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CeRDI Newsletter Autumn 2021

Message from the Director

Associate Professor Helen Thompson  

Associate Professor
Helen Thompson


The 2021 Federal budget has recognised and highlighted the importance that Australia’s agricultural industry holds for the nation. Substantial funding has been allocated for improving and enhancing Australia’s diverse agriculture industry.

Soil improvement was a major focus of the budget with substantial funds allocated to implementing and expanding the National Soil Strategy. CeRDI welcomes this news, having contributed to research and technology innovations in agriculture broadly, and soil health and soil data federation in particular. Federation University and CeRDI’s Assoc Prof Peter Dahlhaus and Nathan Robinson have been leading innovative soil data projects through their involvement in the national Soil Collaborative Research Centre. This has led to the launch of the innovative Visualising Australasia’s Soils (VAS).

CeRDI hosted the Ballarat hub for the Soil CRC National Participant Meeting in March. The meeting provided an opportunity for discussion and planning around current and future national soils projects. During May, the Soil CRC Board met in Ballarat with a dinner held at Craigs Hotel attended by CRC participants representing Birchip Cropping Group, Southern Farming Systems, Wimmera Mallee Catchment Management Authority and Federation University and the Board Meeting held at the Mt Helen campus of Federation University.


Victorian drought resilience adoption and innovation hub

Victorian drought resilience adoption and innovation hub  

Victorian drought resilience adoption
and innovation hub


Commonwealth funding has recently been announced for eight Drought Resilience Adoption and Innovation Hubs with each hub focusing on providing networks for researchers, primary producers and community groups to work together to enhance drought resilient practices within their focus region and to become flagship precincts for agricultural innovation.

Federation University is a consortium partner on the Victorian Hub led by the University of Melbourne which will be supported by $8M funding over four years from the Commonwealth Government’s Future Drought Fund (FDF). The vision for the hub is to see an innovative and profitable agricultural sector in Victoria. This means sustainable landscapes, and resourceful and adaptable regional communities. Through the hub, farm businesses will be better informed, more productive, and more profitable in the face of future droughts.

Soil CRC national participant meeting: Ballarat hub

Soil CRC national participant meeting  

Soil CRC national participant meeting


Federation University was one of eight regional hubs involved in the recent Soil Cooperative Research Centre (Soil CRC) national participants meeting . The Soil CRC  is an innovative program of research that supports industry, researcher and community-led collaborations for the discovery and development of good soil practices and related decision making, to optimise agriculture productivity, yield and profits.

The five-hour meeting comprised a series of presentations and panel discussions. Representatives from the Soil CRC (Paul Greenfield, Chair Soil CRC; Michael Crawford, CEO Soil CRC) and the National Soils Advocate (Hon Penny Wensely) presented on the achievements for the Soil CRC and guided the discussion about future directions for the CRC. This was followed by a series of panel discussions about soil carbon, soil stewardship, soil sensors, and farming groups.


Project: Unlocking soil carbon data

Project: Unlocking soil carbon data  

Project: Unlocking soil carbon data


A research report documenting the outcomes of a review and analysis of existing soil carbon data for Australia was recently finalised. Commissioned by the Australian Government Department of Industry, Science, Energy and Resources (DISER) the research entailed an exploration of the quantity, quality, spatial extent, availability and suitability of existing soil carbon data. An assessment of the reusability of data for modelling to support the Emissions Reduction Fund (ERF) was also undertaken.

The availability of soil carbon data is largely unknown, constrained by data holders in the private sector, and by research organisations and agencies where public data sharing is limited or non-existent. In this project the CeRDI team, led by Assoc Prof Pete Dahlhaus with Chris Bahlo and Andrew MacLeod, sought to overcome these limitations by analysing a representative collection of available datasets using a recognised approach to ensure relevance and rigour could be achieved.

Online Farm Trials

Online Farm Trials Website  

Online Farm Trials Website


Online Farm Trials (OFT) is a long-term, collaborative project involving CeRDI and the Grains Research and Development Corporation (GRDC). OFT commenced in 2015 and involves the digital transformation of trial research data and information from Australia’s grains industry. It offers advanced spatial mapping and filtering systems for accessing current and legacy data. The trials data available on the portal have been supplied by stakeholders, including grower and farming systems groups, government researchers, universities and private industry across Australia.

