Grassroots Vol 20 No 3 | Page 13

CONGRESS 55 Introducing new council members Robyn E Nicolay: Additional Member Growing up partly in a stable yard in Zulu land and partly in Durban, my background in agriculture was limited to riding horses through the sugarcane fields on the north coast and visits to cousins’ farms over school holidays. No surprise when studying agriculture became the next step following matric. I established my foundations in agriculture as a student at Cedara College, admittedly spending more time riding horses than in the classroom. I followed on from Cedara with a degree in Agricultural management, from Nelson Mandela Metropolitan University, at the same time working on a small dairy. Whilst writing a (relatively uninteresting) research-based Masters, I had the opportunity to study abroad through a SANORD student exchange program to Hedmark University of Applied Sciences in Norway. Here, I was introduced to ecology and sustainable agricultural systems, developing my love for academics, and ultimately deciding to redirect my field of study. A necessary withdrawal from my master’s program led me to apply for a course-based MSc in Agro- Ecology, majoring in soil ecology, at UK Agricultural and land-based institution, Harper Adams University. A bold and scary move. I was fortunate enough to be awarded a partial scholarship by the Elizabeth Creek Foundation and Harper Development trust. My two-year stint in the UK also had me working at the Harper University Dairy. These experiences were invaluable, both the practical knowledge working at a state-of-the-art research dairy, as well as the irreplaceable academic skills attained from studying at Harper. Returning to South Africa, I am currently a full-time PhD student at the University of KwaZulu Natal - Grassland Sciences, researching Soil Carbon dynamics in grasslands managed under varying agricultural and environmental scenarios. My interests still lie in Agro-Ecological practices, Soil ecology and Sustainable Agriculture, with the end goal to continue indefinitely within the field of academics and research. Outside of this realm, I am very much besotted with Jerseys cows, being quite involved with the KZN Jersey club, an often-welcomed distraction. I also have an odd obsession with the theatre, musicals, and music, having previously played contrabass in local orchestras. The love for horses has remained Council 2020/2021 President: Kevin Kirkman Vice President: Igshaan Samuels Immediate Past President: Debbie Jewitt Honorary Treasurer: Linda Kleyn Honorary Secretary: Heleen Els Figure 1: Robyn Nicolay and I enjoy a long farm hack whenever time allows. Married to an academic (and my computer) with an active toddler and a house full of dogs, it is often difficult to hold conversations about anything else. I am looking forward to contributing as part of the GSSA committee this year. Francuois Müller: Additional Member My name is Francuois Lloyd Müller. From a very young age, I had a keen interest in environmental and biological sciences. This was probably stimulated by my upbringing in the agricultural environment in the Western Cape Province where my family was, and still is, actively involved with farming. I started my scientific career at the University of the Western Cape (UWC) and completed my M.Sc. degree in plant eco-physiology, specifically looking at plant mineral nutrition at the Department of Biodiversity and Conservation Biology. During this time I volunteered to work with the Agricultural Research Council (ARC) Range and Forage Sciences team based at UWC. I was invited to join the team to collaborate on a project in the Leliefontein communal rangelands of Namaqualand. The project focused on recording livestock feeding preference and diet selection. As a plant eco-physiologist, it was my responsibility to determine the mineral nutrient content of the selected plant samples. In 2014 I started on the ARC PDP program where my initial work focused on evaluating Medicago and Trifolium species in the Caledon and Malmesbury areas of the Western Cape. However, whenever I had the time, I was still collaborating and working with the ARC unit at UWC Scientific Editor: Pieter Swanepoel Publications Editor: Malissa Murphy Website Editor: Charné Viljoen Public Relations Officer: Ntuthuko Mkhize Additional member (Grassroots): Charné Viljoen on communal rangelands in Namaqualand. It was during one of these trips to the Leliefontein communal rangelands that the idea to identify, develop and use indigenous legume species as alternative, drought-tolerant forages within the Namaqualand rangelands arose. This idea was later developed further and became part of my PhD studies which resulted in me permanently moving back to the ARC Range and Forage Sciences group at UWC in 2015. During this time, apart from my PhD work, I collaborated on numerous projects, co-supervising various student research projects in rangeland science and plant eco-physiology. In 2017, I was appointed as a Junior Researcher in plant eco-physiology at the ARC and relocated to the Gauteng province where I am now managing the South African National Forage Genebank (SA-NFG) based in Roodeplaat. The SA-NFG team falls under the Range and Forage Sciences division where our research focusses on identifying and evaluating alternative indigenous grass and legume species for utilization as fodders in water-limited agro-ecosystems. At the Figure 2: Francuois Müller SA-NFG, my team and I, in collaboration with various seed distributors are constantly conducting seed viability tests, cultivar evaluation trials, and evaluating current commercial forages for their ability to cope with abiotic stress conditions such as drought. We also characterize and compare the accessions maintained at the SA-NFG to what is currently commercially available in South Africa to identify potential beneficial traits in the older plant genetic resources that sometimes are no longer present in the commercial cultivars. Additional member: Robyn Nicolay Additional member: Francuois Müller Additional member: Marnus Smit Additional member: Florence Nherera-Chokuda Chairperson of trust: Nicky Allsopp Grassroots Vol 20 No 3 September 2020 12