Making most of research advances

TIM CRONSHAW
Last updated 07:33 21/12/2012

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Preventing good innovations from slipping through the cracks and ensuring they get to farmers will be the challenge for leaders of a $7.5 million government-funded project.

New Zealand's economy is expected to gain from converting ideas from scientific research into innovations in the primary sector in the initiative funded by the Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment.

The five-year Primary Innovation project was launched last October, with workshops held in Christchurch this week.

The workshops were drawing on similar projects in the Netherlands, led by Dr Laurens Klerkx, associate professor at the Knowledge, Innovation and Technology Group at Wageningen University.

New Zealand's project leader James Turner, from AgResearch, said great ideas were not making it to the farm and the government was serious in its funding to identify and improve innovation. He said some ideas could have better uptake with farmers encouraged to modify them to their farms and policy makers and regulators needed to encourage their uptake.

"Probably a good example of [a successful idea] is the clover root weevil and the management of that with the Irish wasp. That worked well because the solution was a wasp which spread itself with some assistance and didn't require farmers to change how they manage their systems."

The visible benefits of more clover growth, which reduced the amount of nitrogen going on paddocks, appealed to farmers.

"Farmers want better profits. If they can't get more money from taking up innovation or it costs too much it's a threat to their business."

Turner said the cost of taking up innovations was a hurdle in some cases, but could be overcome, as was seen in the expensive building of large ponds and infrastructure to manage dairy effluent.

Initially this had been difficult to achieve until spray irrigation was designed to carry effluent and today it aided the growing of grass. He said innovation yet to be widely taken up by farmers was new technology by the National Institute of Water and Atmospheric Research (Niwa) predicting the weather and soil moisture to help tell them when to apply water and how much to apply.

"Part of the challenge within some of the irrigation schemes to make use of the technology is they need water storage on farms and in the wider scheme."

This would prevent the roster of water to farmers sometimes when they did not need it. Another case study identified will use existing research to raise the performance of dairy cows getting into calf.

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At the workshops Klerkx looked at ways New Zealand could be more effective in getting innovations on farms. The Dutch are avid users of technology in greenhouse growing, pig farming and dairying.

"They have more readily come to the challenge we are increasingly seeing in New Zealand of how do you get environmental and economic benefits on the farm."

The project will use scientists from research organisations, growers, farmers and foresters.

- The Press

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