CSIRO scientists still at work

Agricultural research continues for now

GOOD NEWS
Cropping
SHOW MUST GO ON: Researchers are still planning to continue winter crop research trials this year.

SHOW MUST GO ON: Researchers are still planning to continue winter crop research trials this year.

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Agricultural researchers on the job for essential research and diagnostics

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COVID-19 could have widespread ramifications for a a number of services essential for agriculture and food production, including the researchers who underpin it.

As cropping areas wind up for the 2020 plant, research organisations are also gearing up for field season, planning in-crop trials as well as setting up essential services such as plant disease and pest diagnostics.

CSIRO director of agriculture and food Dr Michael Robertson said while he was unsure at this stage what the flow on effects could be for agricultural research, so far it was business as usual.

"My honest answer is we don't know yet," he said.

"We are acting as if it is business as usual, telling our staff to keep pushing on with their project work and to make plans around field work.

"It is likely though that some work may be delayed and we will need to renegotiate with funding agencies."

Dr Robertson said CSIRO was telling staff to concentrate on what they could control.

"We are asking them to try to do as much as they can from home, but of course many people working in laboratories or out in the field can't do that, so we are giving them the support they need to keep coming into work," he said.

"As of last week we had about 50 per cent of our people still coming into the office or laboratory.

"We certainly haven't closed down things and we have no intention of doing that until the government asks us to."

Dr Robertson said it was a challenge for any large organisation to suddenly have a spike in its workforce logging in to computer systems remotely.

"It has been amazing to see how our information and technology group have been responding to this," he said.

Digital agriculture

Dr Robertson said aspects of digital agriculture could help research to continue adding value to the farming system.

"We have a project promoting the growing of grain legumes in low-rainfall areas, and we want to track adoption," he said.

"That is where satellite data can be very helpful.

"While you wouldn't publish individual paddocks and locations, aggregated data could be very useful, looking at things such as soil type, sowing window and area.

"Instead of going out to do a ground survey to ask for the information through agronomists, we could do this through satellite."

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