Cowra Agricultural Research and Advisory Station


Alpacas stare over the fence at sheep on Cowra ARAS

Cowra Agricultural Research and Advisory Station is located on 305 hectares of red-brown earth in the central western slopes of NSW. The site has been recognised as the Centre for Red Meat and Sheep Development. It has a long and impressive research record in the improvement of the Australian sheep meat industry. Recent activities have focussed on developing improvements in genetics, meat quality, nutrition, reproduction, lamb survival and market development.

Plant Breeders throughout Australia have used this reliable rainfall site for over 100 years to undertake the detailed assessment of new selections and ultimately their inclusion in on-site national variety trials. Large scale crop and pasture management demonstrations are undertaken to extend the latest technology to the local farming community.

Cowra ARAS is on 305ha of undulating arable and grazing country

Situated 3km from Cowra on the northern town boundary, the research and advisory station is located on 305 hectares of undulating arable and grazing country. A further 70ha is leased from the adjoining Department of Natural Resources.

Staff Accommodation

The eight professional and their six support staff and postgraduate students are accommodated in a modern office complex located in landscaped grounds on the property. Access to the latest communication and computing technologies are available, as are functional library, meeting and amenity facilities.  A large cluster of historical buildings dating back to the early 20th century provide accommodation for four farm staff and their modern farming and livestock handling equipment.


Technical officers measuring the shear force (tenderness) of goat meat samples.

The NSW DPI Meat Science Laboratory provides valuable support to the Meat Science program, conducting a variety of tests to determine meat quality, sensory characteristics, shelf-life and preservative capacities; and validate objective on-chain technologies.

The laboratory has recently undergone an external assessment and audit by NCSI for AS/NZSISO 9001:2000 Quality Management Systems.  As a result, the laboratory has now gained internationally recognised certification. The laboratory is currently working towards broadening the scope of the ISO accreditation to include other testing procedures.

Conference Centre

The JT Pridham Conference Centre was opened during centenary celebrations in 2003. This modern 80 seat facility has been developed within the fully restored barn built for local plant breeders in 1907. It provides meeting, workshop, training and conference facilities for local and visiting departmental staff and all agricultural related organisations.

Meat research

Meat science is a principal area of research at Cowra that currently focuses on:

  • Exploring production (i.e. nutrition/stress) effects on red meat yield, eating and nutritional quality traits
  • Testing novel preservative approaches to assure long term and cost-effective storage for both domestic and export destined product
  • Identifying on-site (processor) opportunities to enhance red meat quality (esp. tenderness) for increased industry profitability and ability to compete
  • Assessing technologies for the prediction of carcass yield and quality traits in real-time (incl. Raman Spectroscopy, NIR and others)

Agronomy research

Current Cowra-based agronomy research and development projects include the following:

  • Large scale demonstration sites focussing on grain legume crops and their management for inclusion in sustainable cereal rotations
  • Demonstration of pasture mixes suitable for cropping rotations
  • Field site for continued phosphorous nutrition research in collaboration with Sydney University
  • A lucerne variety persistence trial in collaboration with the Central West Conservation Farming group
  • Grains Research Development Corporation funded management trials for newly released cereals
  • Field site for wheat stripe rust management, funded by Central West Conservation Farmers group
  • Core field site of early generation varieties for plant breeders from NSW DPI, Sydney University and Dovuro
  • Field site for National Variety Testing of wheat, oats and triticale

Current research projects

The work of The Cowra Research Station is both nationally and internationally recognised and has a track record of securing external funding for research and development and for a high publication rate. Not only has this enhanced Australia’s reputation for research in the field of agricultural science, it has more specifically enhanced the reputation of NSW DPI and provided a platform from which to transfer the findings to industry.

