Big research team in innovation project
Many of the country's brightest young scientists and researchers are getting valuable insight into commercial R&D through a world-leading joint government and dairy industry investment.
Research carried out by almost 60 people is supported by the Transforming the Dairy Value Chain (TDVC) Primary Growth Partnership programme, a seven-year, $170 million innovation programme led by commercial partners, including DairyNZ and Fonterra, and partnered by the Ministry for Primary Industries (MPI).
That includes 25 PhDs, eight Masters, 16 post-doctoral fellows and two honours students working towards the creation of new dairy products, increasing on-farm productivity and reducing environmental impacts.
One of those researchers, Irina Boiarkina, from the University of Auckland, visited a number of Fonterra factories to study real-time quality monitoring of milk powder.
Her work and that of others will help the co-op develop tools to produce premium-quality product more consistently.
Professor Brent Young says the work has been invaluable for his researchers.
"It helps their personal development as young engineers and to understand how their work relates to real industry conditions," he says.
The work gave industry access to researchers while advancing knowledge of fundamental science for those involved.
"It pushes academic knowledge and also gives us the opportunity to collaborate on other projects."
It has also helped advance Boiarkina's own career. On the back of that post-doctoral work, she has been selected as a lecturer in the university's Department of Chemical and Materials Engineering.
She says the PGP helped build her skills in industrial research and reach the next level in her career.
"Being able to carry out industry-informed research has been very valuable," says Boiarkina. "It has helped build my knowledge of the dairy industry and I want to feed that back into the industry and hence the economy."
Others have made similar advances.
TDVC supported Mark Gasquoine at DairyNZ as he developed material and organised field days to help farmers improve their environmental performance.
He says he learned a great deal from the farmers – "some of the smartest and most practical people I have ever met" – which has helped him in his new role at the Waikato Regional Council as the Sustainable Agriculture Adviser for the Waipa/Mid-Waikato areas.
"This job includes running field days, promoting new research, working closely with industry and local farming communities."
He believes the TDVC funding has helped not only his knowledge and career but also the industry and environment.
"I think the amount of research, development and extension that has been undertaken as part of the PGP programme will greatly increase the knowledge base of the industry.
"Already we are seeing huge improvements with farmers having a greater understanding of how to reduce their environmental footprint and taking really intelligent and well-informed steps to create more sustainable businesses."
TDVC programme manager Andrew Fletcher says the research is a key part of the delivery of new science and technology as part of the programme.
"Students are engaged and involved right across the programme, from farm gate to lab to factory floor," he says.
"They are able to learn from various researchers and scientists who are world-class experts in their field, and also industry personnel, while gaining an appreciation of what is important to industry and how R&D works in an industrial – as well as academic – setting.
"That creates new capability within the students themselves and also enhances the capability of the academic institutions to work with industry."
Justine Gilliland, Director Investment Programmes at MPI, agrees.
"Attracting and developing talent, as well as gaining and sharing new knowledge are key goals for both MPI and the primary industries," she says.
"The TDVC PGP programme is a key way MPI and industry partners are exposing our brightest young scientists and researchers to the valuable, cutting-edge research and process and product development underway in our dairy industry.
"They're already making an important contribution to the TDVC programme, and will no doubt have plenty of future opportunities to add even more value to our dairy and other food industries."