Regional Cropping Solutions
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The HRZ has potential to grow high yielding crops, however to achieve this commonly require significant inputs. There is potential for large returns, but because of the inputs required also comes with a high level of risk.
The most common type of production response in agriculture diminishes as inputs are increased. If starting from a low point, each additional input provides a return much greater than the cost of the input (a large marginal return for the investment). As inputs increase further, a positive response still occurs but it becomes less than the response from the previous input, i.e. it is diminishing or becomes more marginal. If investment continues, there is a point where further investment becomes greater than the additional response achieved. Given most growers have limited resources available, knowing the optimum yield and inputs to maximise this margin (at an acceptable level of risk) is essential.
Updating and dissemination of key pulse agronomy and disease management strategies is essential. Information is required as new varieties are adopted and inexperienced advisers and growers may not have the level of knowledge required to effectively manage pulse crops in variable soils types and seasonal conditions.
The HRZ desperately needs a pulse in the cropping rotation. Gowers and advisors currently dabbling with pulses are finding them often unreliable and not profitable. Yet they believe there is opportunity with pulses, especially with the test yields being reported of newer varieties. Part of their optimism stems from a feeling they are under prepared (need more knowledge, skills, confidence) to apply the right agronomy to realise the potential of the varieties available. i.e. it’s not the plant that’s the limitation or a desire to use it, rather it’s how we manage it that’s the limitation.
The quest for higher yields has an undesirable legacy – heavy stubble loads. These heavy stubbles create real challenges, in the establishment of subsequent crops, disease and pest carry over herbicide efficacy.
The grains industry has been active in trying to find approaches that minimise the negative impacts of high stubble loads, while trying to retain the benefits of retained stubble (groundcover, extra carbon and nutrients). Row spacings, inter-row sowing, no grazing, harvest height, bailing, machinery modification, incorporation are some of the tactics being employed. Burning is another tactic that, although practiced less often that decades ago, is still used because it ‘solves many problems’ easily and quickly (removes the stubble, kills disease, pest harbour, reduce weed seeds etc.).
The challenge is to enable growers and advisors to put together a number of tactics into a strategy that is, on balance, are appropriate for the time and the situation. The package of tactics is likely to change from region to region, year to year and even between paddocks with the same year. There is no recipe.
Cover cropping is a relatively new practice that is being tested in some cropping systems. A cover crop is defined as a three to nine month crop that is grown primarily for biomass, i.e. not grain but may or may not be grazed. It could be a monoculture or include multiple species, including nitrogen fixing species. It is not necessarily a summer crop.
The primary objective of introducing a cover crop is to enhance ‘soil health’. It is assumed improved soil health will lead to greater resilience and greater profit.
The enhancement in soil health are thought to be derived from increased carbon sequestration, having longer periods of active material for soil biota to feed on, moderating soil temperature, enhancing soil structure and building soil nitrogen. In some locations and farming systems, the cover crop is also seen as a way of controlling summer weeds, extracting soil moisture (to reduce subsequent waterlogging periods) and utilising excess water by growing more annual biomass.
In theory the benefits of cover cropping are attractive and the proposition ‘make sense’ at a general level. However there is very little information to understand what changes cover cropping will have on ‘soil health’ (and then ultimately to the flow on effects to other parts of the business, impact on financial performance and risk in the farming business).
It is widely recognised that the nodulation of faba and broad beans in the HRZ is poor and unreliable. This has major implications for growers relying on these pulses, both in direct yield but also the nitrogen fixation achieved.
Identifying the causes of inconsistent nodulation is the first step to developing effective strategies to improve both the level and consistency of nodulation to improve nitrogen fixation and yields. This is unlikely to be a simple task because product, handling regimes, chemical and rotation history, soil types and the wider farming system are all likely to be contributing factors.
Farm profit is influenced by the price received for a commodity. There is a belief that profit could be improved if (i) there was greater differentiation in markets, especially with cereals and faba beans and (ii) growers had improved grain selling skills (either themselves or in partnership with a grain marketer).
Differentiated markets may also encourage growers to introduce some more novel crops in the rotation, thereby helping manage disease, pest and nutrition. i.e. having markets and favourable prices influences rotation choices.
