2014 Award Recipients

2014 Award Recipients

The 2014 Science and Innovation Awards for Young People in Agriculture are coordinated by the Australian Bureau of Agricultural and Resource Economics and Sciences, on behalf of the Department of Agriculture.

ABARES wishes to thank the panel of judges for their contribution to the 2014 Awards program.

For more information about the Science and Innovation Awards for Young People in Agriculture and other activities and publications undertaken by ABARES, please visit the ABARES website.

From the ABARES Chief Scientist

Now is an exciting time to be working in science across the Department of Agriculture. Since launching the department's first science strategy in August 2013 there has been a lot happening in research, development, innovation and policy.

And I am delighted to see the confidence in science and commitment to agriculture from this year's recipients of the Science and Innovation Awards for Young People in Agriculture.

As you will read in the following pages, the projects being undertaken over the next 12 months are practical and will provide clear benefits to their chosen industry. I applaud the individuals for their strong understanding of their industry's issues and their innovative approaches to addressing those issues.

I thank our award partners for their generous commitment and support - not simply during the judging process but with the ongoing support extended to their award recipient. Partners provide industry expertise and advice to assist recipients work on their project, analyse the results, present seminars and extend those research results on-the-ground. Building these connections between industry, the tertiary sector, government and individuals is one of the essential objectives for the Science and Innovation Awards.

I encourage you to read about each of the recipients and their projects. I urge you to share their story with your colleagues and help develop these young researchers, innovators and early career scientists who are demonstrating innovation and commitment to our agricultural sector.

Congratulations to our 2014 recipients of the Science and Innovation Awards for Young People in Agriculture.

Dr Kim Ritman - Chief Scientist

About the awards

Each year the Department of Agriculture with our Award partners presents the Science and Innovation Awards for Young People in Agriculture - a competitive grants program that provides funding for innovative research projects that will benefit Australia's agricultural industries.

The awards aim to

  • assist primary producers to develop more competitive, internationally focused and self reliant industries through attracting innovative research proposals that will lead to longer term innovation in the sector
  • encourage the uptake of science, innovation and technology in rural industries
  • advance the careers of young researchers, innovators and scientists 18–35 years, through national recognition and funding of their research ideas
  • encourage participation in science, innovation and technology in rural industries and increase interactions between the tertiary and government sectors.

The awards are coordinated by the Australian Bureau of Agricultural and Resource Economics and Sciences (ABARES) and are open to young people who are working or studying in rural industries.

There were 11 award categories open to applicants in 2014, ranging from biosecurity, wool and viticulture to dairy and fisheries. Each award category is generously supported by leading industry organisations.

Recipients of the awards benefit from the opportunity to build strong networks across their industry while gaining national and international exposure for

their work at conferences and through publishing opportunities. Ultimately each has the chance to progress in their chosen career.

Successful category award recipients are then invited to apply for additional project funding for the Minister for Agriculture's Award to pursue their research ideas.

From a competitive field of applications drawn from across Australia, here are the recipients of the 2014 Science and Innovation Awards for Young People in Agriculture and their projects.

Sandra Corbett - Recipient of the Australian Meat Processor Corporation Award

It may be greener on the other side of the fence, but green grass may not always lead to better quality Australian red meat for consumers. Sandra Corbett is ideally placed to investigate this using her Science Award.

As an undergraduate, Sandra developed a keen interest in livestock production. This inspired her to undertake a PhD at Murdoch University, where she is studying the effects of glycogen (the muscle's energy store) and pH on meat quality.

Meat that has low levels of glycogen is less attractive to consumers and has a shorter shelf life. This condition, known as “dark cutting,” costs the Australian beef and lamb industry tens of millions of dollars each year.

Both beef and lamb producers have noticed that animals that grazed on lush pastures just before slaughter produce meat with high rates of dark cutting.

Sandra wants to know if too much nitrogen is to blame. Improved pastures and feed supplemented with urea may provide excessive levels of dietary nitrogen which can lead to high levels of ammonia in the blood.