The website is continually evolving, and new data is regularly uploaded to increase the breadth and currency of available data and information. An expert advisory group provides governance to OFT with the research and technology developments undertaken by CeRDI under the leadership of senior research fellow Dr Nathan Robinson.

Future Regions Research Centre

Future Regions Research Centre  

Future Regions Research Centre


Federation University recently launched the Future Regions Research Centre. Co-located at the Ballarat and Gippsland campuses, the Centre will conserve, protect and transform regions. It will address challenges ranging from the transition away from coal-fired power generation in the Latrobe Valley to helping regional communities recover from bushfire and drought.

This new Centre will work closely with local industry, government, regional and Indigenous communities to develop new knowledge and innovative solutions to the challenges of human societies and their impacts on natural and man-made environments. Environmental scientist and expert in mine stability and closure, Professor Thomas Baumgartl, restoration ecologist and natural disaster recovery expert Professor Singarayer Florentine and cultural heritage and history expert Professor Keir Reeves will lead the research centre.

CeRDI researchers are looking forward to expanding across centre and across campus collaboration with the Future Regions Research Centre.

 Green Scripts

Green Scripts  

Green Scripts and the Dementia Sensory
and Forest Trail at Ballarat’s Woowookarung
National Park


Federation University through its Centre for eResearch and Digital Innovation (CeRDI) is assisting with the development of the online resources to support Green Scripts and the Dementia Sensory and Forest Trail at Ballarat’s Woowookarung National Park

Funding for the online resource is from the Bigger Hearts Dementia Alliance who have been awarded a Dementia Friendly Community grant. The project is being coordinated by Caroline Gibson. CeRDI will develop online resources that will support and highlight the health experiences and benefits for people with dementia and their carers to use the new park.

Social prescribing is encouraged by the Royal Australian College of General Practitioners as a routine for primary health practitioners. It provides alternative methods for improving the health outcomes of patients through the prescribing of social and community activities. Green Scripts is a dementia-friendly social prescribing project aimed at linking people with dementia and their carers with dementia-inclusive community activities.

 Staff profiles

Dr Benedikt Fest  

Dr Benedikt Fest


Dr Benedikt Fest: Research Coordinator

Ben brings to the CeRDI team research experience gained from over ten years working in the field of ecosystem ecology. After completing a Bachelor of Science in Biology at the Ruhr University of Bochum (Germany) and a Master of Science in Ecology at the Technical University of Munich (Germany), Ben completed a PhD at the University of Melbourne (2013) investigating the processes controlling soil methane exchange in Australian forest ecosystems.  

Following this Ben worked as a post-doctoral research fellow at the School of Ecosystem and Forest Sciences at the University of Melbourne investigating drivers of spatial variability in soil and ecosystem greenhouse gas exchange processes in forest and agricultural systems across Australia.  

Before joining CeRDI, Ben worked at the National Centre for Coasts and Climate (NCCC) at the University of Melbourne. In this role he established research trials across Victoria, investigating if and how ecosystem restoration can simultaneously provide erosion control and increase carbon stocks in tidal ecosystems (blue carbon ecosystems).

As part of his work at the NCCC, Ben reviewed if common sampling methods used to estimate sediment carbon stocks sufficiently account for spatial variation in blue carbon ecosystems. Based on his work Ben was invited to become a member of the expert working group (2019-2020) tasked to draft methods to include blue carbon ecosystem restoration approaches into the Australian Emission Reduction Fund.      

Ben joined CeRDI in April 2021 and oversees the management and provision of research activities for several projects including Online Farm Trials research.

