Opinion

University of Melbourne leading bid to create Murray-Darling Basin research centre

By Country News

By Professor Tim Reeves, Faculty of Veterinary and Agricultural Sciences, University of Melbourne

Dookie College was established in 1886 and has seen many changes and challenges in the ensuing 134 years — and there is no doubt the COVID-19 pandemic is another significant challenge to overcome.

But if history is a guide, overcome it we collectively will.

We are now doing all our teaching remotely and, while this is challenging for everyone involved, it is not something that is new to the University of Melbourne.

For years now, all lectures have been captured electronically as they are delivered, so that any students are able to access the recording online, at a time of their choosing.

We have also been using video conferencing for some time to enable students from both the Dookie and Parkville campuses to jointly participate in lectures delivered at either campus.

We are all working hard to ensure that our students have the best learning experience possible, despite the circumstances, and the response to date is a credit to both staff and students.

There have been particular challenges for many of our postgraduate students as they have not been able to conduct some of their research due to social distancing restrictions.

We have, however, been working hard to ensure that the scholars from Dookie continue to learn skills and gain new knowledge that will be valuable to them in their future careers and lives.

Each week I have been running a Zoom meeting for them featuring guest lecturers on topics such as ‘COVID 19 and impacts on food security’, meta-analysis and statistical methods, and a Q&A session with Professor Robin Batterham, former chief scientist of Australia.

One basin centre to manage climate and water risks

A large team, myself included, is developing a proposal for the establishment of the One Basin Cooperative Research Centre, which will be seeking funding under the Federal Government’s forthcoming call for new research centre bids, expected later this year.

The University of Melbourne is leading the bid in conjunction with a range of key partners from Queensland through to South Australia.

The One Basin Cooperative Research Centre would, as its name implies, focus on connecting communities, industry and researchers to manage climate and water risks in the Murray-Darling Basin.

Three major programs are proposed.

The first, Basin Foresight, will use the latest technologies to project basin trajectories at decadal time scales — in other words, forecasting likely water availability in the future and the implications for farm businesses, regional development planning, and government water, infrastructure and land-use planning.

The second program, Water Solutions, will identify and use future alternative water sources and innovative storage options, couple water treatment and energy technologies, and identify optimum mixes to produce climate-resilient water supply systems at community, regional and basin scales.

The third program, Adaptation Solutions, will focus on the research, development and delivery of innovative industry strategies, more resilient and efficient farming systems, and new technologies for the more efficient use of water and other inputs in our agri-food systems.

This adaptation program will comprise five regional hubs, one of which will be the Goulburn and Central Murray Hub, which I will lead.

This hub will focus on working with industry and farmers to identify the highest regional priorities for research and development aimed at building more profitable, efficient and sustainable agri-food and farming systems that are more resilient to future water, climate and economic shocks.

It will be all about making things happen at the ground level, and we will have a team of researchers focused on working with other expert groups to deliver these new adaptation solutions to farmers, to industry and to regional communities.

All of this will, of course, be subject to securing funding — not just from the Federal Government, but also from state and local governments, as well as local, regional and national industry partners to leverage the government investments.

To this end, we have been meeting with key stakeholders and potential investors in the region and more meetings are planned, albeit now by teleconference.

I see this new One Basin Cooperative Research Centre as being of very high national importance, and perhaps even more so for our regional community here.