“Elevated blood ammonia has been associated with reduced muscle glycogen concentration in rats and cattle,” says Sandra. “This research will determine whether the same relationship exists in sheep and what level of urea supplementation is acceptable prior to slaughter to ensure the chance of dark cutting is not increased.”

Sandra's project will clearly benefit the sheep-meat industry. “By understanding the relationship between blood ammonia and glycogen concentration there is potential to reduce the frequency of dark cutting and thereby minimise subsequent economic losses” said Sandra.

“At the end of this project I hope to have new information on pre-slaughter feeding which can be adapted for current feeding programs to improve the quality of meat provided to consumers.”

Australian Meat Processor Corporation

The Australian Meat Processor Corporation is a national RD&E Corporation that represents meat processing plants throughout Australia. AMPC's mission includes maximising efficiency, viability and sustainability of the red meat processing industry; assisting to secure and maintain market access; supporting mechanisms to attract, up skill and retain capability and investigating and developing scientific solutions that enhance overall productivity, performance and efficiency of the meat processing sector. AMPC supports projects in a wide range of areas including meat science, automation and technology, environment and sustainability, animal health, biosecurity and animal welfare, traceability and market access.

Project topics for future students would relate to the following areas, focussing on the red meat processing industry:

  • Investigating factors towards enhancing meat quality and product integrity (including eating quality, food safety)
  • Investigating options for enhancing sustainability, including environment, waste, energy and water management and efficiency
  • Innovative new technologies that improve meat processing processes and efficiency
  • Supply chain management and market access, including integrated supply chain approaches and value adding to products
  • Livestock management, including animal health, welfare and biosecurity at the processing establishment.


Zac Economou - Recipient of the Meat & Livestock Australia Award

Imagine a farm free from physical fences where livestock learn to graze in response to electronic boundaries.

That is exactly what University of New England researcher Zac Economou envisages in a project that tests cattle grazing on a New South Wales farm with virtual fences.

Virtual fencing is often described as the “holy grail” of livestock production and has the potential to revolutionise the industry by allowing producers real-time control of livestock distribution.

Rotational grazing systems using virtual fencing will increase producers' flexibility in utilising pastures, improving nutrient distribution and reducing top soil erosion, resulting in both productivity and sustainability gains.

Most recent technology developments in virtual fencing have related to complex GPS and telemetry solutions and remain largely in the “blue sky” science realm.

Zac will investigate how livestock react to a very simple virtual fencing system that uses a radio frequency beacon.

The system consists of a collar fitted to each animal and a ground wire marking the boundary. When the animal approaches the ground wire it receives an audible warning. If the animal continues, it receives a mild electric stimulus.

Zac said preliminary research suggested livestock had a fantastic learning ability and only needed to receive the stimulus once or twice before they stopped at the warning tone.

“They'll hear that audible warning and they just won't keep going. And the more complicated units can be integrated with GPS positioning so you can jump on your computer and adjust a fence on your screen. If we can get to that level of technology there'll be a huge labour saving component” Zac said.

In the meantime, the simple radio frequency system Zac is testing may fill the gap until more complex systems are robust and cost-effective enough for producers' use.

Meat & Livestock Australia

Meat & Livestock Australia Limited (MLA) is a producer–owned company with more than 48,000 members working across the beef, sheepmeat and goatmeat sectors.

MLA builds demand and productivity for Australia's livestock industry by delivering marketing and research services that create opportunities for livestock producers.

As part of work to build productivity, we invest industry levies with matching Australian Government funding in a broad range of research and development throughout the red meat supply chain.


Jane Kelley - Recipient of the Dairy Australia Award

The object of Jane Kelley's research is flat, beige and just 25mm long but costs the Australian livestock industry between $60 and $90 million every year.

Based at the Centre for AgriBioscience at La Trobe University in Bundoora, Jane is studying the most widespread vector borne parasitic disease in the world—the liver fluke—and its effect on dairy cattle in Victoria.

