Otago University has launched a research arm it hopes will influence the future of agriculture, Farmers Weekly reports in its June 11 issue.
This doesn’t seem to be hot-off-the-press news but it escaped AgScience’s attention when it was reported on the Farmers Weekly website in February:
The report on the web and the report in the newspaper are the same, noting that Ag@Otago has been established to tap in to the university’s expertise by aiming to improve productivity and use science and technology to develop sustainable and profitable management systems that add value to primary industries.
Unit director Professor Frank Griffin said Ag@Otago was one of 15 specific research themes at the university, each supported by its own funding and designed to aggregate skills of researchers and scientists.
An estimated 70 university researchers could contribute but Professor Griffin said the unit’s approach to developing research programmes would differ.
They would seek input from a variety of farmers on what the sector’s future looked like, from low density, low input operators through to those with intensive operations and everything in between.
Those ideas would be compiled and after further input from farmers, a research programme supporting the goals would be developed.
Professor Griffin said:
“The challenge of the food industry is to go from the $6 a kilogram commodity to a $60 branded product targeted at the cuisine sector, not just trying to feed people.
“If we stay as commodity producers, it is a race to the bottom.”
But besides affirming the standard nutritional and medicinal information they seek, consumers want messages supported by science to assure them the food they are paying a premium for is sustainably produced and whether it has a low carbon footprint, little impact on water and comes from well-cared-for, grass-fed animals.
Griffin is a microbiologist who worked for many years studying tuberculosis in deer and Johne’s disease in cattle, deer and sheep.
More recently he was the director of Disease Research.
The Farmers Weekly report goes on:
Griffin said Otago University researchers offer a different skill set that has been applied to humans but is equally applicable to primary production.
It includes microbiology, neuroendocrinology, toxicology, reproduction, nutrition, food science, statistics, plant development, genomics and pathogens.
The university has also introduced an applied science in agriculture degree. Griffin said this is an extension of the agribusiness course being offered for NCEA in secondary schools and blends business, technology and environmental science.