The ICM Agrifood Award is an early career award for two scientists or technologists who have achieved substantial peer/industry recognition for his/her work in the past five years. The Award is sponsored by ICM Agribusiness, one of Australia’s major
agribusiness groups, and administered by the Australian Academy of Technology and Engineering.
2018 ICM Award winners, Dr Angela Van de Wouw and Dr Shu Kee Lam
Dr Shu Kee Lam 'Managing healthier soil'
Higher levels of atmospheric carbon dioxide are impacting Australia’s agriculture and food security. Dr Shu Kee Lam, a Research Fellow at the School of Agriculture and Food at the University of Melbourne, is tackling this issue from the perspective of soil nitrogen management.
Having completed his PhD almost six years ago, Dr Lam is committed to understanding how more carbon dioxide will affect the important plant-soil processes that control the nitrogen supply used by crops.
Dr Lam’s research is providing critical knowledge for the uncertain future of agriculture in a changing climate. His recent paper in Global Change Biology was picked by the European Commission (Environment) to inform 20,000 policy-makers on developing nitrogen use policy in agriculture.
He is also embracing innovation in agriculture as Big Data transforms the way Australian agriculture operates. Dr Lam has compiled databases using extensive global datasets from literature, industry reports and statistics to provide novel insights into better management practices.
Last year Dr Lam secured an ARC Linkage Project with industry partner Incitec Pivot Fertilisers; in 2015, he won the Thomas Davies Research Grant for Marine, Soil and Plant Biology by the Australian Academy of Science for research in overcoming reduction in cereal grain protein under elevated carbon dioxide; and in 2010, Dr Lam won the prestigious International Plant Nutrition Institute Scholar Award.
Dr Angela Van de Wouw 'Saving the canola industry from blackle'
Dr Angela Van de Wouw, a Senior Research Fellow at the University of Melbourne’s School of Biosciences, is an internationally recognised leading expert on the canola disease, blackleg. Caused by a fungus, blackleg is the most severe canola disease in Australia and almost wiped out the industry in the early 1970s.
Dr Van de Wouw discovered new ways to control the devastating disease, including: identifying blackleg-resistant genes in canola, creating molecular tests to predict disease outbreaks and developing disease management strategies.
Using a “genome to paddock” approach, she has effectively armed farmers with management options to protect their crops and – working closely with breeders, industry personnel and researchers – has prevented crop losses worth millions of dollars each year.
She has published 36 papers in genomics, genetics, pathology and agriculture journals, highlighting her multidisciplinary approach to fighting the disease. She is first author on 17 and senior author on six of these papers, reflecting her leading role in the research.
The impact of her innovative research has also been felt beyond Australia, playing a critical role in overcoming trade restrictions with China. After fears of blackleg contamination, Dr Van de Wouw’s research helped reopen the Chinese market to Australian canola imports in 2013.
Dr Rebecca Darbyshire, whose research focused on fruit and nut trees, is leading Australia on climate change readiness.
“Through the knowledge gained in my research, farmers are ultimately able to make better decisions and investments to improve productivity and profitability,” Dr Darbyshire says.
One of her major contributions to Australia’s agriculture sector has been to introduce innovative ways to make complex scientific results more readable and accessible for on-the-ground application. Often, adaptation techniques aren’t applied because of poor understanding.
She has also boosted the knowledge on how fruit trees respond to a range of weather conditions, focusing on winter chill and extreme heat damage, as well as flowering cycles.
Dr James Hunt has dedicated his research to supporting grain growers across the Australian wheat belt to improve the productivity and profit of grain-based farms.
Photo credit: Lauren Celenza WANTFA
Since 2012, he has improved summer fallow management across southern and western grain regions of Australia; helped properly define optimal flowering and sowing dates in different Australian environments; and developed the “fast winter” wheat cultivar.
“It is extremely rewarding to work in a field of science where you can see your research having impact in farmer’s fields straight away,” Dr Hunt says.
“I’d strongly encourage anyone with an interest in biological sciences and natural systems to consider a career in the agriculture sector, there are some really great opportunities for young people.”
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