Collaborative research and development work involving two or more countries with similar R&D priorities could become part of the solution to dwindling funding pools for livestock sector research, an expatriate scientist from Townsville suggests.
Dr Carlos Ramirez Restrepo was attending the recent Northern Beef R&D conference in Darwin, where discussions touched on the challenge of meeting beef research goals under increasingly tight budget constraints.
A Columbian by birth, Dr Restrepo is a New Zealand citizen currently working as a research scientist with CSIRO Livestock Industries in Townsville.
He specialises in the area of greenhouse gas emissions, looking for plant/animal interactions and ways to reduce emissions using forage crops – particularly leucaena and other browse legume shrubs containing condensed tannin compounds.
It has been known for many years that plants containing condensed tanins can have a considerable effect on lowering methane emissions in cattle, via the rumen. In some cases, declines of 20-25pc in emissions are possible in ruminants, however such legumes are more typically consumed as part of a broader diet also containing grasses and other material.
The findings provide some real opportunities in tropical and sub-tropical areas where such condensed tannin-rich legumes grow to reduce emissions in commercial-scale beef enterprises.
“For many years the quality of beef production research carried out by CSIRO and other R&D organisations in Australia has been well known on the world stage. But there is also excellent research being carried out in similar environments in South America and elsewhere around the world,” Dr Restrepo said.
“There is opportunity to better link this experience and knowledge from country to country,” he said.
“The reality is that Australian beef research is under budget pressure, just as it is in many other countries. We need to remember that there may be different stratification of producers from country to country – some may be lower income producers, some higher – but many of the problems with productivity or environmental challenges are similar.”
“My philosophy is that to be successful, such collaborations need to develop trust and confidence between the partners. Australia can play a role around the world in many fields of beef research, including areas like greenhouse gas emissions. Mitigation of GHGs is going to be a global challenge for agriculture, not just in Australia, so it makes sense to pool research resources,” he said.
There was also a sense of social responsibility, because not a lot of developed countries are located in tropical areas of the world, and Australian could be a leader in this field, for poorer nations in Africa and Asia, for example.
“Such research can be a way to improve social and economic development,” he said.
Dr Restrepo was originally trained under a CSIRO project in Colombia run under the International Centre for Tropical Agriculture.
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