SA Committee: 2015 Scholars

SA Committee Sponsored Scholars

The SA Crawford Fund Committee is very pleased to have supported four young scholars to attend the annual Crawford Fund Conference and learn from others about experiences they have had in career development and in overseas agricultural science projects. The scholars ranged from undertaking undergraduate studies, young practicing agricultural scientist and PhD students.

One of the students reported “I came away with ideas, motivation and stories from their experiences and careers in agriculture. I also built many friendships with fellow scholars which will be beneficial as we together move our careers in pursuit of a more food secure world”.

Click on the links below to view scholar bios and conference reports.

David Brunton, South Australian Research and Development Institute (SARDI)
James Cowley, The University of Adelaide
Jessica Tan, SARDI
Shuangxi Zhou, Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organisation (CSIRO)
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2015 SA Committee sponsored scholars
2015 SA Committee sponsored scholars

David Brunton

I am David Brunton, a fourth generation grain grower from western Victoria but my more formal capacity is as a full-time research scientist with the South Australian Research and Development Institute. My current role is working in the field of herbicide tolerance, which screens cereal and pulse cultivars across a range of commonly used herbicides to determine if there are any yield penalties. My interest in attending the Crawford conference in Canberra came about as a result of my interest in continually improving our farming systems in order to feed the ever growing global population.

Conference Report
The business of food security, well it certainly opened my eyes and mind to the significant challenges that we face in the coming months, years and decades. There was a recurring emphasis on the importance of continued research into the development and refinement of plant breeding however it did not sufficiently address the issues associated with the loss of diversity within plant species in particular the cultivated crops (cereals and pulses). Personally the biggest challenge is not necessarily the issue of securing enough food to feed a global population forecast to reach 9 billion by 2050 but more so the problem associated with attracting the next generation of agricultural scientists the individuals that have the mindset and want to create a better future. Reading newspaper statistics relating to the fantastic opportunities that agriculture has to offer it becomes evidently clear that the way agriculture is portrayed still requires some fine tuning. But how do you manage this issue of attracting the younger generations of school children to follow a path in agriculture when they know it only as “becoming a farmer”?
Well it all comes back to the same very simple but extremely important word of “communication” and this can be related back to the issue of global food security. But again how do you communicate this issue without scaring the general population about the chance of a famine but emphasise the importance of limiting food waste, using general day to day items more economically and encouraging your children to follow a career in agriculture when they grew up in the city….I know a real challenge on a global scale! I like the quote that “once in your life you will need a doctor, a lawyer but every day, three times a day you need a farmer” it again emphasises the importance of our farmers but again without agricultural scientists we would not be farming the way we are today. The conference delegates certainly highlighted the importance of science and breeding however for the pure benefit of a multinational organisation that accrues an additional couple of billion by delivering a new hybrid variety of drought tolerance maize which honestly “drought tolerant” does not exist and highly unlikely that it ever will, I mean basis biology clearly emphasises that in order to produce energy one needs water and if its limiting do not expect a high yielding crop if a crop at all. We run a business and sure cash flow is critical to its success but does this mean we need to just concentrate on how much money our business can create….seems a little once sided to me.
So where does this leave us, well not in the best of places. Sure our generation has to fix the problems that have been created and sure for the future of our generation and generations to come it is in our best interests. A couple of speakers alluded to the very important point of people who stand back and talk about change but never actually do anything and the ones that talk very little but make a significant contribution towards addressing the issue of global food security for example Dr Cary Fowler a true inspiration! If for every word spoken about addressing food security a dollar was donated there would be no issue related to providing aid to third world countries. I will finish with this statement that I heard about 8 years ago. A man stood in a line at a local supermarket and said “in the next 10 years the biggest national and international debates will be over water and food” he was certainly right and we have only just tackled the tip of this gigantic iceberg. Thanks for the opportunity to attend and I look forward to attending future conferences.

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James Cowley

I am a 20-year-old undergraduate student studying my third-year of a Bachelor of Agricultural Science degree at the University of Adelaide. While attending Urrbrae Agricultural High School, I developed a passion for Biology and Plant Breeding. My interest in the environment and its conservation—coupled with my interest in Plant Breeding—led me to become very interested in world food security and what is being done to combat those issues. The Crawford Fund conference was a goal of mine so as to meet people with similar interests and to learn more about the work being done around the world. I aspire to work as a plant breeder in the future, helping to battle the issues of sustainability and food security around the globe.

