Two science honours students at The University of Western Australia - one from Toodyay and the other from Bunbury - have achieved their goals of contributing to Australian agriculture having been awarded the Sir Eric Smart Scholarship for Agricultural Research through UWA's Institute of Agriculture.
Fraser Stewart, who grew up on the family farm in Toodyay, wanted to focus his research on a current topic affecting agriculture in the grainbelt. His project investigated the economic, social and environmental opportunities and challenges associated with foreign investment through a series of face-to-face interviews with farmers in the WA grainbelt.
Contrary to popular belief, the study revealed that foreign investment is not having a detrimental effect on farmers and rural communities where the interviews were conducted.
"Overall, foreign investment was found to offer opportunities for capital injection, natural resource management, employment and community support in the grainbelt," Fraser said.
Fraser has returned to the farm to help his father with the harvest before taking up a National Australia Bank Agribusiness traineeship.
Mary-Anne Lowe from Bunbury chose to undertake research into water repellency in soils, which is one of the constraints on agricultural productivity in southwestern Australia. She conducted laboratory-based research into non-wetting agricultural soils in WA, a project supported by the Cooperative Research Centre for Polymers.
Mary-Anne compared the effectiveness of two surfactants on soil water distribution and runoff on three types of soil and developed a laboratory-based method for effective testing of amelioration techniques to improve conditions on water repellent soil.
"The system represents an inexpensive tool to screen different surfactants and soils in the lab before the more capable products are tested in extensive and costly field trials," Mary-Anne said.
Mary-Anne is considering continuing onto postgraduate studies or working within the natural resource management sector.
UWA Institute of Agriculture Director, Hackett Professor Kadambot Siddique said that Sir Eric Smart would have been proud to see his bequest support Fraser and Mary-Anne's research which has benefited agriculture in WA.
"Sir Eric Smart wanted science to improve agricultural production. He endowed substantial funds to UWA upon his death in 1973. This was later supplemented by a gift from his son Peter Smart," Professor Siddique said.
He explained that more than half of Sir Eric Smart's 10,000 hectare Erregull Springs property at Mingenew was light sand-plain country. He experimented with superphosphate and lupins to build soil fertility of the land for cropping.
"He was a pioneer who worked hard to increase production and sustainability. In 1950, grain production from Smart's properties set an Australian individual record of 8200 tons and later reached 13,400 tons. The bequest continues his legacy," Professor Siddique said.
Fraser was supervised by Assistant Professor Marit Kragt and Research Assistant Professor Fiona Gibson, both from UWA's School of Agricultural and Resource Economics and Institute of Agriculture.
Mary-Anne was supervised by Assistant Professors Matthias Leopold and Gavan McGrath, and Dr Falko Mathes from UWA's School of Earth and Environment and Institute of Agriculture.
Hackett Professor Kadambot Siddique(Director, The UWA Institute of Agriculture) (+61 8) 6488 7012; (+61 4) 11 155 396
Assistant Professor Fiona Gibson (contact for Fraser Stewart) (+61 8) 6488 5506
Mary-Anne Lowe (+61 4) 00 191 378
David Stacey (UWA Media Manager) (+61 8) 6488 3229 / (+61 4) 32 637 716