Fellowships

C. Alma Baker Fellowships are offered to facilitate the travel between New Zealand and the United Kingdom of senior researchers or scholars in the fields of agriculture, agriculture-related technologies, or the study of rural society.

It is assumed that a short visit (up to one month) will be made and that the Fellow’s salary will be covered from other sources. It is expected that benefits from the visit will accrue more widely than to a single institution. As well as being a contribution to the research/extension programme of the individual, a discernible benefit to agriculture and related fields (broadly defined) in the United Kingdom and New Zealand is expected.

The selection of Fellows is based on either expressions of interest from individuals or nominations from colleagues, appropriate institutions or professional societies in either country. The Trust envisages making a single grant for travel to cover fares and expenses for the duration of the Fellowship. Nominations or expressions of interest are invited annually.

Applications close on 15 April for travel within the following July-June year. There is no prescribed application form; a curriculum vitae for the proposed Fellow, and letters of application/support from participating institutions should be forwarded to the Secretary at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. Awards are for $NZ15,000.

farm reports

Recent Fellowship Reports

Report from 2016-2017

The recent visit to the UK that was generously funded by the Alma Baker Trust has been of immense value scientifically. It also permitted the creation of very useful contacts with leading grassland ecologists and biological control specialists as listed in Appendix 1. At the same time the funding provided an opportunity for me to present our current thinking on New Zealand pasture ecology. This elicited considerable interest, particularly when we compared the very notable differences in the biological control agent diversity and population densities in British pastures and their surrounds compared to the New Zealand situation. It was generally agreed that this has very significant implications in terms of New Zealand’s vulnerability to invasive species and the biological control situation. In short there was agreement that the lack of biocontrol diversity in New Zealand grasslands means that species of only passing interest in their home range can well become severe pests in New Zealand because they too, have few if any enemies. Similarly, three biocontrol initiatives have worked a thousand times better than average in New Zealand pastures. This is thought to be because there are abundant hosts(i.e. the pests) and the parasitoids also have few if any enemies of their own.

Reports from 2015-2016

1. Dr Jackie Benschop, Institute of Veterinary, Animal and Biomedical Sciences, Massey University

I am delighted to supply this Report on Activities to the C. Alma Baker Trust on my recent leptospirosis Fellowship to the United Kingdom over 1-21 April 2016.

I was hosted by Professor Ruth Zadoks and Drs Kathryn Allan and Jo Halliday at the Institute of Biodiversity, Animal Health and Comparative Medicine, Glasgow University, from 4-15 April. Some of the activities are summarised below:

  1. Planning with Kath Allan and New Zealand colleagues for a comparative genomics study of Leptospiraborgpetersenii isolates from Northern Tanzania and New Zealand. This will lead to a joint publication.
  2. Meeting with Kath Allan and Dr Mark Moseley, University of Aberdeen, for progressing the African Leptospirosis Network; abattoir studies in selected African countries e.g. Zambia; discussion of the use of screening PCRs and changing primer targets to speciate direct from field samples; differences in roles between endemic/invasive wildlife in host/pathogen specificity; and wildlife trapping. Lead by Kath Allan we will draft a manuscript for the Veterinary Record identifying research needs in Africa from a veterinary public health perspective
  3. Discussions with Kath Allan and Jo Halliday regarding biases in culture media and PCRs for Leptospirainterrogans species; use and visualisation of serology data; cross reaction and dual or more infections. This directly informs the visualisation of New Zealand, Fijian and Nepalese Leptospira data at Massey.
  4. Met with Dr Caroline Millins, Veterinary Pathologist and PhD candidate, regarding persistent symptoms of leptospirosis and similarities with Lyme disease; wildlife trapping and contacts for our new leptospirosis PhD candidate.
  5. Participated in a telephone conference of the steering committee meeting of the World Health Organisation’s Global Leptospirosis Environmental Action Network (GLEAN). Planning for a training workshop in Malaysia in October 2016.
  6. Discussions with Prof Sarah Cleaveland regarding funding for leptospirosis research and planning for her visit to NZ in October as a Williams Evan’s fellow.
  7. Planning for Kath Allan’s visit to New Zealand from Feb to April 2017 as a Welcome Trust Veterinary Training Fellow.
  8. Met with Karla Stoffel a veterinary student intern visiting from Tufts University who would like to do an internship at mEpiLab.
  9. Discussions with Dr Richard Reeve, Jo Halliday and Kath Allan regarding modelling serology data, serological diversity issues and vaccine breakout.
  10. Met with PhD candidate Ruth Maganga re her antimicrobial resistance project in poultry in Northern Tanzania, with Ruth Zadoks.
  11. I made a one day visit to the Faculty of Health and Medicine, Lancaster University hosted by Dr Chris Jewell and PhD candidate Poppy Miller. This was specifically to discuss a proposal to model New Zealand longitudinal Leptospira data in sheep flocks to infer infection stage. This will form a chapter of Poppy’s PhD and a joint publication. Other discussions included advice on the design of a study of persistent leptospirosis symptoms in New Zealand and environmental survival of leptospires with Dr Roger Pickup.
  12. With Ruth Zadoks and Kath Allan I made a one day visit to the University of Cambridge, Department of Medicine to Prof Sharon Peacock. Discussions included research priorities for leptospirosis in Africa; antibiotic use in low and middle-income countries and how that affects diagnostic test interpretation; and the Oxford/Mahidol model of collaborative research. I have been introduced by Sharon to staff at Mahidol University in Thailand (Drs Direk Limmathurotsakul and Vanaporn Wuthiekanun) who I plan to visit in October after the Malaysian meeting. Also at Cambridge we met with Prof John Crump University of Otago to discuss the future of the zoonoses lab in Moshi, Northern Tanzania; international research funding; preliminary results from a new study of human Leptospira exposure and cattle and rat leptospiral infection in Northern Tanzania.
  13. I visited the Leptospirosis Reference Centre, Royal Tropical Institute, KIT Biomedical Research, Amsterdam, The Netherlands. Drs Marga Goris and Ahmed Ahmed hosted me and we discussed the African leptospirosis network, the increase in cases in the Netherlands, diagnostics, persistent leptospirosis symptoms and PCR for speciating leptospires. We arranged for our new PhD candidate to visit the reference centre from France.

