value of this important Australian crop.”

Award recipient Dr Shu Kee Lam

Dr Shu Kee (Raymond) Lam is a research fellow at the School of Agriculture and Food at the University of Melbourne. His work addresses how future climate conditions, with elevated carbon dioxide levels, will impact soil health and the key soil-plant processed that control nitrogen supply and crop utilisation. 
“We have found that much more nitrogen will be required to sustain crop yield and protein content in high carbon dioxide environments, and as we know, the best way to achieve this is to use legumes to biologically fix nitrogen. But the gains are being lost,” Dr Lam said. 
“Depending on your soil type, applying fertilisers can undermine the beneficial effects of nitrification inhibitors, leading to increased loss of nitrogen via ammonia volatility.”
Dr Lam uses ‘big data’ – complex integrated computer modelling – to conduct meta-analysis of the effectiveness of various mitigation strategies for nitrogen loss. 
“Big data allows us to use extensive global datasets from other scientific research, industry reports and statistics for insights into novel ways to improved farm management practices.
“From this we find that we can expect to reduce fertiliser applications, increase yields and reduce greenhouse gas emissions. It is a win-win-win.”
Dr Lam has received multiple scientific and industry awards, and his recent paper in Global Change Biologywas selected by the European Commission (Environment) to inform 20,000 agricultural policy makers. 
His work also includes looking at the capacity for Australian farmland to sequester carbon where he has found that past figures may need revision, and has demonstrated that nitrogen use efficiency in Australian vegetable farms may be only 20 percent of what is possible. 
“It is so pleasing to receive this ICM Agrifood Award; that an august body such as the Academy of Technological Sciences has recognised the value and impact of my research. 
“It is gratifying to know that the insights it delivers can help improve farming practices and the efficient production of food in a changing climate.”

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