Overseas travel opens door to learning and collaboration

Awards add fresh insights to Australian research and extension


Grains industry specialists look to Canada and Germany for novel ideas.

NSW Department of Primary Industries crop physiologist Dr Felicity Harris, left, with NSW DPI director of southern cropping systems Deb Slinger in a phenology experiment at the Wagga Wagga Agricultural Institute. PHOTO Nicole Baxter

NSW Department of Primary Industries crop physiologist Dr Felicity Harris, left, with NSW DPI director of southern cropping systems Deb Slinger in a phenology experiment at the Wagga Wagga Agricultural Institute. PHOTO Nicole Baxter

Two grains industry specialists recognised earlier this year for excellence in research and development have used their GRDC awards to travel overseas in a bid to improve Australian growers' yields.

During February, GRDC presented the 2019 Northern Region Recognising and Rewarding Excellence Award, valued at $25,000, to NSW Department of Primary Industries (DPI) southern cropping systems director Deb Slinger.

Ms Slinger has a strong interest in capacity building and developing the skills of the 180-strong research team she oversees.

For the past eight years she has managed a capacity building project with GRDC and NSW DPI co-investment to advance the careers of young scientists and provide succession planning.

"My goal in travelling to Germany during June was to look at setting up a three-month visiting scientist program for young and mid-career scientists," Ms Slinger says.

"I visited Giessen University and the Julius Kuhn Plant Breeding Institute at Quedlinburg to tour their molecular research facilities, discuss collaborative opportunities and the potential for post-doctoral researchers to gain experience working in their laboratories."

Ms Slinger attended the International Rapeseed Congress in Berlin, where she saw researchers from NSW DPI Wagga Wagga Agricultural Institute deliver their findings.

NSW DPI molecular scientist Dr Harsh Raman presented information generated through his canola genetics research, while NSW DPI crop physiologist Dr Rajneet Uppal delivered the latest results from canola heat tolerance research, including the development of new heat chambers.

"Now we've been inundated with inquiries from scientists all over the world who want to take part in similar research," Ms Slinger says.

"Drought and heat are issues for every country experiencing the impacts of climate change."

At Giessen University, Ms Slinger met Dr Rod Snowdon, who manages a canola molecular research laboratory. It is hoped NSW DPI and Giessen University scientists will be able to gain experience through an exchange program between the two organisations.

Ms Slinger says a Giessen University research project exploring various heat regimes and the impacts on canola planted in different soil types could be replicated here in Australia.

Next year, she plans to visit England in April to attend a pathology conference and Canada in July. She plans to visit major research centres and universities in both countries to explore collaborative opportunities and exchange programs.

Young scientist

NSW DPI crop physiologist Dr Felicity Harris was presented with a GRDC Northern Region Emerging Leader Award in February.

She was able to use part of the $15,000 travel bursary to present a paper at the International Wheat Congress in Canada; the first time she has delivered a paper at an international conference.

Dr Harris spoke about using management levers, such as time of sowing and variety selection, to manipulate grain yield potential across the northern grains region of Australia.

"It was really satisfying to be exposed to research from other countries, where scientists are investigating novel ways to overcome the yield reductions caused by abiotic stress," she says.

"I think there are a lot of opportunities to look at different ways of understanding the impacts of abiotic stresses, such as heat or frost under Australian conditions, using some of these new methods."

Dr Harris says meeting research scientists working in different environments, with similar production constraints, was a highlight.

"I have developed collaborative relationships for future research and benefited from the opportunity to attend a field trip at the University of Saskatchewan, which explored a range of wheat breeding, agronomy and physiology field experiments," she says.

"I learned so much about the different ways to present data, alternative statistical methods, how other researchers categorise environments and how this culminates to better deliver experimental results to industry."

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In 2020, she plans to use the remainder of her bursary to extend NSW DPI's international collaboration by visiting global breeding companies and research institutions to explore new research opportunities for wheat and barley.

GRDC Research Codes DAN1905-004AWX, DAN1905-005AWX

More Information: Deb Slinger, 0427 026 207, deb.slinger@dpi.nsw.gov.au; Dr Felicity Harris, 0458 243 350, felicity.harris@dpi.nsw.gov.au