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New agriculture pulse recruits expand research

TEAM BOOST: New research team members, from left, Solomon Maina, Josh Fanning, Abby Griffin and Arun Shunmugam.

TEAM BOOST: New research team members, from left, Solomon Maina, Josh Fanning, Abby Griffin and Arun Shunmugam.

Agriculture Victoria’s national leadership in pulse research has had a boost, with four new scientists joining the research and innovation team at Horsham’s Grains Innovation Park.
Agriculture Victoria research scientist Dr Josh Fanning has taken on the role of pulse pathologist; Dr Arun Shunmugam has joined a molecular plant-breeding team as a lentil breeder; plant molecular virologist Dr Solomon Maina’s work will include upgrading exotic virus screening processes; and the focus for Abby Griffin will be pulse agronomy.
Research director Traci Griffin said the new members brought skills and experience that, collectively, would improve outcomes for pulse growers and Victoria’s burgeoning pulse industry.
“Josh and Abby are filling exciting new positions, created to meet growing demand for pulse pathology and agronomy research, while Arun has filled a recently vacated role,” she said.
“Solomon will be working within the microbiology team, which is tasked with ensuring biosecurity procedures facilitate the safe movement of pulse germplasm in and out of Australia.”
Dr Fanning, specialising in soil-borne diseases for the past four years, said he was excited to expand his role into pulse pathology.
Since starting in the role, Dr Fanning has focused on pulse-disease surveillance to ensure disease ratings were up-to-date, which would enable pulse breeders to develop and release more resistant varieties.
Among people who will benefit from the results of Dr Fanning’s research will be new lentil breeder Dr Shunmugam.
Dr Shunmugam’s passion for lentils has taken him across the globe, relocating to Horsham from Saskatchewan in Canada and, before that, from his homeland in India.
He admitted the move to Horsham was a big leap, having previously only lived in large cities. But he said he and his young family looked forward to the change.
“I wanted to come here for two reasons. Firstly, because I really love lentils, one of the important diet staples in India, and secondly because plant breeders at Grains Innovation Park practise physiological plant breeding, as opposed to conventional breeding, which is what I was doing in my previous roles,” he said.
“This means we look at the whole plant or crop, rather than just focusing on one trait, and can consider real-time issues such as heat and drought.”
Dr Maina has also moved to Horsham to take up his new role.
He arrived in Horsham last month from Perth, and before that was in Nairobi, Kenya.
Dr Maina’s new role involves supporting the introduction of seed that is free of diseases to the Australian Grains Genebank at Horsham.
Plant breeders then use this seed to develop new and improved varieties for farmers.
“The aim is to upgrade current exotic virus screening processes to make it more efficient to identify seed-borne viruses and prevent their introduction into Australia,” Dr Maina said.
For new scientist Abby Griffin, the move to Horsham from Queensland to take on a pulse agronomy role was less daunting.
Ms Griffin grew up in Horsham before relocating to Brisbane, where GrainCorp employed her as a quality supervisor for their Brisbane port terminals.
Her new role will include overseeing field trials for the Southern Pulse Validation program to build on research findings from the Southern Pulse Agronomy program led by Dr Jason Brand.
“We are looking at many research questions within the areas of herbicide tolerance, disease management and canopy management, and are really passionate about finding improvements that can be incorporated into current farming systems,” she said.
“It’s good to be back home in the Wimmera and contributing to improving a crop that is so important to farmers and the regional economy.”
Grains Research and Development Corporation investments, in partnership with Agriculture Victoria, have led to the new pulse research positions.

The entire December 5, 2018 edition of The Weekly Advertiser is available online. READ IT HERE!

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Posted on Dec 5 2018

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