Look for the giant earthworm – AgResearch at Fieldays

12 June 2015
Look for the giant earthworm | Farm Research | AgResearch NZ

A giant worm weaving through the air marks the location of the AgResearch stand in the Mystery Creek Pavilion at this year’s National Agricultural Fieldays.

AgResearch Chief Executive Dr Tom Richardson says the stand’s theme is “Science to grow agribusiness capability” which is closely linked to the Fieldays theme “Growing capability in agribusiness”.

“We’re featuring work by scientists that farmers can use to increase their farm’s performance. These range from genetics to plant cultivar selection and the identification and eradication of pests.

“This year we are hosting Beef + Lamb New Zealand (B+LNZ) on our stand where we will showcase our B+LNZ Genetics partnership. B+LNZ are also investing in our AgPest and the Great Kiwi Earthworm survey work and those will be featured too,” says Dr Richardson.

"It's great to team up with AgResearch and showcase some of the work that sheep and beef farmers are investing in collectively,” says Beef + Lamb New Zealand Chief Executive Scott Champion.

“We know that improved genetics can have the biggest impact on a farmer’s bottom line and the earthworm project promises to lift the lid on where we can boost the worm population and productivity.”

The worm’s prominence above the stand at PC40 and PC42 highlights the importance and value of these little-known cornerstones of New Zealand’s agricultural systems.

AgResearch soil ecologist Dr Nicole Schon says surface active earthworms improve annual pasture growth significantly as well as improving environmental performance and extending the growing season.

She says there’s still plenty to learn about our earthworm population and it’s likely there are still significant areas that don’t have any at all. To learn more about earthworms throughout New Zealand, AgResearch and B+LNZ are running the Great Kiwi Earthworm survey during June. Participants are asked to sample their paddocks and then upload the information at

“Everyone who takes part in the study will receive a report on how their farm compares to other farms and will also go in the draw to have a free on-farm consultation and have any missing earthworm functional groups introduced,” says Dr Schon.

AgResearch is also highlighting the Forage Value Index (FVI), the AgPest online pest identification tool, and conducting research to find the preferred colour of steak.

The FVI ( was developed by DairyNZ and the NZ Plant Breeding and Research Association, with research support by AgResearch, and the online tool allows dairy farmers to objectively select the most suitable ryegrass cultivar for their farm, says Germplasm Development Science Team Leader Dr Jim Crush.

“We’ll have live grass cultivars on display as well as the DairyNZ on-line Cultivar Selector programme online. Farmers will be able to sit with our staff, go online and identify potential cultivars that would be specifically suited to their property.”

The AgPest ( display will highlight some of New Zealand’s worst pasture pests, and introduce the online tool as a practical way for farmers to identify and then tackle the problem.

Scientist Colin Ferguson says the aim of the AgPest display is to ensure continued and productive pasture growth.

“We’re featuring pests such as porina and black beetle, there’ll be a touchscreen offering access to AgPest and we’ll have microscopes for those wanting to take a closer look at the pests. Fieldays is also a great opportunity to speak directly to farmers about our wider research into agricultural pests.”

Meanwhile, Fieldays visitors to AgResearch’s stand will have the opportunity to vote for what they consider the premium colour of meat.

Senior food technologist Mustafa Farouk says traditionally, consumers at the point of purchase prefer bright cherry red meat compared to dark red coloured ones. The difference in the colour is due to the ultimate pH of the meat.

“Recently we noticed that younger consumers tend to prefer the dark red colour. Our hypothesis is that the perception of what is a good colour for meat is changing with the younger generation. Confirmation of that will enable us tailor our research in the area of meat colour and packaging to reflect these changes in the future.”

The reward for taking part in the survey will be a slice of delicious dairy beef sliced from AgResearch’s very popular on-site rotisserie which returns this year.

“This is a good example of taking a lower value cut from our dairy cattle and turning it into a premium eating meat using deep knowledge of meat and culinary science and presentation. People regularly tell us after trying this beef that it’s the best they’ve ever tasted,” Dr Farouk says.