Sustainable scholarship for mapping and managing urine patches

Masters student Nicolaas Portegys

Masters student Nicolaas Portegys is taking a George Mason Sustainable Land Use Scholarship with both hands, as he contributes to a global programme to reduce nitrous oxide emissions.

Mr Portegys’ Masters is linked to the Global Partnership in Livestock Emissions Research (GPLER) funded project, ‘Mapping and managing urine patches to reduce nitrous oxide emissions’, looking at the accuracy of different methods of detecting, mapping and treating cattle urine patches in the paddock.

“Urine patches are the source for most of the losses of nitrogen to water and atmosphere, contributing to the excessive nitrogen loads in some of New Zealand’s water bodies, and to climate change,” Mr Portegys says. “We need to focus more on what’s going on beneath the surface. Led by Manaaki Whenua-Landcare Research, in partnership with AgResearch, Massey University, Pastoral Robotics Limited, the New South Wales Department of Primary Industries and Teagasc in Ireland GPLER researchers are using Spikey-R, a device for detecting urine-patches and for treatment, as well as visual drone imaging and thermal cameras.”

Mr Portegys’ masters is to provide analytical data on urine-nitrate distribution in two soils contrasting in drainage, and the proportion of urine-nitrate that a known volume of inhibitor may capture.

Working at Massey University’s Dairy 4 and AgResearch Ruakura Mr Portegys has been taking soil samples in a high-resolution grid at 3 depths, for mineral nitrogen analysis - a part of the project unique to New Zealand. This has equated to some 1600 soil extractions for Mr Portegys, to help validate what the other mapping tools are seeing and compare what they detect to what is going on in the full 3D profile.

“I enjoy working through the myriad of tensions inherent in this space: how to mitigate one pollutant without increasing the loss of others, how to achieve environmental objectives in a way that is practical and cost effective, and how reduce the footprint of our agricultural production while continuing to provide for a growing world population.

“The best part I have found, is being part of something much bigger than just what’s in my Masters, although it means I’ve had to pivot my project around since I began…It’s a great team and just to be in the room with some of the people I have collaborated with has been really cool.”

Scholarships to fight the good fight

Mr Portegys received $10,000 research funding from Manaaki Whenua-Landcare Research through Massey University Professorial Fellowship for his Masters. He also received a George Mason Charitable Trust Scholarship at Massey’s annual Applied Academic Programmes Scholarships Evening, held on Massey’s Manawatū campus late last month.

The $12,000 George Mason Charitable Trust Scholarship was developed in 2011 to encourage postgraduate research at Massey University that will help promote sustainable land use within Taranaki.

“A lot of my classmates are now off in the world earning good money in the industry, so a little financial help to pursue postgraduate study, pursue my passion for sustainable solutions, goes a long way, Mr Portegys says. “The scholarship is aimed at my area, but we do need more funding for research into sustainability, it’s really important.”

On students taking the time to apply for scholarships, Mr Portegys tells them to put their best foot forward.

“Just do it,” he says. ”You never know, you might be exactly who they are looking for. They are there to help you succeed and that doesn’t always mean having the best grades, but the right attitude. I enjoyed biology, economics and geography at school, which translated very nicely to the environmental issues agriculture is facing and encompassed all three of my strengths. But a lot of people just don’t know about the diversity of roles in the industry.”

“Longer term, my interests lie in working with farmers, policy makers, scientists and rural professionals to achieve the environmental outcomes that New Zealanders expect, our overseas customers demand, and our environment and climate requires.”

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