Feature Stories

The latest advances in technology, science, engineering, environmental stewardship and business come together on the farm.


The latest advances in technology, science, engineering, environmental stewardship and business come together on the farm.

KickerThis is a kicker.

**_In 1964 the University of Waikato was founded on rolling farmland and orchards on the outskirts of Hamilton. More than 50 years later the original farm cowshed remains a permanent feature of the Hamilton campus; an enduring reminder of the University of Waikatos strong ties with agriculture_.**

Thoughts of farming might evoke images of gumboots and hard physical labour under the sun \- perhaps even the old stereotype brawn over brains. But take a closer look and its clear that the modern farming environment is anything but simple. The latest advances in technology, science, engineering, environmental stewardship and business come together on the farm, driving national and international success. Constant evolution is key to survival and growth and the University of Waikato has been a trusted partner for more than 50 years, helping Kiwi farmers to stay one step ahead while also exporting agricultural innovations around the world.

**_Better, safer crops_**

In the science lab, University of Waikato researchers are working to support and protect farmers livelihoods, identifying new ways to improve crop quality and address environmental threats. Postgraduate student Danielle Le Lievre is working to improve the taste of the new disease\-resistant Zespri kiwifruit variety \(known as SunGold\) by looking at how orchard conditions contribute to the gradual accumulation of flavour compounds from flowering to harvest.

Danielles project is part of a larger collaboration between the University, Plant & Food Research and Zespri that looks at how sugars, acids and starch are made as the SunGold fruit grows, providing a better understanding of how to grow the best\-tasting fruit. The results are already providing new information on how fruit growth responds to orchard management and the environment. Thats good news for growers, exporters and the Christmas pavlova.

University of Waikato Masters student Shannon Hunter is working to protect a much\-loved part of breakfasts, burgers and salads around the world, investigating ways to prevent a widespread avocado disease known as root rot. The 2017 recipient of the University of Waikatos $22,000 [New Zealand Agricultural Fieldays Sir Don Llewellyn Scholarship](http://www.waikato.ac.nz/scholarships/s/nz\-national\-agricultural\-fieldays\-sir\-don\-llewellyn\-scholarship) is investigating whether the pathogen that causes avocado root rot is developing resistance to the fungicide currently used to protect avocado trees. The phosphite fungicide used to manage root rot is widely used across all agricultural sectors for disease management. It is currently being tested for use in protecting kauri and pine, so resistance is a very real and urgent threat.

> Shannons results will not only be important for the vibrant and expanding avocado industry. They'll also be useful for understanding the threat of loss of control of several other _Phytophthora_ pathogens affecting the agricultural sector.

The NZ Avocado Industry Research Council and Scion are collaborating with Shannon on her research, which involves gathering samples from six avocado orchards in the Bay of Plenty. She says New Zealands use of phosphite to manage avocado root rot for more than 25 years means it provides an excellent model system to study fungicide resistance. Her scholarship will fund a research trip to the USA where she will work with researchers from the University of California, Riverside to test their cultures from avocado orchards and the University of California, Berkeley, to test other important species for phosphite resistance.

Stevie Noe spends most days in a greenhouse collecting and analysing nectar from mnuka plants in order to produce better honey. His Masters research involves measuring how much nectar is produced in the flowers and how its quality changes based on different growing conditions such as temperature, humidity and light. As part of this, Stevie tests the quality of the nectar based on how much dihydroxyacetone \(DHA\) is present. DHA converts tomethylglyoxal \(MGO\) which is the key ingredient that gives mnuka honey its reputed health properties. The more DHA there is in the nectar, the more MGO there will be in the honey.

> Honey is a big deal at the moment. The industry is trying to grow as theres more demand than supply, and the government is backing this growth. Hopefully by the end of my study Ill be able to tell growers how best to test their mnuka plants to get top results.

Stevies research has been helped along by two Waikato postgraduate scholarships, as well as Pre\-Seed Accelerator Funding \(PSAF\) from the Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment, testament to the importance of his work to New Zealands booming honey industry.

The robot revolution

A farm might not be somewhere youd expect to meet a robot but Professor Mike Duke from the Universitys Faculty of Science and Engineering wants to turn robots into everyday farming tools. Professor Duke and his team are taking robots from factories to fields, using robotics to do everything from picking kiwifruit and asparagus, to planting, lifting and grading pine tree seedlings back\-breaking work that depends on precision and careful handling. All the while these machines are also collecting data about the crops theyre processing, allowing better decisions to be made about current and future harvests.

