Tuesday, 22 January 2019

Masters graduates balance environmental research and farm experience


Two graduates of the Ravensdown Development programme have recently completed their Masters studies working on Ravensdown and Victoria University’s Land Utilisation Capability Indicator (LUCI) model and its on-farm applications.

LUCI is an ecosystem services modelling tool which illustrates the impacts of land use choices on various ecosystem services. Ravensdown work in partnership with Victoria University and creator of LUCI Associate Professor Bethana Jackson to better identify and estimate nitrogen and phosphate losses from critical source areas (CSAs) on-farm.

Alicia Taylor and Maggie Rogers have both moved into farm environmental consultant positions with Ravensdown after a busy year balancing their research with the Development Programme. They both found it valuable to experience different farming systems while furthering their environmental studies.

Alicia used her thesis to highlight the importance of collecting the most accurate data possible to put into the LUCI model. She investigated the elevation and soil data sets from six farms across New Zealand and found that some farms are more sensitive to soil data while others are sensitive to elevation data.

“On more hilly farms the limitations in elevation data aren’t as pronounced as on flat land, which is more sensitive to different data accuracies. Essentially, on a hilly farm the elevation data is more pronounced, so it reads better than on a flat farm where small variations in slope may be missed,” explains Alicia. “Getting the right data will be useful when further applying LUCI on other farms around New Zealand."

Maggie focused her thesis on how the LUCI model can be used to find and target the potential mitigations on farm that will have the greatest impact.

Maggie found that one of the key strengths of the LUCI model is the maps it produces. Having a visual tool helps the conversation since farmers can see the potential mitigations and the effects they would have, as well as the impacts of past actions they have already taken.

“The LUCI model offers another way to show information. It can help people understand potential issues they have on farm, and potential ways that they can make change. It’s good at showing the worst areas, so you can focus your attention on making small changes that will have a big impact,” explains Maggie. “When I was doing my research, I focused on how to implement change and it’s not just giving people information and telling them to do things, but also showing them the mechanisms of how to change.”

Alicia and Maggie are enjoying their new roles and the opportunity to apply the experience and knowledge they have gained over the past year to help farmers make meaningful changes on farm.