Engineering in Sustainable Ag

I would like to introduce myself and my group to sanet.  We are a
group of 18 scientists and engineers working in agricultural
research, partly funded by government and partly by farming industry
groups.  We are the main engineering R&D resource for horticultural
and pastoral research in New Zealand.  Our academic backgrounds
include physics, mathematics and biotechnology as well as most of the
engineering and electronics branches. We have close working
relationships with scientists working in most biological areas.

A lot of our work is directed at finding ways of operating
large-scale agricultural industries with minimal or no use of
chemicals.  Agriculture here is taking consumer demand for greater 
health assurance very seriously, so funding for this kind of research 
is quite significant by NZ standards.  Substantial changes to 
agricultural practice are being made, especially in horticulture, and 
increasingly these changes are being driven by the marketing boards 
which coordinate most of New Zealand's agricultural exports.

A theme of our work is that sustainable farming usually requires more 
effort (physical and mental) than conventional farming, and 
consequently can be limited by the availability of human resources.  
The role of engineers is to make human resources go further by 
developing helpful tools and processes.  Often our aim is to find a 
way of turning an uneconomic ideal into an economic reality.

My group's current interests in the sustainable ag field include:

Non-chemical fruit disinfestation

Non-destructive high-speed grading of individual fruit for
sweetness, defects and insect infestation

Use of beneficial fungus and fungal extracts for control of undesirable 
fungal infections

Practical use of pheromones for insect control (eg mating disruption)

Non-spray herbicide application technology for control of rampant vines and
trees (eg stream-blocking willows)

Minimal-chemical weed control

Automatic trapping for control of pest animals (a serious problem in
New Zealand - our ancestors imported a lot of small animals but not
the predators to keep them in check)

Objective measurement of stress in free-ranging animals and during 

Creation of micro-environments with shelter and reflective foils

Minimizing use of insecticides and fungicides in large-scale production
of exportable fruit 

Simple controlled-release systems for disease prevention in livestock

Rod McDonald
Horticulture and Food Research Institute, 
Hamilton, New Zealand
Phone +64-7-8385675 work, +64-7-8552019 home, Fax +64-7-8385655