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Curtin graduate wins historic Howard Memorial Research Fellowship

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Dion Nicol is one of only two students nationally to win the highly contested 2008 AW Howard Memorial Research Fellowship that recognises students who have a research project pertaining to the development, management and use of pastures

A Curtin University of Technology Environmental Biology Honours graduate, Mr Nicol has been acknowledged by Fellowship Trust Chair and South Australian Research and Development Institute Executive Director, Professor Rob Lewis for his outstanding post-graduate research work with native legumes.

Mr Nicol’s work focuses on using native perennial legumes as an alternative crop to lucerne to improve the productivity of Western Australian low-rainfall regions.

“I am particularly interested in low rainfall soils and the chemical constraints restricting root growth of current crop and pasture varieties,” Mr Nicol said.

“My studies in environmental biology provide an excellent background to study native legumes which offer good productivity with a low level of inputs such as fertiliser and water.

“WA has a unique environment and a highly diverse and well adapted native plant population. I hope to utilise this diversity and adaptability to find crops that will grow well in stressful environments.”

Hailing from Mukinbudin in WA’s central wheatbelt, Mr Nicol hopes the field trials he has established on his uncles’ property will capture agronomy and water usage information on the two legume species, eventually providing the district with an excellent alternative pasture.

“The native legumes, Cullen cinereum & Cullen graveolens, which are found in wild, low rainfall populations, could be a future profitable crop for the WA wheatbelt,” Mr Nicol said.

“In natural grasslands, these Cullen species are highly productive and last longer than almost all other herbage. If successful, these plants could provide an income to farmers from summer rain and stored soil moisture whilst also reducing recharge.”

Mr Nicol has commenced his doctoral studies at the University of Western Australia (UWA) with assistance from the Future Farm Industries CRC and UWA’s School of Plant Biology.

The $15,000 Fellowship bursary awarded to Mr Nicol will be used to help finance his ongoing research and field trials.

The AW Howard Memorial Research Fellowship, established in 2003, commemorates the unique contribution of the late Amos Howard, a South Australian Farmer, in the development of subterranean clover as a pasture plant in Australia.

Note to Editor: Photo can be organised on request.

Contact: Lisa Mayer, PR Coordinator, Curtin, 08 9266 1930, 0401 103 755

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