Robots will increasingly be used in industries that struggle to attract and retain staff. With New Zealands primary industry\-linked exports set to double by 2025, there simply arent enough humans to keep up with demand.

> Robots never sleep, which makes them ideal workers. Theyll do the work humans should no longer be expected to do, and they work through the night without any extra cost.

The introduction of robotics and smart machinery into the countrys primary industries could save farmers and companies money while simultaneously improving safety and quality. And these remarkable machines are just the beginning. The University team is already looking beyond harvesting machines to robots that will be able to perform jobs such as pollination, weed spraying, thinning, transportation, quality control and pasture repair, further increasing productivity and turning robots into the farmers best friend. This particular brand of high\-tech Kiwi ingenuity has also found its admirers overseas, with new opportunities to export agricultural robots arising by the day.

**_Driving success beyond the farm gate_**

New Zealand is home to some of the worlds best farmers, but making a good living can be a challenge in a highly competitive market. The Universitys Management School is training a new generation of agribusiness specialists to help farmers and agricultural businesses to grow their profits and reap the benefits of their hard work. Agribusiness is the vital link in the chain that takes agricultural products beyond the farm gate and turns them into profits. Students gain an all\-round understanding of the agricultural sector, including farm management, soil and nutrient management, rural financial management and banking, and value\-chain management. Agribusiness also looks beyond New Zealand to the possibilities offered by international exports. Professor of Economics Frank Scrimgeour says that agribusiness dominates New Zealand exports and our largest businesses are in the agribusiness sector.

> New Zealand agribusiness provides huge opportunities to gain experience in international commerce as our products are sold on every continent, reaching high\-end consumers and the protein needs of people with limited incomes.

Its a sector with deep connections into the research and development community as agribusiness entrepreneurs develop and apply new technologies which enhance the economic, environmental, and social performance of agri\-food systems. Agribusiness students learn about international marketing and sales, technological innovations, the impact of free\-trade agreements, and how sustainable farming practices can be used to reduce costs and gain a competitive advantage. Courses are delivered in collaboration with successful companies such as Fonterra, the Tatua Co\-operative Dairy Company and DairyNZ, with graduates in high demand by employers.

**_Dishing the dirt on climate change_**

Modern farmers recognise that environmental sustainability is key to long\-term success. Ground\-breaking research by the University of Waikato is helping farmers to be good custodians of the land and waterways they manage. Researchers are working with the Ministry of Primary Industries and international counterparts around the world to reduce and mitigate greenhouse gas emissions through good farming practices. A greenhouse gas is any gas that traps heat in the atmosphere. Carbon dioxide \(CO2\), methane \(CH4\) and nitrous oxide \(N2O\) are some of the most common types. Farms can be a big source of emissions peat soils are a significant contributor to soil carbon emissions and methane from sheep and cattle accounts for almost one third of New Zealands total greenhouse gas emissions but, with careful management, emissions can be reduced and even eliminated. In parallel with research to determine the best ways to manage agricultural emissions, Professor Louis Schipper, Associate Professor David Campbell and postdoctoral researcher Dr Susanna Rutledge from the University of Waikato's [Environmental Research Institute](http://www.waikato.ac.nz/eri/) are part of a major international research project to investigate whether carbon levels in soils can be increased, effectively burying \(sequestering\) and removing carbon from the atmosphere. Varying types of crops may be one way to sequester carbon so the research team is comparing different crops and pastures to determine which mix most effectively increases carbon soil inputs. With funding from the New Zealand Agricultural Greenhouse Gas Research Centre, and working in collaboration with Crown Research Institutes Landcare Research, AgResearch and DairyNZ, the team is measuring and comparing carbon exchange at adjacent pasture areas at a dairy farm near Waharoa. This important work has the potential to support achievement of the Global Sustainable Development Goals, enhance food security and mitigate climate change. It also has the potential to transform farms from producers of greenhouse gases into carbon sinks that help to reduce gases and slow global warming.

**_Healthy communities, healthy farms_**

Healthy farms are powered by healthy communities. The University of Waikato works to support the health and wellbeing of rural communities through a range of initiatives. Professor of Population Health Ross Lawrenson is one of the Universitys many passionate advocates for rural health. Amongst other initiatives, he is leading a three\-year project to improve early access to lung cancer diagnosis for Mori and rural communities.

> We need to be supporting our rural areas better. Rural communities are the backbone of New Zealand, yet their access to health services is poor.