RCSN members believe there are important and desirable improved long season wheat, barley, canola and faba beans trait and varieties from the Northern Hemisphere that would increase the profitability of growing these crops in the HRZ. These opportunities include long season varieties with mid to late maturity, waterlogging tolerance, improved grain quality, higher yields, greater leaf disease resistance and improved straw to reduce the risk of lodging and head retention. In particular, superior genetics which offer leaf disease tolerance is needed, given that current varieties lack resistance to the leaf major diseases e.g. Septoria tritici blotch, Barley Yellow Dwarf Virus and Leaf Rust.
Facilitating quicker access to Northern Hemisphere material would be of benefit to HRZ farmers.
An enormous amount of data is being captured by growers and their contractors, either consciously (drones, soil testing, EM) or because technology now enables this to happen (yield monitors, satellites). This data includes soil pH, elevation, Normalized Difference Vegetation Index (NVDI), yield and grain quality. Most of the data collected is geo-referenced, potentially enabling different interventions in different parts of a paddock.
Extracting ‘value’ from this data is in its infancy, but on the surface appears to have great potential to improve profitability. For example collected information could be used to assess the impact of diseases and nutrition or provide the opportunity to measure and quantify the financial value of treatments, thus enabling greater value from on-farm trials to be obtained.
Typically the data collection is driven by those at the technology end (sensors and data capture) rather than the end user (data user and decision maker). There is a need to understand what data would be valuable to inform the decision maker and then examine what data that is already being collected could meet these needs.
Optical sensors, which use specific wavelengths to collect a range of reflectance data measurements, are becoming cheaper and more common. While they can be shown to collect and differentiate images, the value of the data to inform decision making is unclear. There are suggestions it could be used to inform summer weed control, crop establishment and damage, variable rate nitrogen, validate areas of waterlogging and where drainage is required, crop disease prevalence and crop maturity to determine timing of desiccation or windrowing. None of these suggestions have been well developed.
On the surface there appears to be lots of opportunities to use sensor data, but just what this is and importantly how it can be used to improve decisions and profit is unclear. The people promoting the technology are enthusiastic, grower and advisors are curious but the application (and proof it is profitable) is yet to be established.
The risk of leaving it to the market is (i) the sensor technologists will assume what growers need – and may not get this right and/or (ii) individuals pursue the potential but then do not share with the wider industry (market failure). This is costly to the individual and the wider grains industry.
Poor establishment of canola crops in high rainfall environments, particularly when sown into heavy stubble loads limit yield and profit of growing canola. Key opportunities which could improve the establishment of canola crop include stubble management starting with prior harvest, sowing systems (tyne and discs), row spacing, seed row placement, seeding rates, soil ameliorants and fertiliser inputs and placement.
Large areas of the high rainfall zone are prone to waterlogging which limits yields and profitability. Barley is less tolerant of waterlogging than other cereal crops. The GRDC has invested in research undertaken by the Tasmanian Institute of Agriculture (TIA) which has identified a major gene controlling the tolerance of waterlogging in barley. Further research is required to develop molecular markers which would accelerate the introduction of this gene and the breeding of varieties with greater waterlogging tolerance.
Growers perceive that it is more profitable to generate income and achieve an acceptable return on investment on highly valued land by growing high value crops such as lentils in close rotation than having a more balanced rotation that manages weeds, disease, pest and chemical residues.
Increasing grower understanding of the impact of crop choice on risk and return may lead to more informed crop choice decision-making.
Growers and advisors have a good understanding and skills in implementing husbandry techniques that manage rhizoctonia damage to seminal roots early in the season, but have less awareness that infection of crown roots later in the season is causing yield loss in some situations. There is no knowledge of husbandry techniques to manage infection of crown roots. It has been demonstrated that in furrow applications of fungicides can reduce damage and provide yield response but the situations where this will provide a return is not defined. Growers and advisors do not use technology as they are uncertain of getting a return on investment.
