BY developing innovative strategies for restoring degraded land, Cassandra Howell hopes to improve the productivity and long-term sustainability of farms.
The University of Western Australia (UWA) Bachelor of Philosophy major in Botany graduate was recently awarded the coveted Noel Fitzpatrick Medal at the annual Young Professionals in Agriculture virtual forum.
The forum, hosted by the Ag Institute Australia (WA Division) and Department of Primary Industries and Regional Development, showcased the work of the next generation of scientists in agriculture and natural resource management.
Ms Howell presented her research on the use of compost and biochar to restore degraded saline soil, both alone and in combination.
She found that both ameliorants improved soil condition, reducing pH and increasing nitrate, phosphorus and potassium.
"I hope that my research can help to create positive outcomes for both the environment and for farmers and their land," Ms Howell said.
"Degraded land often has little productive value, while also providing minimal habitat or other benefits for biodiversity.
"By developing new strategies for restoration, such as using organic amendments, I hope to improve productivity and long-term sustainability, while also reconnecting fragmented landscapes and supporting biodiverse vegetation and wildlife."
Ms Howell said she felt both surprised and very proud to win the award.
"I love doing my research and it was such a privilege to get the opportunity to present it to such an engaged audience," she said.
"I was really excited that the award is something that I can share with everyone who has contributed to the research and supported me throughout my time at university.
"It was a particular honour to receive this, as Noel Fitzpatrick was such a passionate supporter of agriculture in WA, and he was also a Georgian (St George's College alumni) like me."
Ms Howell plans to publish her research and take some well-earned time off before starting her PhD at UWA.
At the forum, UWA Agricultural Science Masters graduate Sai Kiran Veluru presented his plant pre-breeding research.
His project aimed to increase genetic variation in the narrow gene pool of canola and develop a population for hybrid breeding.
The findings from Mr Veluru's research will help plant breeders identify genes that generate genetic gains in canola breeding programs.
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