Conference Report
As a young Agricultural Scientist and an undergraduate student, there are limited opportunities to connect with other young people with similar interests outside of my university cohort. Focussing on a career in Agricultural Research and International Agricultural Development, I took it upon myself to find opportunities where I could learn of international agriculture work around the world, and where I could network with other like-minded young people. One such opportunity was to attend the Crawford Fund Parliamentary Conference in Canberra and so this prompted me to apply for a Crawford Fund Scholarship.
I benefitted from attending the 2015 Crawford Fund Conference in many ways. Not only was the conference itself an extremely informative day that provided viewpoints on the Business of Food Security from many fascinating individuals representing many different organisations, but the Crawford Fund Scholars Day shed so much information on the opportunities and options available for young agricultural scientists. The Scholars Day and Conference helped me to form hugely beneficial networks with many new people in the industry and provided many opportunities for future experience in my field.
The work being done by so many around the world to retain global crop diversity, in my opinion, seems to go unknown to most, and so I took it upon myself to learn as much as I could about this work, which would then enable me to share that knowledge with others. Since learning in school of the Svalbard Global Seed Vault or the fantastical ‘doomsday vault’ as it is often referred, I have been completely enthralled by the work of Dr Fowler and many other revolutionaries of his ilk. Being able to listen to the powerful but somewhat ominous Sir John Crawford Memorial Address delivered by Dr Fowler was personally, a significant highlight after following his work and admiring the efforts he has made for global crop diversity.
In addition to the memorial address, the opportunity to view the documentary film ‘The Seeds of Time’ and then being able to participate in an enlightening Question and Answer session with Dr Fowler was a fantastic opportunity to hear his personal perspectives, and to hear his opinions on more current issues that the world is facing.
Finally, my personal highlight was being able to meet so many young people with similar interests. In my degree, it is rare to meet other students with interests in international agriculture, and so it was an incredible experience to make new connections and meet new friends with a similar passion but from so many varying fields. Focussing on a career in scientific research, I’d never spoken to anyone in economics or business with similar interests and so it was invaluable and fantastic oppotunity to hear of their experiences and to learn their perspectives on the future of agriculture in Australia and around the world.

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Jessica Tan

Jessica Tan is the senior research statistician in the Food Safety and Innovation research program of the South Australian Research and Development Institute. Her skills and research areas include risk assessment and process control, particularly in the beef, sheep, pork and poultry industries, and statistical expertise for all food commodities, including seafood and horticulture, in agricultural research. The breadth of the application of her quantitative skills and research projects encompasses food safety, food innovation, sensory scores and microbiology. Many of her research projects investigate hygiene monitoring and improvement and optimisation of production / processing steps to ensure the production of safe food, and also improvements in efficiency in the supply chain, which will then aid profitability and food security.
“I believe the sharing of knowledge and scientific research through international agricultural research is important and am looking to broaden my horizons and build networks with people involved in international agricultural research at the 2015 Crawford Fund Annual Conference.”

Conference Report
Firstly, I would like to thank the Crawford Fund, and particularly the SA Committee, for the scholarship to this year’s Crawford Fund 2015 Annual Parliamentary Conference, “The Business of Food Security: Profitability, Sustainability and Risk”. The conference was an invaluable and beneficial opportunity to learn more about international agricultural research and current food security issues that are facing the world.
The two-day program for the conference and Scholars’ day was exceptional and covered a variety of topics and presenters from different backgrounds. However, there were themes and underlying messages that were pertinent and challenging to me as an early career researcher, such as:

  • The importance of collaboration, communication, trust and partnerships between the public and private sectors to improve food security and meet future food demands within the limits of the earth’s natural finite resources.
  • The challenges faced with the loss of biodiversity and growing global population require the collaboration of scientists within international research organisations to secure our food future.
  • “Scaling up” research, models and studies that have been completed to date, into large-scale initiatives.

