As populations grow and the climate changes, global food production faces challenges from new pests and diseases, cost and price pressures, evolving markets and environmental degradation.
Murdoch is one of the most agriculturally focussed universities in Australia, and our scientists and policy experts are addressing challenges across the full value chain of primary food production.
Soil and water
Our research starts with fundamentals including global water solutions, soil management practices and soil conditioning, and tillage practices. Production is increased if soils are optimised for pastures or cropping, and tillage practices can influence plant development, weed and pest management, and greenhouse gas generation. Our legume research informs nitrogen fixation approaches for soil improvement, as well as developing legume crops for food security.
Field trials are a vital part of our research, to ensure that the knowledge developed in the lab also works on the farm.
Breeding, bioinformatics and translational genomics
Genomics (including bioinformatics, marker-assisted breeding and gene editing technologies) is integrated into our breeding research to more efficiently develop next generation traits. Genome sequencing and molecular markers are used to pinpoint genes that control traits such as acid soil tolerance in grains, or meat marbling in beef cattle. For example, cultivars of malting barley are being developed that maintain protein production under conditions of extreme salinity or drought, with optimal features for the Chinese brewing market.
Metabolic phenotyping is now also being used to examine the dynamic interactions between genes and growth environments and their impacts on crop and livestock productivity.
Our animal welfare research maintains a social license for livestock industries to operate. Qualitative behavioural assessment is used to observe the body language of animals and measure the emotional state of individuals or groups of animals. This can then be correlated with physiological indicators of stress, to improve industry practices for the benefit of both animals and the production process.
Pest control and post-harvest technologies
Pre- and post-harvest pest control directly impacts on food quality, farming profitability and access to international markets. Our research starts from understanding pest–plant interactions, through reducing losses of crops in the field from a range of invertebrates and viruses, to developing non-chemical treatments to ensure pest-free food storage and transport.
Our researchers deliver savings through improving post-harvest storage practices, developing new technologies and methods for food processing, and extending product shelf life.
Food quality, provenance and customer choice
Customers want to know exactly what they are buying, and our researchers develop test protocols and sensory testing regimes to measure and benchmark product quality and appeal to different consumer markets. Murdoch-developed carcass indices are being used across Australia to measure the taste potential of livestock, increase the consistency of beef and lamb products across the industry and support selective breeding efforts.
The Australian National Phenome Centre at Murdoch uses a high-integrity small molecule analysis system for food safety and provenance research. From detecting pesticides in export-quality grain to identifying your coffee’s country of origin, our researchers play a key role in ethical food marketing and safeguarding our premium product markets.