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PhD scholarships to build agriculture’s data-driven future

Media release

Curtin University and CSIRO have teamed up to take digital agriculture to the next level, launching a postgraduate scholarship program that aims to train a new generation of big data scientists to support the agriculture industry.

The program, worth $250,000, is now calling for applications for full or top-up scholarships to carry out data-driven science projects relevant to agriculture.

Professor Simon Cook, the inaugural Premier’s Fellow in Agriculture and Food, said the scholarship program would build Curtin’s strong track record in applying data science and technology to help solve real agricultural challenges.

“We’re entering very exciting times for agriculture – researchers are using drones, remote sensing and other data streams to solve problems that allow growers to produce more crop with fewer resources,” Professor Cook said.

“This scholarship fund will see students taking up research projects that make a real difference to the agriculture industry, whether that be by using advanced analytics to forecast the world food supply, exploiting big data to manage the variability in crop yields across paddocks, or using remote sensing to monitor crop disease.”

Professor Mark Gibberd, Director of Curtin’s Centre for Crop and Disease Management, said the program was another example of Curtin and CSIRO working together to achieve common goals for the benefit of the agriculture industry.

“Our relationship with CSIRO is going from strength to strength and I look forward to seeing our future research leaders start their journey in this very important field of agriculture research,” Professor Gibberd said.

CSIRO researcher Dr Roger Lawes said CSIRO’s newly established Data61, Australia’s leading digital research powerhouse, had provided the scholarship funding in order to build agriculture’s capacity in the big data field.

“The world is changing so quickly, and it’s important that agriculture keeps up the pace with other industry sectors,” Dr Lawes said.

“By partnering with Curtin, we can work together to ensure tomorrow’s researchers are ready to turn complex data sets into knowledge that can improve sustainability and productivity for Australian grain growers and help ensure food for the future.”

Dr Lawes said there are a number of exciting projects that students can apply for, including:
• Forecasting the world food supply, by fusing models with remote sensing
• Determining the impact crop pathogens have on crop production, using mathematical models of crop yield and information generation from the next generation of sensors
• Untangling the causes of variation in crop yields, which can vary up to 50 per cent or more, by exploiting novel data streams and big data
• Predicting responsiveness of crops to fertiliser, by integrating multiple data sources such as drones, crop models, remote sensing and soil surveys.
To apply for a full scholarship, students must be Australian citizens or permanent residents. International students can apply for top-up scholarships.

The Premier’s Fellow in Agriculture and Food is an inaugural joint appointment between Curtin and Murdoch universities, made possible by the State Government’s Royalties for Regions program.

For more information on each of the available scholarship projects and instructions on how to apply, visit: http://ccdm.com.au/bigdataphds or contact Professor Mark Gibberd on (08) 9266 7907 / m.gibberd@curtin.edu.au.