In the session on ‘Private Sector Work Underway – Lessons Learned’, I found it very interesting to hear specific examples of past and current projects in international agricultural research and the presenters’ recommendations and opinions on the way forward.
One of the conference highlights for me was hearing Dr Cary Fowler and learning about his work in crop biodiversity and establishing the Global Seed Vault in Svalbard. The Global Seed Vault is the world’s largest secure seed storage, opened in February 2008, and located in the permafrost, 1,300 kilometres beyond the Arctic Circle. From all across the globe, crates of seeds are sent to the vault for safe and secure long-term storage, preserving global crop biodiversity. The vault holds the seeds of tens of thousands of varieties of essential food crops such as beans, wheat and rice, and now holds seeds of more than 4,000 plant species and 840,000 samples. These seed samples are duplicates of seed sample stores in national, regional and international gene banks. The documentary film Seeds of Time on the life and work of Dr Fowler and the Global Seed Vault, shown at the conclusion of the Scholars’ day was inspirational and a fitting conclusion to the conference.
I really valued the excellent opportunities to network with researchers, fellow scholars and Crawford Fund committee members. From the Scholars’ Day program, I learnt about the important and fundamental work of the Australian Centre for International Agricultural Research and the Crawford Fund in delivering projects and programs on agriculture and food production in developing countries.
Mingling and talking with Crawford Fund committee members at the opening night and conference dinners, I came away with ideas, motivation and stories from their experiences and careers in agriculture. I also built many friendships with fellow scholars which will be beneficial as we together move our careers in pursuit of a more food secure world.
Thank you again to the Crawford Fund for providing the support to attend this conference. It has taught me a great deal about international agricultural and food security issues and has further encouraged me to get involved (both in my career through projects and personally, possibly as a volunteer). The Crawford Fund conference has watered the seed of interest in international agricultural research that has been planted in me and I look forward with excitement to where it may take me.

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Shuangxi Zhou

I am a postdoctoral research fellow in CSIRO’s Agriculture Flagship in South Australia. My research aims to improve Australian almond orchard management systems through improving the understanding of root function in Prunus, including characterizing and screening rootstocks against abiotic stresses. I received my PhD in plant physiology from Macquarie University in March 2015. My field-glasshouse-modelling based PhD research focused on quantifying and modelling the responses of leaf gas exchange of different plant functional types to drought. The Crawford Fund Annual Parliamentary Conference will be very helpful on providing me with an important industry picture to add to my science background.

Conference Report
Firstly I would like to acknowledge the Crawford Fund to offer me the scholarship and all staff committed to fulfil the the Crawford Fund 2015 Annual Conference (The Business of Food Security: Profitability, Sustainability and Risk) in Canberra on 10-12 August, 2015. As an early career scholar I enjoyed your experience at the conference and scholars day very much.
I am a postdoctoral agricultural researcher working on ‘Better tree performance through root system resilience’, a project funded by the almond industry through Horticulture Innovation Australia Ltd. For a young researcher who just received his PhD in March 2015, the Crawford Fund 2015 Annual Conference is very helpful on providing me with the important industry picture to my science background. This was highlighted thorough the discussions with the Crawford Fund coordinators all across Australia and also other like-minded agricultural researchers working on different areas within the international agricultural development. Besides introducing my research framework and approaches to researchers from other industries, I benefited greatly from the conference and there were many significant highlights of the conference for me. In particular: (1) With the exposition to various sectors and their interests in agriculture industry, now I have better understanding on the roles of public and private sectors on the research and development for world food security; (2) Now I also have better understanding on understanding the role of my research and its potential contribution in the picture of world food security. Root system resilience is crucial to the profitability and sustainability of Australia’s farming enterprises, such that my work can play an important role in ensuring Australia’s contribution to food security; (3) I was greatly exposed to the existence of opportunities in agriculture industry at different levels (e.g. government, research organisations, companies, NGOs, etc.); (4) The conference events all highlighted the importance of effective and efficient communication skills in agriculture industry. One new thing that I will do as a result of attending the conference is to improve my communication skills as an agricultural researcher during communication with people of different backgrounds;
It is great to have this great opportunity to communicate with speakers and scholars from researchers, institutions, governments and the private sector in agriculture industry and to be exposed to the opinions emerging from various sectors in the conference. Food Security is highlighted by all sectors, while the collective approaches of how to achieve it and who should take the initiative to lead the implementation of the approaches is not clear. Besides, this year I found that there was not much topic, speaker, or scholar involved with animal production and welfare issues. I suggest this could be improved for next year’s conference.

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