Dow AgroSciences Scholarship winner's experience at Waireka Research Station, New Zealand

University of Tasmania senior Maddie Francis has returned from her work placement with Dow AgroSciences' Waireka Global Discovery Research Station in New Zealand with a new zeal for agricultural science and the development of new crop protection products.

As the winner of the PICSE/Dow AgroSciences Travelling Scholarship Award for Excellence in Science, Maddie spent a week working alongside top international scientists, testing novel lead compounds and experiencing the product discovery phase for potential new fungicides.

We caught up with Maddie on her return to Australia.

What have you learned about the role of research in developing new crop protection products?

I never realised just how intensive the process is to make sure the new molecule is safe and user friendly. It's a huge and lengthy process to register a new product. The research at Waireka is used to determine whether a potential active ingredient has efficacy on a particular target disease, its mode of action and the dosage effect. After the initial testing phase at Waireka, a molecule goes through many other phases until it reaches market. It can take up to 12 years before they have a commercial product.

How has this experience changed your views on agricultural science?

It has definitely made me appreciate the safety of agricultural chemicals after seeing how rigorous the research and testing is; there's a lot involved. It's been a great opportunity to see the work that Dow AgroSciences is doing in New Zealand to ensure its fungicides are ready for the global market. After seeing how a real company actually operates, I would definitely consider a career in a private research company in the future.

What do you think are the benefits of being part of a global research company?

Dow AgroSciences benefits from accessing research sites and researchers from around the world. Waireka works very closely with other field stations in Europe and the United States, so the company can test a product in two seasons each year by using sites in the northern and southern hemispheres. They are constantly testing new candidates, making changes and re-testing.

Also, I have met a few international researchers here on sabbatical. They have the opportunity to spend a few months in different countries working with fellow Dow AgroSciences scientists and conducting research there. Working within a global company like this makes the world seem a whole lot smaller.

How did you spend your time at Waireka Field Station?

The first day really took me by surprise. When studying agriculture, we typically learn about disease prevention in crops but on the first day here, the researchers taught me their different methods for inoculating wheat and barley with fungal diseases, it was great to see it in practice.

I also assisted with visual assessments of fungicide trials in wheat and barley crops. This involved an intensive visual assessment of hundreds of individual plots to determine the level of crop damage caused by the pathogen. In addition to assisting with the field program I spent time with many different scientists learning about research in fungicides, herbicides and insecticides.

Since winning the placement, Maddie has accepted a graduate regional cropping position at the Victorian Department of Environment and Primary Industries.