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Miriam Villen King
2023 Nuffield Scholar
Queensland scientist awarded Nuffield Scholarship to explore sustainable walnut farming in Australia
Horticultural scientist Miriam Villen King has been awarded a Nuffield Scholarship to study sustainable approaches to growing walnuts in Australia. Miriam’s scholarship, supported by the Public Sector Pension Investment Board (PSP Investments), will take her from Bargara, in central Queensland, to Spain, France, Italy and the US.
Miriam is Chief Scientist at Stahmann Webster, one of Australia’s most well-established tree nut producers. In this role, she spearheads efforts to optimise walnut orchard production and commercial returns. She uses data to inform cultural farming practices, such as pruning and nutrient composition and application. These aim to increase yields, while maintaining high-quality products that are healthy for customers and the environment.
“In Australia, 85% of walnut production is in growing regions with a semi-arid climate,” Miriam says. “The production of orchards in these growing regions is limited by non-pollination drop, known as NPD, which is when fruit drops prematurely because of an unsuccessful pollination process.”
According to Miriam, environmental conditions, including high temperatures, are a key factor in NPD, but there may be further factors around soil health, biome and fertility at play. Previous research has been based on chemical usage to manipulate dormancy and control pests and diseases. But Miriam says to continue to grow the best quality nuts, with best-practice environmental, social and governance outcomes, the industry needs to identify, define and transition to more sustainable and holistic growing methods.
Miriam plans to explore new varieties of walnuts that suit Australian climate conditions, and ways of growing them with less chemicals.
This study aligns with a number of industry strategic plans including the Australian Nut Industry Council’s Strategic Blueprint 2030 and the National Farmers’ Federation’s 2030 Roadmap.
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