National PhD scholarship scheme – driving research innovation (LP15007)
What’s it all about?
By awarding scholarships to PhD students from a range of disciplines, this initiative is about encouraging blue-sky, cross-sector research that will benefit the Australian horticulture industry for years to come.
To date, PhD research being supported by the scholarships includes:
- Precision agriculture. Using crop-based sensor and precision agriculture technologies to directly and accurately assess irrigation/fertigation needs in specific areas of a crop, and then meet those needs in a precisely timed and targetted way. Crops anticipated to be involved in the work include avocado, macadamia and vegetables including capsicum and chilli.
- Protected cropping. Looking at the potential to expand protective cropping in Australia's warmer tropical regions, and improve protected cropping in subtropical regions, with a focus on systems to improve crop quality and crop longevity under protected cropping.
Part of the Hort Frontiers National PhD Leadership Scheme, which fosters the development of industry-focused research skills within future leaders, this initiative encouraged blue-sky, cross-sector research to benefit the Australian horticulture industry for years to come.
The investment supported PhD student Karli Groves from Central Queensland University to complete a doctoral research project and gain research leadership skills through collaboration with a leading Australian vegetable crop producer and attendance at national and international horticultural conferences.
Her PhD project Examining key constraints to protected cropping systems for the production of high-value vegetable crops in tropical and subtropical climate focused on the subtropical / tropical protected cropping industry. It sought to identify and investigate key aspects affecting crop yield and quality in a commercial cucumber production system.
Protected cropping represents great potential for increased yields of higher quality and more sustainably grown produce. Appropriate research expertise to support continued expansion of protected cropping in Northern Australia is currently limited, with most research centred in cooler, temperate zones.
While many crops are grown under protective structures in Australia, cucumber is one of the most economically important and widely grown crops in the country.
Research undertaken in the PhD project identified that fruit displaying bending during early growth (that would normally be removed and discarded by pickers) would straighten if left on the plant. Less frequent pruning delivered higher marketable fruit yields (on average, one additional fruit per plant over the cropping period) than the current pruning strategy and reduced labour costs.
The recommended practice change was implemented by the commercial farming partner, which resulted in increased productivity and profitability.
Karli developed the skills and knowledge needed to make a significant contribution to Australian Horticulture in her future career. She gained employment as a Postdoctoral Research Fellow within the Institute for Future Farming Systems at Central Queensland University, where she will deliver research services to horticultural producers in the Bundaberg region of Queensland.
The final report for Karli’s research can be downloaded here.