NZAGRC Science Leadership Team

The role of NZAGRC Science Leadership Team (SLT) is to play a key part in the development, implementation and monitoring of all of the Centre’s science programmes and strategies.  It consists of respected New Zealand-based researchers with excellent science credentials accompanied by strong leadership, communication, strategic and inter-personal skills with expertise in those areas of science covered in the NZAGRC Strategy and Science Plan.

Membership is agreed by the Steering Group and includes the NZAGRC Principal Investigators in addition to the NZAGRC Director and NZAGRC Operations Manager.  

Dr Graeme Attwood  AgResearch  
Dr Cecile DeKlein   AgResearch 
Professor Hong Di  Lincoln University 
Dr Robyn Dynes  AgResearch  
Dr Peter Janssen  AgResearch  
Dr David Whitehead   Manaaki Whenua


Science leadership & capability building 

The NZAGRC is committed to providing opportunities for researchers to be trained and work with leading experts in New Zealand.  Some students go on to continue their studies or enter a postdoctoral position under guidance from NZAGRC science leaders, other enter into industry based positions.

The NZAGRC supports more than 50 researchers and students by providing funding via its core research programme or via its student scholarships programme.

Below are profiles of our scientists and past students. 

Capability building: Dr Sam McNally

Raised on a beef farm and then a kiwifruit orchard, Sam McNally enjoyed science right from primary school and had a couple of great teachers at Te Puke High School which enhanced his interest in science.

“Having grown up on farm/orchard I recognised the important role soil played in farm management but it wasn’t until the end of the end of my BSc and during my MSc that the specifics of carbon in soil started to stand out to me,” he says.

This led to his thesis for MSc having an environmental chemistry focus and his PhD on quantifying the carbon inputs to soil under a mixed-sward pasture compared to a ryegrass-clover pasture.

One of the objectives globally for addressing excess greenhouse gases in the atmosphere is to find ways to capture carbon dioxide by plants and store this carbon in the soil. Soil carbon has additional benefits for the land manager as an important part of soil quality. Making sure stored C stays in the soil was an important focus for Sam throughout his PhD and subsequent post-doctoral work.

“Some specific findings of my PhD were that there was greater root biomass and more root turnover under the mixed swards compared to a ryegrass-clover pasture which suggested that the C inputs had the potential to be greater in the mixed sward.

“However, the differences didn’t translate through when we used a stable isotope technique to trace the C through the plant-soil system. One issue was that we were confounded by a severe summer drought so the performance of both pastures was limited.”

Sam says the focus of this research is on practical applications on farms.

“Most of our research around soil C is practical so has the ability to lead to real changes on farms if successful or an outcome is significant. We are always conscious of solutions and outcomes needing to be practical on farm.

“The current research on full inversion tillage is exciting because it is a management tool that can be implemented on farms to potentially increase soil C.”

After completing his PhD Sam moved to Christchurch to start post-doctoral research with Plant and Food Research (also funded through NZAGRC) on a totally different aspect of soil C. The post-doc was just under three years and was on soil C stabilisation and defining an upper limit of soil C.

It led to his permanent scientist position with Plant and Food Research, where he is currently involved in a range of projects largely relating to soil C including ongoing soil C stabilisation work, management options to increase soil C and potential of full inversion tillage to sequester C.

Sam recognises the value of the capability building programme for his educational pathway.

“The support of the NZAGRC was very important both financially and also through providing an opportunity for specific agriculture-related projects within New Zealand.

“It would have been possible to do without the funding support but very, very difficult. The funding support for both the PhD and post-doc was vital to both the projects happening.”

Looking to the future, Sam hopes to make a significant contribution to the science community and continue to work towards the balance between production and environmental outcomes within agriculture.

“A large aspiration is to find solutions to issues we currently face, such as greenhouse gas mitigation and climate change, so that future generations can also enjoy the world that we have been fortunate to enjoy. Another aspiration is to be a strong communicator of the findings of our research to the primary industries and the farmers on the ground in most need of the outcomes of the research.”

Outside of work, sport and the outdoors has always played a large an important part in Sam’s life. He has been involved in many sports over the years, some to a representative and national level, including representing New Zealand at the Junior World Orienteering Championships.

Currently, his spare time is spent with family, competing in triathlons, cycling and running.

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