The winners of the 2019 ICM Agrifood Awards are Dr Lee Hickey, of the University of Queensland, and Dr Lydia Ong, from the University of Melbourne.
Dr Hickey leads a research team at the Queensland Alliance for Agriculture and Food Innovation that conducts plant breeding and genetics research on Australia’s most important cereal crops, wheat and barley.
He has played a key role in applying crop “speed breeding” technology that enables up to six generations per year for major crops like wheat, barley and chickpea – slashing the time to develop improved varieties for farmers.
The technology has been used to create novel wheat varieties and his communication efforts via social media and mainstream media have inspired widespread adoption around the world and helped to promote agricultural science in Australia.
Dr Ong, a research fellow at the ARC Dairy Innovation Hub, has developed a suite of microscopy capabilities to study the behaviour of food components such as protein and fat on a molecular scale.
She uses this expertise to determine the structure of foods and to link this fundamental behaviour to processes that occur on a large scale in Australian dairy manufacturing.
She has formed successful, long-standing research partnerships with Australian dairy manufacturing companies, which together contribute $3 billion of agricultural export income.
Her research has helped to improve product quality, minimise waste and increase the profitability of food exports.
The ICM Agrifood Awards
The ICM Agrifood Awards recognise and acknowledge the outstanding work of two early career scientists or technologists.
The awardees will have achieved substantial peer/industry recognition for their work in a field critical to continued improvement of the overall Australian food sector in the past five years.
The award is made to one female and one male.
Winners each receive $5000, sponsored by ICM Agribusiness, one of Australia’s major agribusiness groups. The Awards are administered by the Academy.
The Selection Committee assesses all eligible nominations against the following key criteria, that the nominee has:
- demonstrated excellence, innovation and impact in a field related to food and agriculture in Australia
- been acknowledged by peers for outstanding contributions to the food and agriculture sector in the past five years
- advanced the standing of the broad profession of agriculture and food
The nominee must be 40 years or under on the first day of the year in which the award is made (with allowance made for career breaks due to family or carer responsibilities).
Dr Shu Kee Lam: “Managing healthier soil”
Higher levels of atmospheric carbon dioxide are impacting Australia’s agriculture and food security. Dr Shu Kee Lam, a Research Fellow at the School of Agriculture and Food at the University of Melbourne, is tackling this issue from the perspective of soil nitrogen management.
His research is providing critical knowledge for the uncertain future of agriculture in a changing climate.
His recent paper in Global Change Biology was chosen by the European Commission (Environment) to inform 20,000 policy-makers on developing nitrogen use policy in agriculture.
Dr Angela Van de Wouw: “Saving the canola industry from blackleg”
Dr Angela Van de Wouw, a Senior Research Fellow at the University of Melbourne’s School of Biosciences, is an internationally recognised leading expert on the canola disease, blackleg. Caused by a fungus, blackleg almost wiped out the industry in the early 1970s.
She discovered new ways to control the devastating disease, including identifying blackleg-resistant genes in canola, creating molecular tests to predict disease outbreaks and developing disease management strategies.
Her research helped reopen the Chinese market to Australian canola imports in 2013.
Dr Rebecca Darbyshire, understanding fruit and nut trees and weather
One of Dr Rebecca Darbyshire’s major contributions to Australia’s agriculture sector has been to introduce innovative ways to make complex scientific results more readable and accessible for on-the-ground application. Often, adaptation techniques aren’t applied because of poor understanding.
She has also boosted the knowledge on how fruit trees respond to a range of weather conditions, focusing on winter chill and extreme heat damage, as well as flowering cycles.
Dr James Hunt, raising grain productivity
Dr James Hunt has dedicated his research to supporting grain growers across the Australian wheat belt to improve the productivity and profit of grain-based farms.
Since 2012, he has improved summer fallow management across southern and western grain regions of Australia; helped properly define optimal flowering and sowing dates in different Australian environments; and developed the “fast winter” wheat cultivar.