This Fellowship was a wonderful opportunity for knowledge exchange, planning and to examine our work in New Zealand in a new light.

2. Dr Lucy Burkitt and Dr Ranvir Singh, Fertiliser & Lime Research Centre, Massey University; Professor Phil Jordan, Ulster University (UK)

This travel grant was used to facilitate a collaborative project between Fertilizer & Lime Research Centre (FLRC), Massey University researchers Dr Lucy Burkitt (Soil Scientist) and Dr Ranvir Singh (Environmental Hydrologist) and Professor Phil Jordan, Professor of Catchment Science at Ulster University in Northern Ireland. Phil is Principal Scientist for the Agricultural Catchments Programme (ACP) (https://www.teagasc.ie/environment/water-quality/agricultural-catchments/ ) in Ireland. This large research programme has been established to evaluate the effectiveness of the European Unions’ National Action Plan and how Irish farmers can adapt to the Nitrate Directive. The program measures nutrient loss in 6 agricultural catchments, including arable and grassland, with the grassland catchments grazed with sheep, beef and dairy. These catchments vary in terms of their soil type and drainage, allowing the scientists to examine different nutrient loss pathways i.e. nitrate leaching on well drained soils and phosphorus and nitrogen surface run-off on heavier soils.

This research is directly relevant to the research priorities of New Zealand, as agricultural impact on water quality is an issue of national significance and one which can only be tackled at the catchment scale. Phil gave an invited keynote address at the 2015 FLRC workshop in Palmerston North and during a tour of our local agricultural catchments, we discussed the opportunity to collaborate in our research. Phil offered to lend us a high frequency nitrate sensor which would allow us to monitor river water nitrate concentrations every 15 minutes. Real time nitrate sensors are very expensive (around $30-$50,000) and not commonly used in New Zealand. Therefore, this arrangement represented a fantastic opportunity to not only gain data that is currently out of our reach, but also to collaborate with a world leader in this field.

In September 2015, Ranvir Singh visited Ireland to attend and present at the International Conference on Catchment Science 2015. Ranvir presented on our group’s on-going research to better understand and manage nitrogen flow pathways and its attenuation in the Manawatu River catchment. Most of the presentations at the conference were from the on-going ACP in Ireland, that Phil leads. Ranvir visited some of the catchments which are instrumented with real time sensors and was able to learn about the use and maintenance of these sensors. Ranvir also had detailed discussions with Phil and other ACP team members, Dr Owen Fenton and Dr Karl Richards, about their ongoing research focus, to better manage and mitigate effects of land use on water quality. Their investment and research on intensive and high resolution monitoring of nutrients in waterways is world leading, in terms of understanding water and nutrient flow pathways in our agricultural landscapes.

Ranvir Singh Phil Jordan
Ranvir presenting at the International Conference on Catchment Science in Ireland in Sep 2015.
Phil Jordan showing a high resolution nitrate sensor at one of the ACP monitoring sites in Ireland.

The second stage of this fellowship involved Phil delivering the nitrate sensor to Palmerston North in Feb 2016. Phil spent a very fruitful week with Massey staff and students and Paul Peters from Horizons Regional Council (HRC), training us on the sensors use and maintenance. The sensor was installed at the HRC monitoring site in the Manawatu River near the Fitzherbert Bridge and will monitor nitrate concentrations for a full year, until Feb 2017. Data to date is showing interesting diurnal and seasonal changes in nitrate concentrations which were previously not possible to measure, using the standard monthly analysis. The amount of nitrate (in kilograms) flowing down the river using the more detailed sensor data will be compared to calculations based on the standard monthly approach and will inform both HRC and Massey scientists about the benefits of using real time nutrient sensors. As a direct consequence of this collaboration, Massey University are seeking to purchase real time sensors, to continue this important research.

A number of media articles were generated from Phil’s visit:

http://www.stuff.co.nz/manawatu-standard/news/Manawatu-River-sensor-could-revolutionise-nutrient-monitoring

http://www.massey.ac.nz/massey/about-massey

Phil Jordan checking pumping equipment Lucy Burkitt, Ranvir Singh, Phil Jordan and Ahmed Elwan
Phil Jordan checking pumping equipment with Paul Peters (Horizons Regional Council) at the monitoring site on the Manawatu river, whilst Genevieve Smith and Ross Wallace (Massey University) observe.
Lucy Burkitt, Ranvir Singh, Phil Jordan and Ahmed Elwan (Massey University) discuss a Massey research project near Mangatainoka.

Lucy will present the results from the Manawatu river nitrate sensor research at the Land Use and Water Quality Conference in The Hague, Netherlands in 2017. She will also meet with Phil and members of the ACP in Ireland to see their catchment studies and return the sensor safely to Phil. The C. Alma Baker Fellowship has been instrumental in fostering a very fruitful and ongoing collaboration between the UK/Ireland and New Zealand, which will continue to have very important outcomes for water quality in our country.