Professor Lawrenson says the highest occurrence of cardiovascular disease is in rural towns, and GPs in cities far outweigh those in rural towns per head of population. To address this problem, the University of Waikato and the Waikato District Health Board have submitted a proposal to the government to establish New Zealands third medical school. If the government accepts this proposal, students will be able to enrol as early as 2021. The Waikato Medical School will focus on enrolling students from vulnerable and rural communities, training a new generation of community\-focused doctors and health professionals who understand the needs of rural communities and support their success.

Nicole's first day at uni
Tokoroa's Nicole Rusk heads off to the University of Waikato on a Te Ara ki Angitū scholarship

Nicole's first day at uni

Tokoroa's Nicole Rusk heads off to the University of Waikato on a Te Ara ki Angitu scholarship

KickerThis is a kicker.

On top of the fridge at Linda and Bryce Rusks Tokoroa home are two framed photos of their kids, Steven and Nicole.

Steven has already left home and is studying for a Bachelor of Science majoring in genetics at Otago, but today is all about Nicole. As the weekend comes to a close, she's getting ready for her first day at Waikato University.

In the kitchen, Linda puts her arm around her daughter as they have a nervous giggle about what Monday will bring. Will the campus seem enormous and scary? Will Nicole be able to find her way around? What really goes on during O\-Week?

Nicole has signed up for a [Bachelor of Social Sciences](http://www.waikato.ac.nz/study/qualifications/bachelor\-of\-social\-sciences) at Waikato. The 18\-year\-old likes learning about how people think and live, and what they believe in. **Ive always loved people and cultures, so I think studying that will be really interesting. I just want to learn about how different people tick.**

Outside, Rodger the familys pet staffie, has been waiting for some attention. Nicole heads out to see him. "Oh Rodger," she says. "What have you been doing?" Rodger sits up on his haunches and turns on his best it wasnt me dog\-smile, but some glue stuck to the fur on his back suggests hes been up to something not altogether innocent. He stays for a minute then takes off to scratch around under the bushes for a bit. Nicole will miss him while shes away studying, but shell be home from Hamilton every night thanks to a scholarship from the University.

Nicole is part of the Universitys [Te Ara ki Angit: Pathways to Excellence](http://www.waikato.ac.nz/study/pathway\-programmes/te\-ara\-ki\-angitu.shtml) programme, which means she can stay at home while she studies, catching a bus put on by the uni from South Waikato to the Hamilton campus each day. Its so good being able to live at home instead of moving to the city, she says, hoping that this link with home will make the transition to university life much easier.

The University launched the Te Ara ki Angit: Pathways to Excellence programme in 2016 in South Waikato and expanded it to other regions in 2017. The programme now reaches 25 schools and communities across Hauraki, Thames\-Coromandel, Matamata\-Piako, Waikato, Otorohonga, South Waikato and Waitomo districts. Te Ara ki Angit makes university study more accessible to students by providing support and mentoring, a daily bus service to and from selected towns for $1 a ride, access to portable learning devices, and a fees scholarship worth up to $5000. Nicole says being on the programme will make a huge difference to her. She knows others who wanted to go to uni but were scared of having a huge student loan and being in debt so young. They think theyll just get a job now and maybe study later. Ive heard that a lot. And there are kids who dont think theyre good enough to go to uni, but I reckon just apply and see if you like it. Give it ago. It can be daunting too. Its scary especially when youre straight out of high school and you dont know what youre doing. Linda, a nurse at Tokoroa Hospital, is relieved that even though her youngest is heading off to uni, shell still be living at home, where Linda can keep an eye on her. I cant believe the money Nicoles going to save by being able to stay at home. Our son already has a massive student debt, but hopefully Nicole will be able to keep hers down and that will give her a big head start. Bryce, who has lived in Tokoroa all his life and works at a local engineering company, says his daughters thirst for knowledge has kept them on their toes. **Our kids never stopped asking questions, he says.**

Monday morning rolls around. Nicole hasnt slept at all, and Lindas pretty much the same. Bryce says goodbye to Nicole as she races off with her mum in the car to the bus stop.

On the bus, Nicole is greeted by Codey, a mate from her old high school, Forest View, who is in his second year of study at Waikato and is also on the Te Ara ki Angit programme. He's full of good advice for Nicole, as shes a mix of first\-day nerves and excitement. The bus pulls in to the uni. Nicole and the others from South Waikato are met by the Universitys Future Student Advisers, who walk with them through the campus to the pwhiri that has been put on to welcome new students at the University marae.

After the pwhiri and a sausage sizzle, they meet other students and their mentors on the programme in the Whnau Room, a dedicated room set up for students from the regions who are going the extra mile for their education. The students spend some time getting to know each other and learning about what's coming up.

The campus seems unfamiliar and new, possibly even a little scary, but soon itll feel just like home.

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