Global Farm Platform partners met last week (15-19 Sep 2014) in Perth at the University of Western Australia (UWA), for an exciting and dynamic workshop hosted by Winthrop Professor Graeme Martin of the UWA Institute of Agriculture. The workshop was held under the Worldwide Universities Network research development fund project Global Farm Platforms for Optimisation of Grazing Livestock Production Systems.
The group welcomed new partners from the Small Scale Livestock and Livelihoods Program (SSLLP), Malawi, Massey University in New Zealand and the University of Sydney, Australia. The network now spans the major ruminant production systems in all climatic zones across the world (except polar), and represents a wide range of socioeconomic and cultural environments. Delegates visited the historic and picturesque Crawley Campus close to the Swan River and held meeting sessions at the UWA-CSIRO Floreat Campus.
Individual seminars were presented on Monday 15th September by Dr Jennifer Dungait of Rothamsted Research on Soil carbon and sustainability, by Professor Mark Eisler of the University of Bristol on Steps to Sustainable Livestock and the Global Farm Platform, and by Professor Ellen Goddard of the University of Alberta on Food security and dietary diversity in three states in India – do home gardens really help?
Delegates were welcomed and the meeting opened by Winthrop Professor Robyn Owens, Deputy Vice-Chancellor (Research) of UWA, who explained how the Worldwide Universities Network is able to create capacity that doesn’t exist in individual Universities. By bringing together researchers from across its membership, WUN is able to address the global challenges of Responding to Climate Change, Global Health (non-communicable disease), Understanding Cultures, and Global Higher Education and Research. Professor Owens went on to describe resources and capabilities UWA could contribute, including the unique agricultural and ecosystem restoration research being conducted at UWA Ridgefield Future Farm.
During the workshop sessions, Sute Mwakasungula presented the work of the SSLLP with smallholder livestock producers and explained the importance of livestock in Malawi in providing food, income, manure, animal traction and social security. About 1.4 million farm families (85% smallholders) own one or more of various types of livestock, which provide an efficient way of transforming crop residues and reducing competition for food between humans and livestock.
Professor Michael D’Occhio and Dr Beverley Henry presented the work of the new ‘Livestock in Landscapes’ group at the Centre for Carbon, Water and Food of the University of Sydney Faculty of Agriculture and Environment. They explained how engineering and robotic science, including new and emerging sensing, imaging and monitoring technologies, might help achieve the transformation in production systems required to meet the increase in demand for animal protein, whilst not imposing excessive demands on natural resources. They introduced automated and remote animal recording systems that will have particular application in the management of production, health and wellbeing in extensive livestock systems.
Professor Nicolás López-Villalobos of the Massey University Institute of Veterinary, Animal & Biomedical Sciences discussed trends in the New Zealand dairy industry including a shift in breed composition from predominantly Holstein-Friesian cattle to an increasing proportion of Jersey and Jersey-cross animals, in part driven by milk pricing based on solids (i.e. protein and fat content) rather than volume. Another interesting emerging trend is that of once a day milking, which for many farmers, is a lifestyle choice, freeing valuable time otherwise spent in the milking parlour for leisure activities. Surprisingly, data obtained from Massey’s Dairy Farm no. 1, which made the switch in 2013, showed that once a day milking results in a relative small reduction in yield, in many cases more than outweighed by the benefits of the reduced labour requirement. Finally, breeding strategies for dairy cattle were discussed in the context of selection for multiple traits rather than focussing entirely of milk yield. These approaches could be applied to development of genotypes suitable for subtropical climates such as northern Argentina.
Delegates spent a day visiting the UWA’s Future Farm 2050 (Ridgefield Farm) at Pingelly, approximately 100km south east of Perth. The mission of the farm is to develop a profitable mixed-enterprise operation at the cutting edge of practical technology for cropping, animal, environmental footprint, and ecosystem and biodiversity management. The tour of the farm included demonstration of methodologies for measurement of greenhouse gas emissions from sheep under a variety of experimental grazing conditions including ryegrass/clover mixes, Biserulla and Serradella.
The visitors also inspected experimental paddocks planted with the anti-methanogenic shrub, Eremophila glabra, and enjoyed the rich biodiversity of indigenous flauna and flora, including examination of an ancient stand of the distinctive and slow growing grass tree (Xanthorrhoea) at close quarters.
The meeting culminated in the signing of a Statement of Intent by Winthrop Professor Kadambot Siddique, Director of the UWA Institute of Agriculture. This statement was finalised by the workshop participants, sets out the Vision, Mission and Plan for the Global Farm Platform and should assist in convincing major funders of the value of investing in research associated with this initiative. Each partner is now seeking similar, high level endorsement. We hope that at each member institution a prominent senior signatory will support the GFP in this way.
Download the workshop programme and list of participants.