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Drought capability statement - Sydney Institute of Agriculture

20 August 2018
Embedding world-leading research on farms and in communities
While all of NSW has been declared as being affected by drought, the University of Sydney says researchers and farmers are working together combining conservation agriculture with digital innovations to support food security
Our research provides farmers with the knowledge and tools they need ... in an increasingly hostile climate.
Professor Alex McBratney
Heat map. This drought visualisation used the normalised difference vegetation index (NDVI) as an indicator of photosynthetic activity. Healthy, growing vegetation show high NDVI values. If vegetation is under any stress, that would affect the photosynthetic activity and result in lower NDVI values detected from satellite imagery. Read more. Credit: José Padarian C.

Heat map. This drought visualisation used the normalised difference vegetation index (NDVI) as an indicator of photosynthetic activity. Healthy, growing vegetation show high NDVI values. If vegetation is under any stress, that would affect the photosynthetic activity and result in lower NDVI values detected from satellite imagery. Read more. Credit: José Padarian C.

Through the University of Sydney’s research farms spanning Camden on Sydney’s outskirts to the NSW north-west of Narrabri – where the drought is at its worst – we are integrating our research capabilities within communities and on farms.

Professor of Plant Breeding Richard Trethowan, who leads the substantial heat- and drought-tolerance efforts, says: “We’re throwing everything at it – molecular biology, robotics, big data and genetics at the nanoscale – our results have been steadily improving the industry for years.

“Our focus is reaping results for crops once they’re in the ground but our research will also help farmers prepare for planting next year and in future drought situations,” Professor Trethowan said.

Professor of Soil Science and Digital Agriculture Alex McBratney said perhaps the best example of Sydney’s collaborative research for soil-moisture and heat conditions was that farmers were now less sensitive to adverse climate shock.

He said farmers used improved varieties with better stress tolerance and better managed soil moisture using conservation agriculture, including the exploitation of off-season rainfall and eradication of moisture using weeds.

“Our research provides farmers with the knowledge and tools they need to maintain their profitability in an increasingly hostile climate,” Professor McBratney said.

The University of Sydney brings together researchers from a range of disciplines to undertake leading-edge science in tackle drought and climate variability under the recently launched flagship initiative, Sydney Institute of Agriculture, directed by Professor McBratney.

“The Sydney Institute of Agriculture has significant experience in improving crop species for drought tolerance and water-use-efficiency for major crops globally - like wheat and legumes,” Professor McBratney said.

Drought adaptive traits are identified, characterised and validated from extensive germplasm collections. These traits are pyramided in agronomically superior backgrounds. The products are evaluated nationally to identify sub-groups of genotypes based on their predicted performance in other grain growing regions of Australia. 

The Sydney Institute of Agriculture has also developed approaches that can use different data streams relating to soil moisture and combine these with process models, geospatial data and data analytics to predict the current and future status of soil moisture. 

“Our predictions can be used to vary management season-to-season down to the paddock level, based on risks associated with drought,” Professor McBratney said.

“Agriculture in Australia has always involved risk; however this risk can be managed - we are focusing on working with farmers and scientists not only in Australia but also globally, to improve our capacity for food security and resilience in a changing climate.” 

Vivienne Reiner

Media and PR Adviser (Science, Veterinary Science, Agriculture)
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