She hopes to establish how many cattle are infected with the parasite, the cost to farmers in lost milk production and whether the parasite is becoming resistant to triclabendazole, the most widely used treatment.

The project uses a new diagnostic technique called a coproantigen ELISA that tests for fluke antigen present in cow faeces. It allows researchers to obtain a good estimate of the liver fluke burden without having to euthanase the animal.

This technique has the potential to greatly simplify on-farm screening for fluke infection. Jane said an initial study of farms in the Maffra region in 2013 found that, on properties with liver fluke, an average of 81 per cent of the herd was infected.

The parasite costs the region about $9.3 million a year in lost milk production, or more than $28,000 per farm. This study now moves to the Goulburn, Upper Murray and Murray dairy regions.

Jane said the cost of lost milk production was likely to rise with an increase in resistance to triclabendazole, the only drug on the market that kills both immature and adult liver fluke.

Jane's work on the increasing threat of endemic liver fluke infections and fluke resistance will generate industry awareness. She will advise producers on management practices that minimise the impact of liver fluke on animal health and milk production. The outcome will be better animal welfare, productivity and profitability in the dairy industry.

Dairy Australia

Dairy is one of Australia's leading rural industries, with a $3.7 billion annual farmgate value and an estimated wholesale value of $13 billion.

The Australian dairy industry is recognised for its excellence in innovation, and has significantly increased its productivity through improved pasture, feed, herd management and efficiency gains in manufacturing, distribution and exports. The industry encourages and nurtures young innovators and offers them exciting careers prospects.

The Science and Innovation Award and Dairy Australia's Scholarship programs are two examples of Dairy Australia's commitment to building industry capability by helping propel promising and innovative individuals into rewarding dairy careers.

Dairy Australia is the industry-owned national service body, investing in essential research, development, extension and industry services across the dairy supply chain to attain the best outcomes for farmers, the dairy industry and the broader community. This investment helps support and build a sustainable and internationally competitive industry.


Alison McCarthy - Recipient of the Cotton Research and Development Corporation Award

Dr Alison McCarthy envisions a not too distant future where Australian cotton growers have automated irrigation systems that switch on only when and where they are needed.

Based at the National Centre for Engineering in Agriculture (NCEA) at the University of Southern Queensland, Alison is highly conscious of water waste. “Surface irrigation systems represent over 90 per cent of irrigated cotton in Australia... but have highly variable water use efficiencies of 50-80 per cent,” she says.

Cotton researchers have already demonstrated a 12% improvement in water use efficiency and 10% increase in crop yield with irrigation control using soil-water measurements. Now it is irrigators' turn and accurate, real-time monitoring of soil-water content is the key.

“Farmers need a reliable, low-cost method of estimating variability in soil-water across their fields,” says Alison. Current soil-water sensors are too expensive for most growers or only measure a small number of fixed positions.

Alison is developing a computer program that analyses photos of cotton plants taken with a camera or smartphone and calculates the plants' water needs. “The award will help develop a low-cost sensing system for growers that combines crop image data with weather data to estimate soil-water,” says Alison.

“The sensing system could be mounted on a tractor or boom sprayer so that soil-water can be estimated in real time as the sensing system collects data across the field,” she says. The ultimate aim is fully autonomous irrigation, where the system automatically adjusts the watering schedule.

Both convenient and relatively inexpensive, the system will save growers water and money, while reducing soil waterlogging, runoff and deep drainage.

Australian Cotton - Carefully Grown - Naturally World's Best

The 2014 Science and Innovation Awards are supported by Cotton Research and Development Corporation (CRDC) as part of its investment in RD&E for the world leading Australian cotton industry.

CRDC supports and rewards young scientists for their exploration of concepts, novel solutions or engagement in the pursuit of scientific breakthroughs and new knowledge. Innovative farming systems and transformed cotton and cotton fibre supply chains contribute to the industry's vision of Australian cotton, carefully grown, and naturally world's best. CRDC welcomes scholarship project proposals that seek to advance the industry's strategic R&D goals through innovative research methodology or by addressing emerging scientific issues, methodologies or techniques.