  • Phosphorus Efficient Pastures - MLA
  • National Variety Trials -  GRDC
  • Perennial grains research - NSW Department of Primary Industries
  • Coordination Lachlan Valley Lamb Group
  • Coordination of LambEX 2016
  • Merino displacement project. Investigating displacement of merinos by other breeds in NSW- AWI
  • Stocking density of lambing ewes.- AWI & MLA
  • Mineral nutrition of lambing ewes from grazing cereals- MLA & AWI
  • Role of heat stress on embryo survival in ewes and cold stress on lamb survival.-AWI
  • Immunisation of young Merino ewes against leptin to enhance growth, fertility, litter size and lamb survival – MLA
  • Identifying Storage Thresholds in Frozen and Chilled Red Meat – AMPC
  • Project 1 - New meat grading tools’ focuses on calibration and implementation of a new cuts-based grading system for lambs – Sheep CRC
  • Project 2 - New production definition’ is designed to extend the use of the new cuts-based grading system for use in grading non-lamb carcases such as yearling Merino carcases and large lambs >25kg - – Sheep CRC.
  • Improved tenderness of alpaca carcasses using combined processing techniques – RIRDC/ILLAWARA Prime
  • Manipulation of beef fatty acids - ARC – Functional Grains
  • Pilot Study for future storage and transport of carcasses using hypobaric containers– AMPC
  • Estimating age/NIR - CDU/UNE – MLA
  • MQ/Tissue Raman Spectroscopy – RMIT – AMPC
  • Can on-site beef dark cutting evaluation (monitoring) be improved and value-added? – AMPC
  • A practical means to accelerate beef ageing and sustain acceptable eating quality and safety: Chilled storage temperature manipulation – AMPC
  • Rinse and Chill lamb - MSPC

International collaborative projects have been conducted with scientists from the University of Otago, New Zealand, University of Bayreuth, Germany, University of Alberta, Canada, Zhejiang University, China, and Shandong Agricultural University, China. Linkages also exist with the University of Catania, Italy, ARC, Irene, South Africa, AgResearch, Hamilton New Zealand, The Land Institute, Salina Kansas, University of Manitoba and Consiglio per la ricerca e la sperimentazione in agricoltura (CRA), Italy

The station has an extension team of 5 professional staff based at Cowra. Extension staff promote industry and export development by working with industry to improve the sustainability and profitability of the agricultural sector.

A portrait photograph of JT Pridham

William Farrer is regarded as the Father of the Australian wheat industry. He had very strong views on how Research Farms could be best used to help farmers develop agriculture in NSW.  He was instrumental in the formation of the new “Experiment Farm” at Cowra in 1903, where he could conduct his wheat breeding trials unencumbered by others.

In 1911, after studying under Farrer, John Pridham came to Cowra as a Plant Breeder for the Department.  He continued Farrer’s work in the improvement of wheat, producing strains with better disease resistance and baking quality.  Early in his career Pridham felt that the advances in wheat improvement could also be applied to oats, making them better adapted to the drier wheat belt conditions.   He believed that by moving away from one crop farming and using oats as an alternative to wheat, the sustainability of western farming could be improved.  He also carried out pioneering work with barley.

Pridham’s legacy is continued by many other plant breeders who use Cowra as a base for their work. The refurbished J.T Pridham Conference Center (circa1910) is named in his honor.

In 1913, J. Wrenford Mathews initiated a large-scale program to evaluate various breeds and crosses of sheep for prime lamb production. This was the start of a long and continuing association between the then Cowra Experiment Farm and the prime lamb industry. Mathews's program was the first in Australia to show the superior prime lamb production from the Border Leicester x Merino ewe when crossed with the Dorset Horn ram.

Agricultural training centre

A large building was constructed in 1910 to accomodate agricultural students

Early in the Station's history it was also a practical agricultural training centre. A large building was constructed in 1910 to accommodate and instruct young English boys brought to Australia under the 'Dreadnought' scheme.

For the period 1911 to 1938, 1246 students passed through various training schemes. Later, many young Australian men and women gained training and experience in agriculture at Cowra. During World War II part of the building was used to house the Women’s Land Army.

Much of the history is covered in the book 'A patch of Common' published in the 2003 (available on request).

The township of Cowra is situated at the upper reaches of the Lachlan River in the Central Slopes region of New South Wales.

The area enjoys a Mediterranean-type climate, with an average annual rainfall of 625mm. Summer temperatures are warm to hot, with a mean maximum of around 30oC [86oF] whilst maximum winter temperatures reach 14oC [57.2oF]. Frosts generally occur between May and September.

Soils are mainly derived from granite and sedimentary rocks (shale, mudstone) but in many cases are colluvium or alluvial and bear little association with adjacent rock types. The predominant soil type is red-brown earth and this has good productivity under sound management.


Binni Creek Road
Cowra NSW 2794

Postal address:

Cowra Agricultural Research and Advisory Station
Centre for Sheep Meat Development
PO Box 129
Cowra NSW 2794

Phone: (02) 6349 9777

International: +61 2 6349 9777

Fax: (02) 6342 4543