Rahul Sinha: Web developer/programmer  

Rahul Sinha


Rahul Sinha: Web developer/programmer

Rahul recently joined the CeRDI team as a web developer, having previously been employed as a software developer for a US-based software company. Rahul’s career has included the development of software applications for the retail, automobile, and education sectors. He is proficient in various front and back-end technologies, and their trade-offs, and has worked on applications providing sales data insights, tracking users in real time, and automating daily jobs. Many of the applications Rahul has developed have generated organisational revenue growth through digital innovation.

Rahul has a master’s degree from Swinburne University, majoring in information technologies. His main studies focused on web application development, requirement analysis, entity relationship design, database development, database programming and normalisation. The course also provided opportunities for Rahul to work on well-engineered user interface-intensive applications, frameworks, and automated scripts.

In his role at CeRDI Rahul is working with the technology team to migrate the existing CeRDI workload/server using front and back end technologies. Rahul and his technical colleagues are migrating existing and older applications with the latest software versions.

The server migration will ensure that CeRDI’s web applications are current and incorporate improved security applications. Deprecated application programming interfaces will be updated, and new frameworks will be introduced to accommodate future changes. To streamline this process and facilitate operations, the CeRDI technical team has developed automated scripts. The server migration project will be completed in the second half of 2021.

CeRDI news snippets

New staff arrivals:

CeRDI recently appointed four staff to join its team. Dr Ben Fest, Rahul Sinha, Tim O'Shea and Richard Archer have been appointed to various research and technical roles, complementing recent staffing appointments of PhD alumni Dr Patrick Bonney and Chris Bahlo.

  • Ben has a background in, and research track record in the natural sciences and soils. He will contribute to the research in agriculture and provide coordination  support for Online Farm Trials. Ben has a PhD from Melbourne University.
  • Rahul joins CeRDI as a web developer and programmer. He has wide ranging experience in front and back end technology developments. Rahul recently completed a Master’s degree in information technology, further complementing his IT skills and experience.
  • Tim is a web developer and programmer providing support for CeRDI including site upgrades and server migration. Tim has a Bachelor of information technology and has previously employed as an application developer.
  • Richard is a systems analyst/programmer and will be providing support across numerous projects in CeRDI.

CeRDI postgraduate news

Graduations: Patrick Bonney and Alison Ollerenshaw  

Graduations: Patrick Bonney
and Alison Ollerenshaw


Congratulations to CeRDI’s Dr Patrick Bonney and Dr Alison Ollerenshaw who were both awarded their PhDs at the recent graduation ceremonies held at the Mt Helen Campus, Federation University. Pat’s PhD  research examined the potential for citizen science to foster community and government connections has been paralleled by a policy agenda to proactively draw on this resource to inform waterway planning and policy development. Alison’s PhD research examined the relationship between characteristic services offered at business incubators and incubator tenants’ psychological capital, hope, efficacy, resilience, and optimism.

Thesis examination
Congratulations to Chris Bahlo who recently received news that her PhD thesis has been examined and was passed subject to minor corrections. Chris’s thesis is titled Open data and interoperability standards: Opportunities for animal welfare in extensive livestock systems. Principal supervisor for Chris’s PhD was Associate Professor Peter Dahlhaus together with associate supervisor, Associate Professor Helen Thompson. Chris’s PhD research was featured in the previous CeRDI newsletter. Further information about Chris’s research is available at:

About CeRDI

The Centre for eResearch and Digital Innovation (CeRDI) is a research centre at Federation University Australia focused on:

  • the application of information and communications technology (ICT) and the development of innovative, world class knowledge management systems;
  • significantly advancing the digital literacy and knowledge management capabilities of partner organisations;
  • fostering partnerships for the development and implementation of eResearch with industry, government and academia; and
  • measuring the impact of eResearch and digital innovation through longitudinal research.

Contact CeRDI

For further details about CeRDI’s diverse portfolio of research please visit our website:, or contact Director, Associate Professor Helen Thompson:

Mailing Address
Centre for eResearch and Digital Innovation
Federation University Australia
PO Box 691
Ballarat Vic 3353

Office Location
Suite 15, Greenhill Enterprise Centre
Ballarat Technology Park
University Drive
Mount Helen Vic 3350

Phone: +61 3 5327 9314
Fax: +61 3 5327 9895

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