The strategy of CRDC is to invest in farmers, industry, customers, people and performance to enhance the performance of the Australian cotton industry and community.


Rhiannon Moore Recipient of the Rural Industries Research and Development Corporation Award

Rhiannon Moore's research follows the journey of a crocodile skin from farms
in the Northern Territory to the exclusive fashion houses of France.

Her world-first project “The bold and the blemished” aims to understand the structure of crocodile skins and what causes tiny blemishes that result in the skin being rejected by luxury handbag manufacturers such as Hermes, Louis Vuitton and Gucci.

Rhiannon, who studies at Charles Darwin University and works at the Centre for Crocodile Research, said the project stemmed from a work placement at a crocodile farm.

“I noticed that a lot of the emphasis from industry was on skin blemishes and trying to reduce them but there wasn't really any research being done to understand the skin,” she said.

Rhiannon said the imperfections cannot be seen on the live crocodile but show up as translucent marks when the skin is placed on a light table.

Even a minuscule mark on the crocodile belly can result in the entire skin being rejected and each skin harvested as blemish-free but later rejected on the light table costs the farmer $1200.

Rhiannon will analyse crocodile skins using immunohistochemistry and scanning electron microscopy to try and find out what causes the marks and how they can be prevented.

“It appears that the lesions are a result of a lack of pigment within the area, however the cause of lesions is not yet known,” she said.

“Some of the linear lesions may be a result of the crocs climbing over each other, while the foci [round] lesions may be a result of other conditions such as pox virus.”

Rhiannon said the crocodile products industry in Australia was worth more than $25 million a year, with a small market in Asia but the majority of exports directed to France.

Rural Industries Research and Development Corporation

The Rural Industries Research and Development Corporation (RIRDC) invests in research and development that will create the knowledge to support a more profitable, sustainable and dynamic rural sector. This includes research and development into Australia's new rural industries which focuses on providing the knowledge for diversification in Australia's rural industries. RIRDC invites applications from young people that will further our knowledge and understanding of innovations that could contribute to the growth and development of Australia's new and developing industries. Applicants should consult the RIRDC website to assist them in the preparation of their applications.


Jonathan Plett - Recipient of the Grains Research and Development Corporation Award

Plant molecular biologist Jonathan Plett is passionate about pulses, mad on
microbes and nutty on nitrogen.

Jonathan's research also has the potential to improve production in food crops not only in Australia but in developing countries around the world.

The University of Western Sydney researcher is studying whether chickpea plants bred to be disease-resistant are also able to take advantage of beneficial microbes in the soil.

His project focuses on disease resistance to two chickpea pathogens, Phytophthora and Ascochyta blight, which together are responsible for $13 million in lost productivity and $43.8 million spent on disease control each year.

Jonathan is looking for a set of specific genes that allow crops to be resistant to these common diseases but still form beneficial relationships with soil microbes.

Farmers inoculate pulse crops with a group of soil microbes called rhizobia— helpful bacteria living on plants' roots that supply the plant with 97 per cent of its nitrogen requirements.

“A lot of great research has gone into breeding new crops that are resistant to diseases,” Jonathan said.

“But these crops are also very dependent on soil microbes. Bacteria and fungi in the soil help crops grow by giving them nutrients.”

Jonathan said he was “stoked” about the project and the chance to undertake research likely to have an impact on people's everyday lives.

“You name it - all crops that we depend on for our food are attacked by diseases but also form these beneficial interactions with microbes in the soil,” Jonathan said.

Jonathan hopes that his work could be broadened to include other agricultural crops such as wheat and potatoes in the future.

