A new $16 million Agricultural Science and Engineering Precinct has officially opened at the University of Southern Queensland (USQ) Toowoomba campus. Co-funded by the Grains Research and Development Corporation (GRDC) and USQ, the Precinct will be used primarily for GRDC-supported, USQ-led research conducted for the benefit of Australian grain growers.
Other beneficiaries from the new precinct will be research funded by the Broadacre Grains Research Partnership, AgriFutures Australia, Hort Innovation and the Australian Centre for International Agricultural Research. USQ plays a major role in research and development in particular in the areas of crop protection, plant pathology and biotechnology as it relates to crop protection.
The new facility was opened by the Minister for Agricultural Industry Development and Fisheries Mark Furner, GRDC Chairman John Woods, USQ Chancellor John Dornbusch and USQ Vice-Chancellor Professor Geraldine Mackenzie. Mr Furner highlighted the importance of collaborations to deliver world-leading research. “Partnerships such as these are imperative for ongoing impactful research that will drive growth in our agricultural industries,” Mr Furner said. “We are investing in innovation so Queensland farmers can take on and beat the best in the world. This collaboration with USQ is already reaping benefits for Queensland agriculture, and will continue to do so for years to come.”
The new development includes ten laboratories, including specialist quarantine facilities, four glasshouses, netted and irrigated facilities for field research, harvesting and processing of field and glasshouse samples, root and soil sampling for nematodes and four state-of-the-art controlled environment rooms. Professor Mackenzie said the infrastructure was crucial to the on-going research drive of the University. “This investment in infrastructure will help support the delivery of our world-class agricultural and environmental research, so USQ continues to be a national and indeed international leader in crop protection, plant pathology and biotechnology research,” Professor Mackenzie said. “This is a unique facility that will work as a nexus between microbiology labs through to processing labs, state-of-the-art glasshouses and the field research unit, allowing researchers to look at the whole spectrum of research which underpins crop protection in Australia.
“We are absolutely delighted that GRDC has invested alongside us to establish this world-class facility that now and in decades to come will play a major role in understanding plant pathogens and how to protect our crops to increase our agricultural yields,” Professor MacKenzie said. “As a University, we are committed to our teaching mission and this facility will also play a major role in the training of our future scientists. We currently have over 30 staff and 30 research students using the facility engaged in research across the spectrum, from grains to horticulture to food sciences, reflecting our commitment to the future of crop health research in Australia.”
GRDC Chairman Mr John Woods said GRDC was proud to co-invest in this world-class facility that would provide benefits to Australian grain growers. “The GRDC invests in RD&E to create enduring profitability for Australian grain growers, so we are proud to be co-investing with the University of Southern Queensland and the Queensland Government in this exceptional facility,” he said. “GRDC has the responsibility of ensuring the levy investment by grain growers delivers paddock-ready solutions to production constraints, helps reduce production costs and most importantly has a positive impact on farm profitability. But we don’t do any of the RD&E ourselves. We rely on high-calibre researchers and research organisations like USQ to deliver world class RD&E to growers. The partnership between the USQ and the GRDC is a great one. While the work carried out here will bolster Australia’s ability to protect its multi-million-dollar broadacre industries against plant disease and biosecurity threats, it provides a boost to the great town of Toowoomba, and the entire region.”
The glasshouses and new facilities will be used for pre-breeding programs for wheat and chickpeas, specifically assisting in the development of varieties that are drought, heat, and soil pathogen resistant. These high tech glasshouses continually monitor the surrounding weather conditions to maximise plant growth and provide the ideal conditions for plant pathogen research. The Precinct will also facilitate interaction with agricultural engineering research teams, providing the ability to undertake machine vision sensing and robotics trials, which will lead to a faster selection of advanced disease resistant grain varieties and better options for farmers for disease and insect management.
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Featured image: USQ Chancellor John Dornbusch; Grain Research Development Corporation Chairman John Woods; State Minister for Agricultural Industry Development and Fisheries Mark Furner; USQ Vice-Chancellor Geraldine Mackenzie.