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Agricultural Systems – Nicholas Anderson

Get to know Nicholas Anderson

I haven’t felt the same dedication to any job I have had as I do to my research project.

Agricultural Systems – Nicholas Anderson

Personal experience

My first career-oriented job was in Information Technology for Alberta Health Services in Canada. But, as I was looking for something stimulating that I could invest more of myself in, I decided to spend some time backpacking in Australia on a working holiday.

I worked on a mango farm during my first-year visa. I really enjoyed the orchard landscape as well as trying to figure out how best to forecast mango harvest maturity. I never suspected for a moment that it might become my career path, but that’s exactly what happened.

My IT background made me gravitate toward operating the farm’s Near Infrared Spectrometer (or NIR gun – the NIRvana), which helps farms strategize when to harvest for the highest quality fruit. The farm asked me to come back for the next season.

In 2014, I met Dr Kerry Walsh – an Agricultural Plant Scientist and creator of the NIRvana – who was eventually to become my supervising professor at CQUniversity. Kerry was the one who suggested that I complete my Masters and work towards my thesis.

Up until very recently, I had been undertaking casual work before making a start on a contract for the Department of Primary Industry in the Northern Territory. Next year, I’m planning on starting my PhD on a related subject.

Research at CQUniversity: Agricultural systems

CQUniversity research focuses on practical applied research to fill industry requirements. I think that CQUniversity sets itself apart from other universities by attempting to implement methodologies or technologies developed by our research immediately. Practical solutions that can be utilized makes work/studying a lot more rewarding, as the results are tangible.

Agriculture is an absolute necessity for our current civilization, with high-possibility food shortages on the horizon due to population growth and food waste. It’s safe to say then, that there will be positions open, not only for research students but in industry. CQUniversity has strong industry ties which enhances the research with more applicable projects and allows exposure for students to future employers.

Typically, in research, individuals contribute to a project at an intricate level. I haven’t felt the same dedication to any job I have had as I do to my research project. I believe research also has a lot to offer in terms of hands-on training in numerous modalities, as you are often required to do a wide range of tasks.

Current research projects

My research has been based on the most recent NIR gun – which looks like a high-powered flashlight – a non-invasive tool for rapid quality assessment of the fruit’s dry matter content. When you can successfully determine the dry matter content of fruit, you can make a more informed decision on when to pick it.

Typically, information is gathered on a block level. However, as instrumentation costs decrease there is a capacity to monitor and gain metrics on individual trees. My work will aim at flowering detection for fruit maturity estimations. This information can also be used for other inputs, such as variable rate sprays. Additional work will be aimed at a physiological examination of mango flowering.

This technology will continue to become more accessible and will be invaluable to the industry as a guide for the level of quality consumers expect in their produce. Harvesting mangoes too early or late in the season impacts on the consumer experience.

Research career highlights

My biggest highlight so far has been presenting my research at the International Mango Symposium in China this year (2017).

Explore more about current research at CQUni’s School of Health, Medical and Applied Sciences.