Grains Research and Development Corporation

The Grains Research and Development Corporation (GRDC) is one of the world's leading investors in grains research, development and extension (RD&E). The GRDC invests over $150 million per annum across a broad range of research areas - from molecular biology to farming systems. Within their carefully balanced portfolio is a range of investments, from long-term, high risk, 'blue sky' research to short-term, outcome-focused applied research at the local level. The Grains Research and Development Corporation is responsible for planning and investing in RD&E to support effective competition by Australian grain growers in global markets, through enhanced profitability and sustainability.

GRDC is working to ensure Australian grain growers have:

  • better practices developed faster
  • access to superior varieties that enable them to effectively compete in global markets
  • new products and services (both on and off farm) to assist growers to effectively compete in global grain markets
  • the awareness and capacity to optimise adoption of grains research outputs.


Kelly Porter - Recipient of the CSIRO Biosecurity Flagship Award

Kelly Porter, veterinarian, admits to finding anthrax “simply fascinating”. She is not the only one...but she will be the first in Australia to apply a new test for anthrax.

When she joined the Victorian Department of Environment and Primary Industries, both her branch head and supervisor were “anthrax enthusiasts” and with their support she began researching the factors behind its occurrence.

“The more I investigated,” she says, “the more I discovered how little was understood about the disease.”

Anthrax 'spores' can lie dormant in soils for years, retaining the ability to infect livestock and wildlife, and are a potential source of human infection. An annual vaccine can protect livestock, but its expense and the uncertainty of when and where an outbreak will occur, means most producers don't routinely vaccinate.

“Whilst the disease and its effects are well known,” says Kelly, “much regarding its occurrence and interactions with Australian livestock, wildlife and the environment is poorly understood.”

Anthrax in livestock is commonly believed to be fatal, but this is not always the case. International researchers have developed a new blood test that can identify animals that have been exposed to anthrax and survived. Thanks to this award, Kelly will be using this test in Australia.

Kelly will test the blood of more than 2000 livestock and about 60 introduced carnivores in the Goulburn Valley, the location of the last three Victorian anthrax outbreaks.

“Results will indicate where future emergence is more likely, and allow for strategic vaccination after a case is reported,” says Kelly. “Also, the role that carnivores play in spreading the disease will be better understood, assisting in focussed wildlife management and targeted stock vaccination.”

“Findings from this study will help future emergency responses, aiding in the rapid suppression of outbreaks to minimise the devastating social and economic impacts that have occurred in the past.”

CSIRO Biosecurity Flagship

The CSIRO Biosecurity Flagship brings a national perspective and focus on the science needed to tackle biological threats that don't respect borders.

Biosecurity is about the management of risks to our health, economy, industries and environment, from pests and diseases entering, spreading or establishing in Australian waters or on our soil. Through a proud history of biosecurity research, CSIRO has made a significant contribution to Australia's biosecurity status. We've diagnosed devastating pests and diseases in plants and animals and responded quickly to limit negative impacts during emergencies; designed integrated strategies to manage invasive pests in agriculture; developed and evaluated important vaccines and treatments and delivered biological control for invasive animals and many exotic weeds that are found in production landscapes and the wider environment.

The Biosecurity Flagship builds on these successes bringing scale and connectivity to help Australia prevent, prepare for and respond to the spread and impacts of pests and diseases. We're achieving this by working across the biosecurity continuum—investigating risks offshore, at the border, and monitoring what is happening in our own backyard—and we're exploring social sciences and smart technologies for improved detection, surveillance, response and diagnosis.

By continuing to partner with government, industry, universities and other international agencies we can make a difference and protect the health of our people, landscapes, and marine estates from biosecurity threats.


Ramin Rafiei - Recipient of the Grape and Wine Research and Development Corporation Award

Vineyards and microspectroscopy might not be words you hear together too often, but for wine-loving research engineer Ramin Rafiei they're a natural fit.

The University of Western Australia Associate Professor will use his Science Award to develop a portable spectrometer that will help viticulturists determine when their grape vines are stressed due to a lack of water.

Ramin said water stress had a dramatic impact on vine yield, grape quality and the resulting wine. The micro-scale spectrometer, unlike existing technologies available, can be used in vineyards to detect water stress in leaves before visible signs appear.

