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USQ’s first crop research ranking exceeds world class

Grant Daggard
USQ’s Centre for Crop Health Acting Director Professor Grant Daggard.
The University of Southern Queensland’s (USQ) research into genetic improvement for crops and pastures has been ranked as above world class in the 2015 Excellence in Research in Australia (ERA) results released earlier this month.

Undertaken by USQ’s Centre for Crop Health (CCH), research has centred on the identification of genes which make crops like wheat more resistant to climate, parasitic and disease pressures.

ERA is a framework undertaken every three years which ranks research produced in Australian universities against national and international benchmarks.

In CCH’s initial ERA ranking, the 2015 report has placed USQ’s work in identifying beneficial genes which can be incorporated into commercial cereal and pulse crop varieties at four on a scale of one to five, with three being world class.

Professor Grant Daggard, CCH’s Acting Director, said the outcome has delighted the CCH team, which has made significant contributions to numerous projects linking it with esteemed Australian and international organisations.

“To get a ranking of four is a tremendous accolade for our team, which spends long hours in glasshouses, at field trials and in laboratories looking for traits in plants which can help improve agriculture,” Professor Daggard said.

Areas where CCH research have shone have included identifying tolerance and resistance to the root-lesion nematodes parasite, and the crown rot and yellow spot fungi, all of which can decimate crop yields.

“Our research has also looked at abiotic stressors, like the effect increased carbon-dioxide levels may have on protein levels in wheat and rice as climate change affects our atmosphere,” he said.

ERA rankings are determined by various factors, including the number of research papers published, and the number of times they were cited by other researchers.

“Some of our researchers have been published in prestigious journals like Nature, which is produced in the UK, and Science, an American publication, and it’s great to see these achievements contributing to our success in the 2015 ERA rankings,” Professor Daggard said.

In terms of applied research, CCH projects have identified genes which contribute to viable and sustainable crops grown in Australia and beyond, and have made these available for both industry and further research; CCH has also delivered guidelines to help farmers choose appropriate varieties in their rotations.

“Our success in the 2015 ERA rankings are a pat on the back for the team, and for our recently retired founding Director, Professor Mark Sutherland, who understood the benefits of targeting research strengths of new appointments, and opening post-graduate pathways,” Professor Daggard said.

CCH is part of USQ’s Institute for Agriculture and the Environment, and Professor Daggard said support from this parent body, and from USQ’s Deputy Vice Chancellor (Research), Mark Harvey, have also contributed significantly to the Centre’s success in the 2015 ERA rankings.