Sci­ence and peo­ple power

Key to fu­ture suc­cess for ag in­dus­try

Warwick Daily News - South West Queensland Rural Weekly - - News -

SCI­ENCE will play a key role when it comes to feed­ing the world and achiev­ing agri­cul­tural tar­gets like

$100 bil­lion in Aus­tralian farm gate out­puts by 2030, ac­cord­ing to Toowoomba based re­searcher Kris­ten Knight.

But the en­to­mol­o­gist, who also has a de­gree in psy­chol­ogy, knows what hap­pens un­der mi­cro­scopes in lab­o­ra­to­ries is not the only thing that is crit­i­cal to agri­cul­ture’s growth: the sec­tor needs peo­ple.

Dr Knight has been a leading re­searcher in Mon­santo’s Toowoomba based Re­search Cen­tre for the past 12 years. With Mon­santo be­ing ac­quired by the Ger­man com­pany Bayer this month, she shared her thoughts on what the fu­ture holds for Queens­land, Aus­tralian and global agri­cul­ture and who and what will in­flu­ence ag’s suc­cess into the fu­ture.

“Dis­cus­sion pa­pers, like the Na­tional Farm­ers’ Fed­er­a­tion’s Talk­ing 2030, have kicked off an im­por­tant con­ver­sa­tion about what’s next in terms of set­ting goals for agri­cul­ture that will make sure we meet world de­mand for food and fi­bre,” she said.

The Talk­ing 2030 dis­cus­sion pa­per, sup­ported by NFF and Tel­stra and pre­pared by KPMG, is firmly fo­cused on bring­ing bold, in­no­va­tive ideas from farm­ing, agribusi­ness and in­dus­try ex­perts to meet the goal of

$100b in Aus­tralian farm gate out­puts by 2030. The fig­ure trans­lates to growth of al­most

70 per cent in the next 12 years.

It was a lofty but achiev­able tar­get, said Dr Knight, who is cur­rently in the US for discussions on fu­ture tech­nolo­gies that might ap­ply to the Aus­tralian cot­ton in­dus­try.

She be­lieves the merger of the two multi­na­tion­als will have ben­e­fits for Aus­tralian farm­ers in terms of greater col­lab­o­ra­tion and in­vest­ment for sci­ence re­search and trans­la­tion to on-farm.

“But meet­ing the world’s fu­ture de­mand for food and fi­bre is go­ing to take all the col­lec­tive might of Aus­tralian and in­ter­na­tional sci­en­tists and farm­ers,” she said

“I be­lieve the key to suc­cess will be work­ing to­gether, across agri­cul­tural in­dus­tries and ge­ogra­phies, shar­ing knowl­edge and developments and en­cour­ag­ing the next gen­er­a­tion of re­searchers and farm­ers to get in­volved and em­brace in­no­va­tion.”

She said peo­ple power would be a crit­i­cal part of the equa­tion as sci­ence and agri­cul­ture worked to­gether to feed the world.

“It could be my back­ground in psy­chol­ogy but I am a staunch be­liever in the im­por­tance of bring­ing both the next gen­er­a­tion and ur­ban peo­ple along for the jour­ney as well,” Dr Knight said.

“I want peo­ple to get ex­cited about sci­ence and how it can change the world. We have fi­nite re­sources so to meet grow­ing global de­mand we have to work out how to do more, with what we have.”

She knows first hand the power of peo­ple when it comes to sci­en­tific discoveries. Her Toowoomba col­leagues con­sist of just five lab and field tech­ni­cians, along with a “gap year” in­tern, and she be­lieves a team ap­proach en­sures they un­der­stand and ap­pre­ci­ate the value of work they are do­ing for both Aus­tralian cot­ton grow­ers and farm­ers glob­ally.

“About a decade ago we ini­ti­ated a pro­gram in the Toowoomba lab that in­volved bring­ing on a young per­son, to work with us in the lab while they were on their gap year. It’s proved an in­valu­able ini­tia­tive in terms of con­nect­ing with young would-be sci­en­tists, nur­tur­ing tal­ent and en­cour­ag­ing com­mu­nity in­ter­est in what we do,” Dr Knight said.

“We also reg­u­larly run tours for pri­mary and sec­ondary school stu­dents from Toowoomba and Bris­bane, as part of our com­mit­ment to get­ting the next gen­er­a­tion ex­cited about sci­ence.”

Closer to home, she said see­ing their re­search in­creas­ing farm pro­duc­tiv­ity and chang­ing farm­ing prac­tices for the bet­ter was a ma­jor mo­ti­va­tion for her Toowoomba-based col­leagues.

Her team has played an in­stru­men­tal role in help­ing to de­velop the widely renowned Boll­gard tech­nol­ogy – cot­ton plants that pro­duce their own in­sec­ti­cide and are re­sis­tant to the main pests that feed on and de­stroy cot­ton.

The de­vel­op­ment of this ge­net­i­cally mod­i­fied cot­ton has had sig­nif­i­cant im­pli­ca­tions for the en­vi­ron­ment with its re­sis­tance to the cot­ton pest, mean­ing grow­ers are spray­ing their cot­ton up to 10–12 times less a sea­son. This means a huge de­cline in the amount of pes­ti­cide used, as well as trac­tor hours, which equates to a de­crease in car­bon emis­sions from the in­dus­try.

“We work closely with Mon­santo’s re­search farm near Narrabri in north­ern New South Wales and while our re­search has sig­nif­i­cant rel­e­vance to Aus­tralian cot­ton grow­ers, we are also part of a global team test­ing tech­nolo­gies for huge mar­kets like the United States.

“We can do this suc­cess­fully from a lab in re­gional Queens­land be­cause we have ta­lented peo­ple and the right equip­ment to do work that has rel­e­vance to the global ag in­dus­try. The work we do here in Toowoomba im­pacts what grow­ers are do­ing in cot­ton pad­docks at Goondi­windi as well as in Texas in the US.”

She said Mon­santo had also been able to use the Toowoomba lab for global re­search work due to Aus­tralia’s com­mit­ment to sci­en­tific pro­cesses.

“Aus­tralia has very ro­bust biose­cu­rity and quar­an­tine reg­u­la­tions that al­low us to bring ma­te­rial in from the US and other places to work on, then ex­port back to the mar­ket in which it will be com­mer­cialised,” Dr Knight said.

“These types of pro­to­cols re­ally show the gov­ern­ment’s sup­port for in­no­va­tion in sci­ence and this will con­trib­ute sig­nif­i­cantly to mak­ing new discoveries.”

❝ I want peo­ple to get ex­cited about sci­ence and how it can change the world.

— Dr Kris­ten Knight

PHOTO: CON­TRIB­UTED

VALU­ABLE WORK: Mosanto re­searcher Dr Kris­ten Knight.

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