“In the vineyard, if you're at that point, you've already damaged your grapes… you can't expect to have good quality wine at the end of the season” Ramin said.

Ramin hopes to have a demonstration model ready for field trials within 12 months of the project starting. The final product will be a low-cost, robust system no larger than the palm of a human hand that will connect with a smartphone or tablet.

“Driving the price per unit lower enables you to effectively deploy these in networks such that every vineyard in Australia and, ultimately, around the world can use it,” he said.

The project has been made possible by a decade of work in UWA's Microelectronic Research Group, to reduce a bench top spectrometer to the width of a human hair using nanotechnology.

Broad adoption of the microspectrometer could have wide-ranging applications in precision agriculture for enhancing crop yields and quality. The potential exists to eliminate manual monitoring of irrigated crops leading to productivity gains and water-use efficiency.

Grape and Wine Research and Development Corporation

The Grape and Wine Research and Development Corporation (GWRDC) invests in and directs research, development and extension (RD&E) along the whole value chain 'from vine to glass' to support a competitive Australian wine sector.

Our RD&E investments come from levies on the annual winegrape harvest and matching contributions from the Australian Government.

We collaborate with our key stakeholders to coordinate and direct our investments to best address the sector's strategic priorities, which are detailed in our Five–Year RD&E Plan 2012–17 and our Annual Operating Plan 2013–14.

GWRDC is committed to supporting enthusiastic and passionate individuals who will go on to make a positive contribution to the grape and wine sector through the delivery of innovative solutions.


Danswell Starrs - Recipient of the Fisheries Research and Development Corporation Award

A chance meeting with researchers talking about Computed X-ray Tomography (CT scanning) led Australian National University fish biologist Danswell Starrs to wonder if there was an easier way to work out the age of a fish.

About two million fish are aged every year by looking at their ear stones—called otoliths—which hold information about how old a fish is in a similar way to measuring growth rings on a tree trunk.

To age a fish, researchers currently have to euthanase the animal, remove the otoliths, mount them in a block of hard resin, slice the block into sections with a saw and look at a thin sliver under a microscope. Current techniques are time consuming!

But Danswell hopes to make that process a whole lot easier by investigating whether CT scanning can be used to determine the age of fish without having to section the otoliths.

Future developments in CT scanning could even mean there is the potential to find out how old a fish is while keeping it alive. The collection of age and growth data is central to fisheries management.

“With this information you can work out the effects of fishing,” he said.

“If you're overfishing a population, for instance, you might find that their age profile is changing, so you no longer have as many older fish.”

Danswell said he grew up on a farm south of Canberra and was interested in the fish and crustaceans swimming in the creek from a very young age.

He came up with the idea of employing CT scans on otoliths during his doctoral research into age and growth processes in native freshwater fish.

Fisheries Research and Development Corporation

The Fisheries Research and Development Corporation (FRDC) and its stakeholders are focused on what the Corporation has adopted as its vision: a vibrant Australian fishing and aquaculture industry, adopting world–class research to achieve prosperity and to wisely use the natural resources on which it depends. “Prosperity” in this sense encompasses not only the financial wellbeing of the commercial sector but also the many social and environmental values related to the commercial, recreational and indigenous customary sectors.

The FRDC recognises that it is vitally important to support young people to develop the knowledge and capabilities to assist the fishing industry to reach its potential. The fishing industry faces significant challenges, but it also provides enormous opportunities to build a rewarding career. The person we are looking for to receive an FRDC sponsored award will have a great idea, will be a great role model for young people to further their interest in science, and be keen to use this opportunity to build their networks with other researchers, the FRDC and with industry.

We encourage applicants to obtain a copy of the FRDC's RD&E Plan 2010–2015 from our website or by phoning our office on 02 6285 0400.


Megan Verdon - Recipient of the Australian Pork Ltd Award

Megan Verdon's rural background, her love of animals and a degree in the history and philosophy of science from the University of Melbourne were important precursors to Megan's investigations into pigs.

