Budget hopes?

Our Prime Minister stated recently that this year’s Budget “will be driving a focus on Skills, Science and Infrastructure investment to grow our economy and make it more secure.” Each of those three areas would receive extra support in the Budget.
“We know from looking at advanced economies like Germany, South Korea, Japan and Singapore that the best investments you can make in the future of your economy are in science, skills and infrastructure,” Mr Hipkins said. “So much else flows from there”.
He further said that investment in science, strong and resilient infrastructure and a skilled workforce would support every area of the economy – agriculture, manufacturing, tourism, SMEs – and boost growth and productivity.
Budget 2023 will be delivered on Thursday 18 May, so we don’t have long to wait to see by how much this year’s $1.6b spend on science and innovation will be increased.
But in its report on Mr Hipkins’ speech, Newsroom noted that national research priorities will direct how the money is used. The White Paper ‘Te Ara Paerangi’ published in December promises a comprehensive restructure of the way Vote Science is distributed. As with the previous National Science Challenges, there is a significant risk that the lure of investing in previously-underfunded areas (such as social science) will divert funding still required to underpin our primary sector as it works to become more climate-resilient and sustainable. And our Universities and CRIs are in a fragile state right now, with significant staffing reductions regularly hitting the headlines.
Newsroom noted that Mr Hipkins alluded only briefly to more spending on science at his pre-Budget speech, delivered to business leaders in Auckland last month. Science, for him, was the latest evidence base of what works and what doesn’t work and what can be done better in the future, Mr Hipkins responded.
“It’s about using evidence to inform our decision-making, whether that’s decision-making about bringing new products to market, advances in health science, and so on,” he said.
“We actually need to lift our game as a country when it comes to our investment in R&D, if we want to stay at the cutting edge of a very, very globally competitive environment.”
So will this promised focus on skills, science and infrastructure bring relief to those engaged in primary sector research? Given the evident strain in our health, education and welfare sectors, and the cost of recovery from Cyclone Gabrielle, I find it hard to be hopeful for a significant increase.

Climate Change

NZIAHS members – no matter whether they are directly involved in relevant research – should check out what the Climate Change Commission has to say in its recently released report, 2023 Draft advice to inform the strategic direction of the Government’s second emissions reduction plan.
A chapter on agriculture says farmers have already made progress in reducing emissions, but further changes will be needed if we are to meet the biogenic methane target. There is an opportunity for New Zealand’s agriculture sector to be global leaders in combatting climate change. With new technologies, some land-use diversification, and on-farm efficiency increases, the sector could achieve the target while limiting impacts on agricultural production.
Safe food and animal welfare remain priority considerations, the report says. New technologies will need to reduce on-farm emissions whilst maintaining food safety standards. These technologies are being developed all over the world. Pricing emissions will incentivise more technologies, faster development, and greater uptake.
The report also says streamlining the approval process for new emissions reduction technologies could help New Zealand to achieve its methane targets faster while limiting reductions in agricultural production. “An equitable transition will need to consider the impacts of policy implementation on rural communities.”
The agricultural landscape is continuously evolving, the report says. This will be accelerated by the implementation of environmental and climate policies. “It will be crucial to understand how different regions or communities are impacted by these and any future resulting land-use change.”

Honours dissertation

Abbey Dowd, the recipient of the 2022 NZIAHS Lincoln University Leading Student Award, embarked on her Honours study throughout the final year of her Bachelor of Agricultural science degree. Her honours dissertation is titled An Investigation of Red Deer Milk in New Zealand and the Implications for Future Production.
The study involved taking samples of red deer milk in mid- and late-lactation and analysing them in the Lincoln University labs. Abbey worked in close partnership with Professor Jon Hickford, driven by her passion for both the deer and dairy industry and a desire to complete research in a relatively unknown field.
As a new industry, little is known about how deer milk composition may change and vary throughout seasons and within herds, Abbey says. Her study aimed to characterise the fatty acid (FA) profile of red deer milk from hinds grazing lucerne.
New Zealand deer milk is already winning awards as a niche food product. Further investigation into the FA profiles of deer milk, including study of deer grazing different pastures and early lactation studies, would provide further insight and allow confirmation of her study’s findings.

Read her dissertation HERE


Since we distributed our previous newsletter, Plant & Food Research has announced the appointment of Mark Piper as its chief executive. He took up his new job on 1 May, taking over from David Hughes, who had been CEO since 2018.
Mark joins Plant & Food Research from Fonterra Cooperative Group, where he spent the last five years as Director Research & Development, Category Marketing & Strategy, leading a team of around 400 staff. I wish him well with his latest career move.

More Congratulations . . .

Congratulations to the 34 new Fellows and Honorary Fellows elected to the Academy of the Royal Society Te Apārangi for their distinction in research and advancement of science, technology or the humanities.
Among them are:

  • Professor Andrew Allan, from Plant & Food Research and the University of Auckland. While contributing to the understanding of the metabolic control of pigmentation pathways, the genes he has described are used as markers in breeding apples, kiwifruit and other crops. Some thousands of seedlings continue to be screened using these markers.
    Mr Murray Close, from the Institute of Environmental Science and Research Ltd (ESR). He has led pioneering research into groundwater contamination over the last 44 years, advancing groundwater management practices for the regional councils by informing them about groundwater systems and processes.
  • Professor Dorian Garrick, AL Rae Centre of Genetics and Breeding, Massey University. He has made major research contributions to the theory and application of genetic evaluation for animal breeding across a range of species: sheep, beef cattle, dairy cattle, pigs, poultry, and occasionally deer, horses and dogs. He has also engaged significantly with quantitative issues of plant improvement.
    Professor Brett Robinson, University of Canterbury. His research into fluxes of the chemical elements in the soil – water – plant continuum has had an impact, in New Zealand and overseas, on the health of food crops, the quality of agricultural soils and the management of contaminated sites.
  • Professor Qiao Wang, Massey University. Qiao Wang has made outstanding contributions to insect science and plant protection. His expertise has made major contributions to quarantine pest regulation for the European Union and provided scientific evidence for a World Trade Organization recommendation on international market access.
  • The new Honorary Fellows include Professor Murray Grant, from the University of Warwick. He is internationally recognised for his seminal contributions in the field of molecular plant pathology and he has made landmark discoveries on the molecular and hormonal mechanisms that underlie plant disease and host defence.

Annual NZIAHS awards

Nominations and applications are being called for NZIAHS’s array of annual awards.
The winners will be announced at the Plant Science Central Conference dinner on Wednesday 5 July 2023
The Jubilee Medal, our premier award, is awarded to a member to recognise an outstanding contribution to primary resource science.
The AGMARDT Technology Transfer Award has been renamed the AGMARDT Knowledge & Technology Transfer Award and now has a monetary value of $3,450 (incl GST).
The full list of our awards can be found HERE.


Plant Science Central Conference
4-6 July 2023
Massey University, Palmerston North

Extension to abstract submission deadline: we will be happy to receive your abstracts until Fri 12 May. We expect to confirm acceptance as oral or poster presentations by Fri 26 May.

Some keynote confirmations:
Kumar Vetharaniam, climate-resilient horticulture
Nick Roberts, forage biotechnology
Erika Varkonyi-Gasic, Floral development

Likely themed sessions:
Forage biotechnology
Climate resilient agriculture and horticulture
Germplasm conservation
Novel for food
Floral development and timing
Fruit crop physiology
Plant stress resilience mechanisms
Agriculture and Horticulture for development

And as always, papers on any aspect of plant science are most welcome.
Please note that this is an in-person conference.

For more information contact the NZIAHS Secretariat