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Love for the environment a driver for science research career – DairyNZ

Dr Roshean Woods says helping bring the latest tools and technology into dairy farmers’ hands is one of the best things about her role.

The DairyNZ senior scientist is one of a team of world-leading researchers working in the Low N Systems research programme. This DairyNZ-led programme is investigating ways to combine different nitrogen (N) mitigation strategies into farm systems, to help farmers achieve significant N loss reduction targets while maintaining farm business viability. Reducing excess N losses from farm systems can help reduce greenhouse gas emissions and contribute to improved freshwater quality.

DairyNZ is celebrating inspiring women such as Roshean who work in the dairy sector as part of International Women’s Day (8 March). It’s a great opportunity to celebrate the amazing contribution of rural women across all aspects of Kiwi life.

Roshean’s work, which allows her to follow her passion for the environment, involves partnering with 38 dairy farms in Waikato and Canterbury and collaborating with Fonterra, AgResearch, Lincoln University and EpiVets. “It’s a collaborative effort,” she says. “We’re getting the best people involved to draw on expertise across many organisations.”

She works closely with DairyNZ farm systems specialist Chris Glassey and says the partnership has helped grow her confidence. “Chris has a wealth of knowledge and experience, gained throughout his career, and it’s worked really well to have him as a sounding board.”

Their recent successes include having a paper published in the Journal of New Zealand Grasslands, along with co-authors from Fonterra and Lincoln and Waikato Universities, in November 2023. This paper identified grazing management differences between farms with historically low or high bulk milk urea concentrations. These differences could be linked to reductions in the herd’s dietary N surplus on farms with low bulk milk urea, due to cows consuming pasture with a lower protein content.

The research team is using this data to help develop a bulk milk-based indicator tool for farmers to use to monitor and manage their herd’s dietary N surplus. The tool will also help farmers identify when to apply various management mitigations to reduce the risk of excess urinary N losses into the environment.

Scientific excellence

Roshean, who hails from Timaru, always excelled at science. Her interest in research was piqued after Lincoln University and DairyNZ representatives visited her school and outlined the opportunities for scientists in the dairy sector. Since then, she’s completed a Bachelor of Science at Lincoln, majoring in environmental biogeosciences and plant science.

“Going to Lincoln to study was an awesome opportunity to connect more with the sector and try to soak up as much learning as I could in terms of farming and farm systems.”

She went on to do an Honours degree focused on nitrous oxide emissions from native plants treated with dairy effluent compared to pasture. Upon graduating, she spent a year as a DairyNZ and AgResearch science intern – which gave her an opportunity to build connections and see what research was happening outside university. “It also confirmed for me that doing a PhD was worthwhile and that I did want to follow that scientific research path,” she says.

Roshean then embarked on her PhD in the soils department at Lincoln University, focusing on N leaching from different pasture species. “This was under the DairyNZ-led Forages for Reduced Nitrate Leaching programme, with lots of different organisations involved. As a student, getting an opportunity to meet with farmers and other researchers was worthwhile.”

After finishing her PhD, Roshean worked as a farm environmental consultant with AgriMagic for 2.5 years, helping farmers reduce their footprint – a role that helped further develop her farm systems skills. “This role was my introduction to working closely with farmers, which has set me in good stead for communicating with partners directly in my current role,” she says.

She left AgriMagic when the opportunity arose to return to research at DairyNZ four years ago. Roshean, who has since been promoted to a senior scientist role, says she’s learnt a lot along the way and enjoys the ongoing challenges her role brings.

Young Farmers

Roshean says getting involved with New Zealand Young Farmers at university helped support her learning.

“Soon after I joined in about 2010, some members of the club encouraged me to have a go at the district-level Young Farmer of the Year contest.”

So she gave it a go, and many years of competing followed. In 2021, Roshean made it to the nationwide competition, as the Tasman FMG Young Farmer of the Year national finalist. This, she says, was quite a surprise. “I just gave it my best shot, and tried to enjoy the experience and learn as much as I could.”

The experience challenged her and pushed her outside her comfort zone – contestants were required to present a speech to a crowd of hundreds, for example – but she wouldn’t change it for the world.

Roshean is now a Young Farmers alumnus and holds advisory roles with the Lincoln and Christchurch City clubs. “I’m there if they have any issues or want to draw on my experience,” she says.

“When you’ve been involved in something for so long it’s strange to step back, especially when you’ve had that social network. Being involved in the advisory capacity is a good way to ease out of things and let someone else have a go, but still stay connected.”

Work/life balance

When she’s not working, Roshean enjoys camping, tramping, hunting – for meat and pest control – and gardening. “I might not live on a farm but I enjoy producing my own food. That’s something I’ve learned about myself over the years. We recently moved house and the first weekend we were there I was off to the nursery to buy fruit trees.”

Roshean’s husband frequently tells her she can’t fit everything in to their 600sq m section, but she’s trying. “I’ve gone for a fruit salad approach, I love the garden, growing my own vegetables, and I love having flowers and native plants.”

“I’m really passionate about the environment. That’s one of the reasons I do what I do.”

For more information about reducing N loss on-farm, visit Low nitrogen systems | DairyNZ

Caption: DairyNZ senior scientist Dr Roshean Woods.

 

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