Broad acre farming systems in the low rainfall zone are reliant on phenoxy herbicides for cost affective weed control but there is a risk of off target damage to horticultural crops. This is a constraint to broad acre farming operations in close proximity to horticultural crops, and could impact on the wider industry through tighter regulatory controls if damage to horticultural crops continues. There is a need to evaluate alternative herbicides that provide cost effective control of winter and summer weeds while reducing the risk of off target damage, and to prepare for tighter regulatory controls.
Selection pressure for later germination and the development of herbicide resistance have caused Barley and Brome Grass to become significant weeds which constrains the profits of growers in low rainfall areas.
Due to logistical considerations, prophylactic applications of insecticide on a broad scale are common when managing insects but there are concerns about resistance, the effect on beneficial insects and the environment. Management of insects could be improved with better forecasts and alerts, thresholds and knowledge and tools to manage resistant populations.
In the low and variable rainfall environment of the low rainfall zone, growing pulses and applying nitrogen fertiliser increases costs which could result in reduced returns in poor seasons. Quantifying the nitrogen contribution of pulses and the benefit to subsequent crops will enable growers to include the value of the nitrogen contribution when assessing the overall economic benefit of growing pulses. This knowledge can be combined with improved decision making tools to better match nitrogen applications to requirements, reducing the risk of losses when nitrogen is applied when it is not required, and increasing profitability when a return from nitrogen application is likely.
Repeated spraying of fence lines with glyphosate based mixes is placing high selection pressure on weeds for resistance to glyphosate. While the threat and occurrence of glyphosate resistance in annual ryegrass is recognised, there is a threat of glyphosate resistance developing in other species which are potentially more difficult and costly to control. This could the increase cost and complexity of weed management in the low rainfall zone.
Growers are unsure of what constitutes big data and if this provides opportunities to improve productivity and profitability in the low rainfall zone.
Growers want to reduce the use of insecticides but require evidence or thresholds (for pest and beneficial species) to be confident to only use insecticides when required. Current knowledge and economic thresholds are not relevant for the low rainfall environments where there is a sharp finish to the season finishes and temperatures. The use of insecticidal strategies which minimise impact on beneficial insects are also seen as important for the integrated management pests and long term profitability.
The current maximum label rate of Clethodim to control annual ryegrass in canola is ineffective. Where higher rates have been used, annual ryegrass control is improved. Therefore the appropriate action would be to revisit the current maximum label rate in canola. This has been included in the additional chemical use patterns to be submitted for consideration, so no further action is required at this stage.
The high levels of resistance and longer growing seasons in the high rainfall zone means that growers do not have herbicide options to effectively control the staggered and late germinations of ARG which cause seedbanks to increase. Weed seed set and harvest weed seed tactics for ARG are required to enable growers to effectively prevent the build-up of ARG weed seedbanks and reduce ARG numbers.
Seasonal conditions are the greatest determinant of yield which has a significant impact on profit. Improved skill of weather forecasts and seasonal outlook forecasts would provide growers with the powerful tools that would enable growers to make better informed plans and decisions which will increase profits.
The key nitrogen management decisions are amounts/rates and timing of applications. A range of N budgeting tools which calculate N fertiliser requirements given N demand based on target yield and protein less N supply from mineralisation. The amount of N supplied through mineralisation is highly variable. Hence, the calculated amount of required N fertiliser can only be considered a “guide”. Crop models have not been calibrated for regional conditions in the region which limits the accuracy and reliability of using NVDI information as a tool to estimate N requirements. The development of technologies and tools to measure N rather than rely on estimates of N would increase the accuracy of N management decisions. Improved seasonal forecasts and crop models would also enable growers to adapt tactical N management based on potential yield given seasonal conditions.
Understanding and being aware of the risk of a range of pests and diseases e.g. Russian Wheat Aphid, Beet Western Aphid Virus etc. would enable growers and advisors to better plan and implement timely strategies to proactively and more effectively manage identified risks. This could be achieved by modelling and communicating climate conditions which are generally the major pre-cursers that influence the risk of disease and insects invasions. This information could be used to assess the risks and provide an early warning system to enable growers and advisors to develop and implement strategies to cost-effectively manage insect and diseases.