Fuelled by her post-graduate education at the Animal Welfare Science Centre, where she met her first sow, “and fell in love”, Megan Verdon is now one of the key welfare and animal housing researchers in the Australian pork industry.

Pork producers are currently exploring group lactation of sows and litters as an alternative to confined farrowing crates. These systems are thought to improve sow welfare by increasing the opportunity for movement and social interaction, but the long-term effects on piglets are poorly understood.

Megan will use her award to study the effects that socialisation of pre-weaning piglets has on aggression and welfare later in life.

“As is the case for many social animals,” says Megan, “neonatal and early experiences can have substantial effects on the development of behaviour. Through early socialisation, pigs may reduce aggressive behaviour later in life.”

“Research has suggested that aggression increases stress and injury in older pigs and thus reduces rates of growth and feed conversion as well as meat quality.”

Megan plans to continue her research and contribute to the ongoing improvement of animal welfare standards in Australia. “I relish the opportunity to continue contributing to the differentiation of Australia's pork industry as world leaders in pig welfare.”

Australian Pork Ltd

Australian Pork Limited (APL) is the national representative body for Australian pork producers.

APL is a producer-owned not-for-profit company whose purpose is to enhance the viability of Australia's pork producers. APL delivers integrated marketing, innovation and policy services through the pork supply chain, in association with key industry and government stakeholders, and aims to address five core objectives: Build Consumer Demand; Viable Productive Farms; Efficient Value Chains; Leadership, Preparedness, Stewardship; and Industry Cohesion & Responsiveness.

APL is primarily funded through statutory pig slaughter levies with additional research-specific funds provided by the Australian government. All levy paying producers are entitled to free membership of APL and those who aren't required to pay levies can apply for associate membership.

APL's headquarters are in Barton, Canberra with state-based marketing managers and other regionally based staff located in Sydney, Melbourne and Bendigo.


James Walker - Recipient of the Australian Wool Innovation Award

Fifth generation Longreach farmer and Nuffield scholar James Walker wants nothing more than to revolutionise livestock management in Australian agriculture... one sheep at a time.

James is developing 'Paddock Pulse' to electronically monitor animal physiology in real-time to improve sustainability, animal welfare and profitability in the wool industry. His system uses technology developed to monitor performance of elite athletes and army personnel.

Sheep will be fitted with National Livestock Identification Scheme (NLIS) Radio Frequency Identification Devices (RFID) ear tags. A scanner will be installed at the entrance to water points and each sheep will be logged as it passes the scanner—effectively monitoring when each sheep entered the water point, how long it spent there and the order of arrival.

“This data may provide an insight into flock dynamics and rank individuals on their feeding efficiencies... it may also identify weak or lame sheep, sheep that have a lamb and high performers,” says James.

James also plans to fit sheep with accelerometers (like pedometers) to track the number of steps they take, a proxy for how much energy the animals are using and how far they travel to find food. Portable scales and condition scoring will complement the new technology and allow producers to expertly assess feed requirements and availability to optimise both animal welfare and productivity.

The accelerometers will also record speed to help establish whether a sheep has been chased by a predator. If so, an alert will be sent to base the next time that sheep passes the scanner.

The system will be linked to a computerised accounting system that can be used to optimise financial outcomes.

“Remote real-time individual physiological monitoring is on the verge of a revolution for animal management,” says James. “When the revolution occurs it will transform agriculture and animal management—socially, environmentally and financially.”

Australian Wool Innovation

Australian Wool Innovation Limited (AWI) is the research, development and marketing (RD&M) organisation for the Australian wool industry.

AWI is responsible for managing and investing levy funds received from over 27,000 levy payers, and matching eligible research and development (R&D) contributions from the Australian government.

AWI invests in RD&M across the supply chain to enhance the profitability, international competitiveness and sustainability of the Australian wool industry, and to increase the demand and market access for Australian wool.

Australian Wool Innovation Limited

Last reviewed:
20 Sep 2017