New Zealand’s economy depends on productive primary industries which generate $30 billion a year in export earnings. The government’s business growth agenda aims to double the real value of New Zealand exports by 2025.
To support this future export growth, it will be important to increase both production and the value of our primary products, while minimising the impact of agriculture on the environment. Our research aims to achieve this through quality, fit for purpose research, involving three inter-related platforms:
The University of Otago has extensive capabilities to support research that can be applied to improve risk mitigation, economic, environmental and social performance of the sector.
Enhancing agricultural productivity
Agricultural productivity can be significantly enhanced through reducing the impact of plant and animal pests and diseases, and by developing improved breeds of plants and animals.
This research is focused on developing new and / or improved strategies to diagnose and treat disease. Understanding the mechanisms of resistance and susceptibility to diseases, such as tuberculosis, has been a long-term focus of research at Otago and we also have expertise in plant diseases.
To reduce the impact plant pests and animal parasites have on productivity, we are developing pesticides with reduced off-target effects, and novel biocontrol strategies to control pasture pests.
Breeding strategies are being revolutionised through new molecular-genetic approaches. We have strong basic biomedical and plant research that provides extensive expertise in discovering the molecular basis of agriculturally important traits, such as animal fertility and plant flowering. This knowledge is crucial for the efficient incorporation of such traits in modern breeding programmes.
Adding value to primary industry products
While primary industries are the backbone of the New Zealand economy, the sector must transition from volume commodity production to customised, branded, value-added products. As the interface between nutrition and medicine begins to overlap, quality assurance and food security become ever more important drivers in the marketplace.
The transition from commodities to branded products requires new levels of quality assurance and development of new products. The focus of this research is to encourage an innovative cross-disciplinary approach with the aim of adding value to New Zealand’s primary industries. The scope of our scientists researching various strategies to add value to our primary industries ranges from improving gains in production to isolating bioactive medicinal compounds.
Sustainable and profitable environmental management
Intensive modern farming systems impose ever-increasing pressures on the environment. Excessive nutrient burdens, and carbon, nitrogen, and phosphorous mitigation have become the responsibility of regional government. The primary sector's immediate challenge is to continue to be profitable, within sustainable management systems.
Our research utilises expertise where researchers can work directly with primary producers and regional authorities to develop sustainable yet profitable management systems.
Our particular strengths include investigating how farming activities are enabled by agents / dynamics at the micro-level (soils, microbes), and interact with wider ecological and economic dynamics at the macro-level (industries, catchments, regions). Predictive studies using our computer modelling and IT expertise are central to finding solutions.