In states where Roundup Ready® canola technology is not available, options for managing herbicide resistant annual ryegrass are limited and tolerance to higher rates of dim chemistry (butroxydim or clethodim) are a useful tool. However, tolerance of varieties and herbicide damage varies across environments and seasons. The risk, damage and impact are higher for less tolerant canola varieties. Knowledge of tolerance levels would enable growers to avoid damaging sensitive cultivars at current label rates. The information could also be used to support label rate variations on specific tolerant varieties and support pre-breeding programs for improved tolerance to dim herbicide chemistry.
Pulse commodity price is highly influenced by demand in the Middle East (e.g. faba beans) and the Sub-continent (e.g. lentils). Developing new markets through novel food uses for pulses or gaining market through greater market access of trade agreements may reduce price volatility of pulses.
There is a need to develop alternatives to herbicides to control weeds where control with herbicides is no longer effective, and to prolong the life of existing herbicides.
Growers require access to a range of improved canola varieties with a range of traits that are adapted to high rainfall environments. Regulations in South Australia and Tasmania prevent the growing of GM varieties. As a consequence growers in key high rainfall production areas in these States do not have access to GM varieties with a range of improved traits (e.g. herbicide resistance, pod strength to reduce shattering).
The risk of fungal pathogens developing pathotypes to with resistance to commonly used fungicides is increasing. An opportunity exists to mitigate this risk through development of genetic solutions and integrated management strategies for the major cereal foliar diseases.
The current regulatory process for the registration of new and/or an extension of chemical use patterns is lengthy which limits access to tools that growers require to cost-effectively manage risks. A lack of registered products and timely permit renewals impacts on product supply, the management of weeds, pests and disease and resistance. Growers perceive that regulators do not fully comprehend the financial impact of restricted or delayed access to chemicals e.g. fungicides.
The medium rainfall zone experiences a high level of variability. Being able to quickly adapt from one season to the next is difficult for example a decile 1 season requires vastly different management tactics for crop &variety choice; in season crop nutrition, weed, pest and disease management than a rainfall decile 7 season. Supporting growers to be adaptive and agile for each season type will enable yield and profit optimisation while managing risk. This can be done with decision support tools and extension tailored to specific agro-ecological zones within the southern region.This issue was raised at the open forum meetings in 2017 and has been previously raised by the MRZ RSCN. Updating and dissemination of key pulse agronomy and disease management strategies is essential. Information is required as new varieties are adopted and inexperienced advisers and growers may not have the level of knowledge required to effectively manage pulse crops in variable soils types and seasonal conditions.
Growers tend to be suspicious of the results from small scale trials and would like to see results on a larger paddock scale before adopting the technologies.
There has been a steady decline in the R, D and E capacity across agriculture, particularly in LR areas which may not be highly attractive areas of work and careers against other alternatives. Included is the need for a mentoring program to support staff at remote research facilities.
The over reliance on Group B herbicides for grass and broadleaf weed control, increasing herbicide resistance in broadleaf weeds such as Indian Hedge Mustard and Sow thistle, and the selection for resistance in a range of other weeds as a consequence of exposure to herbicides will continue to limit cost-effective chemical weed control and the profitability of growers. The development of a range of alternative chemical and non-chemical weed control strategies, such as new or additional herbicide tolerance for a greater range of crop options and varieties and develop new and novel cultural technologies.
The ability to predict flowering time and the risk of frost (and heat stress) given sowing date for different locations across the Southern Region would mitigate the risk of losses caused by frost. A greater understanding of the effectiveness of techniques to manipulate development, flowering and maturity of varieties which can reduce exposure to high frost risk periods.
Access to virtual fencing could provide substantial advantages for grazing the large areas common in low rainfall areas. Technology is currently uneconomic but it is not possible to do local research given that virtual fencing is currently illegal in SA and Vic. It would also help with managing variable soil types within large paddocks i.e. prevent over grazing of sand hills and the subsequent increase in erosion risk.
The expansion of lentils and chickpeas into new areas and further into the low rainfall zone in the past 5 years has boosted profitability. Pulses are complex to manage and poorly managed crops pose a risk to profitability of inexperienced growers. Field peas and lupin areas have also expanded.
