The NZAGRC’s former nitrous oxide and soil carbon work streams were combined into one programme this year. This ensures a strong overall framework, closer communication and full GHG analyses across the programme. The programme focusses on three key areas:
1. Identifying and prioritising plant traits for low GHG emissions;
2. Mitigation practices to maintain soil carbon and reduce nitrous oxide emissions at paddock scale; and
3. Defining the achievable soil carbon stabilisation capacity of New Zealand grassland soils.
Current progress and research stories
Providing funding to students and early career scientists to increase capability in the agricultural greenhouse gas emissions mitigation research area and boost international collaboration is a key activity for the NZAGRC.
The NZAGRC nitrous oxide team was joined by two new PhD students in 2015 and they are both now well underway with their studies.
Sheree Balvert has been fascinated by farming from a very young age. She was raised on a dairy farm in the Lake Rotorua catchment area and this led her into the study of fresh water ecology for her Honours and Master's degrees. A realisation that research earlier in the farming process may have more of an impact overall led her to a change of direction after completing her study. "Looking at water sometimes felt like being the ambulance at the bottom of the cliff", says Sheree. "The damage had already been done. By moving to research which focussed on on-farm processes, I felt I could be more effective".
About 10 years ago, Sheree took up a technician role at AgResearch's Ruakura campus. Her focus was soil science and nitrogen loss mitigation. Interested in developing her career further, when an NZAGRC PhD project became available in 2015, she decided to resign from her job and move back to study. Sheree feels that she's initially had it easier than some PhD students. "I'm continuing to study in the area that I worked in", she says. "However, I've still had to learn a whole lot more in a very short space of time".
Sheree's PhD project involves studying a diverse range of forages, their influence on the nitrogen cycle and the loss of N from farm systems. She has a particular interest in brassicas. "My goal is that by understanding the effects of different forages, I can provide farmers with another tool to help them to reduce their environmental impact", says Sheree. She has just completed a laboratory study assessing the impacts of selected compounds from brassicas on the soil nitrogen cycle and their potential for reducing nitrogen leaching. The next step is to take the promising compounds forward into a field trial.
Outside of her study, Sheree has a love of getting active in the great NZ outdoors. Whilst she's reluctant to call them "adventure" sports, she is a keen scuba-diver, white water kayaker and snow-boarder. One impact of the move back to student life is that, for the foreseeable future, skiing trips will be confined to the North Island. "New Zealand is a fantastic place to work and play", says Sheree. "I guess that's what keeps me here".
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