There is a lot of interest in growing pulses in low rainfall areas but knowledge, skills and experience is limiting the ability of growers to successfully grow profitable pulse crops in the low rainfall zone. There is also the need to refine pulse management techniques from higher rainfall areas to make them more relevant for quicker finishing and less reliable rainfall districts. The interest in pulses is leading to increased plantings so growers are intending to plant them while lacking knowledge, skills and experience, which is likely to result in reduced returns.
Conditions in high rainfall environments favour the infection and spread of foliar diseases in canola crops. Recently growers, agronomist and advisors have encountered an increase in the range of diseases and levels of infection. The main foliar diseases include –
The current heavy reliance on low cost, simple fungicides strategies may jeopardise the long term control of fungal diseases in canola and a more diverse, integrated approach may be required.
The reliance, prophylactic and repeated use of a limited number of fungicide groups has increased the risk and rate of development of fungicide resistance. The development and adoption of integrated approaches and informed decisions to disease management are required to reduce the reliance and over-use of fungicides as the only means of control. The integrated approach will require a three pronged approach;
Increasing investment in weed, pest and disease control, along with nutrition have become an accepted requirement to grow higher yielding wheat crops. Growers (and some advisors) are now beginning to question the sustainability of this approach. Increasing direct input increases downside financial risk, because most of the costs are upfront before the final yield is known and the expenditure is often ‘sunk’ i.e. cannot be recovered in the next crop if yields are below expectation. Understandably they are wondering if there are other means of supplying these inputs at lower cost, while not limiting the upside potential when growing conditions are favourable. Seeking smarter ways to manage and provide the inputs is prudent farm management.
It is accepted that farming systems, rotations and individual practices strongly influence weeds, pests, diseases and nutrients. In turn this influences the inputs that are required to grow high yielding wheat crops. Identifying farming systems and strategies which will reduce costs and optimise wheat yields would enable growers manage financial risk and increase profits.
refer to Issue 1 – Reliable supply of canola seed – is F2 canola an option?
Surveys have shown very high levels of herbicide resistance in annual ryegrass (ARG) is widespread across the high rainfall zone. ARG populations in the high rainfall zone have developed resistance to multiple groups of herbicides. The long growing season in the high rainfall zones results in large populations of herbicide resistant ARG which can germinate very late in the season (September to November) after in-crop herbicides have lost their efficacy. The on-going population of ARG reduces yields, limits crop options and less effective and/or increased input costs for weed control which is significantly limiting the profitability of farming systems. Improved management packages which provide season-long control of ARG in the high rainfall zone are required.
The set up and operation of the header can have an impact on throughput and how much grain is ‘lost’ during harvest. Variability in machines, operator skill, crop moisture, canopy structure and weather conditions all impact of harvest efficiency. Setting and adjusting machinery to maximise grain capture while operating at optimum machine performance is a skill. Providing expert advice to growers and contractors would enhance profit by ensuring the maximum amount of grain is captured for the costs incurred, both in expenditure to grow the crop but also to get the crop off in a timely manner.
Nitrogen (N) management is a key driver of yield and profitability of all non-legume crops in most seasons within the high rainfall zone. Improved technologies and tools to accurately and rapidly measure in-crop N status would enable better in-season tactical N decisions. It would also enable more intensive and frequent measurement of N which would provide the information required to customise N management. Customised and variable rate N applications would increase N use efficiency, return on investment and profit.
There is an understanding of the work that has been done in the Grain and Graze program over the past decade. While the program has improved knowledge and awareness of things like grazing crops and stubble and use of pastures in the rotation, the more difficult question of synergies, integration and whole farm impact remain. It is a complex area and probably requires some different thinking to the extension approach that has been used in the past.
Most traditional crops grown in the HRZ are bulk commodities which compete with other high volume suppliers around the world. The introduction of new high value grain crops, including pulses (e.g. chickpeas, soybeans peanuts etc.), oilseeds (linseed, safflower, evening primrose and sunflower etc.) and other options would have a positive impact and be applicable to most growers across the HRZ. The direct benefit would be increased profit, with wider gains through diversification of rotations potentially enabling alternative options for weed control, nitrogen accumulation, disease break, soil amelioration and water use. Depending on the crop, new beyond farm gate industries may emerge in handling and processing.
The issue has evolved from one of general seed supply (accepting that Australian demand is at the end of the global seed supply, so are partially dictated by what the seed suppliers have left available) to a question of using F2 hybrid canola if new seed is not available. There is some evidence seed grading and other agronomy can lessen the impacts of sowing F2 hybrid seed. So is F2 canola an option and if so under what agronomy package will it work?
The over-use and reliance on herbicide strategies increases the rate at which resistance develops and reduces the efficacy of herbicides. This has resulted in an increase in the number and distribution of “hard to kill” weeds. Adoption of integrated weed management packages which include non-chemical strategies may be re-energised by developing novel technologies and tools to identify and implement targeted control of hard to kill weeds.
The relatively low cost of open pollinated (OP) varieties and the opportunity to retain seed compared to hybrid varieties reduces the production cost and financial risk of growing canola. Seed supplies of OP varieties have been unreliable. Added to this is the dominance of hybrid canola systems and the unreliable seed supply and high cost structure. Currently there is only a single company breeding OP varieties for Australia. Growers require continued access to a range of OP canola varieties for a range of environments with a range of robust blackleg and sclerotinia resistance a range of herbicide tolerance systems.
Plant available soil water drives crop yield and the risk associated with crop choice and management decisions. Real time knowledge of soil water status including spatial variability across the farm creates an opportunity to more effectively monitor yield potential as the season evolves and then make better decisions including crop choice at sowing time, nitrogen and disease management.
Glyphosate has multiple and ever increasing use patterns- knockdowns, fence-line hygiene summer weed control, in-crop weed control in Round Up Ready Crops and spray-topping. The extent and number of weed species developing glyphosate resistance is also rapidly increasing. The efficacy of glyphosate is quickly declining. Glyphosate resistance threatens the viability of no-till systems. It is the key non-selective tool used to manage weeds during fallow periods. Hence, the urgent need to develop alternative tools and systems to manage weed without glyphosate.
Crop establishment is increasingly being affected by a range of pests that proliferate in retained stubble farming systems. The pest spectrum has shifted and not only includes traditional stubble loving foes such as lucerne flea, snails and mice, but includes slaters, millipedes and earwigs and slugs. There are few products registered for use on the emerging pests and limited knowledge on successful management strategies.
Growers depend on the skills, knowledge and recommendations of advisers which guide their decisions and contribute to the management of their farm businesses. Hence, the knowledge and abilities of advisers and agronomists may inadvertently be limiting the profitability, risk management and/or compliance of farm businesses.
Growers and staff new to grain growing require learning opportunities to upskill in all technical, operational and business aspects of grain growing. Extension methodology research and recent evaluation of discussion groups for inexperienced growers indicates that peer discussion groups are the preferred and most effective learning method for growers.
There is an opportunity to expand and intensify the production of high value (>$600/t) lentil and chickpea crops and increase the profitability of farm businesses. The development and adoption of improved varieties and agronomic packages are essential to capitalise on this opportunity.
Many no-till grain growers recognise the advantages of integrating livestock into their farming system to provide income diversity, reduce input costs and increase profits. Paddock size, fencing, water points are often inadequate to manage grazing without causing damage to the soil resource. A range of new and modern tools may offer potential solutions which would allow growers to capture this opportunity.
Many farm businesses are not aware of their own drivers of financial or production performance and therefore do not understand what drives profit in their business. Farm business potential is being constrained by decisions influenced by perceptions of what drives profit rather than intimate business knowledge.
There are unrealised gains in production and profits in the southern grain region that can be achieved with minimal impact on business risk. Evidence from GRDC Project RDP00013 suggests the average business is performing at half the profit level as the top 20% performer.
Solutions include initiatives that empower growers to better understand the drivers of revenue, costs and therefore profit at the individual farm level, supported by an understanding of the qualitative traits and management strategies that lead to improved profit.
This issue emerges each year as a high priority concern and was again raised at the 2017 open meetings. Growers and advisors find making in season N management decisions difficult because there is uncertainty around the amount if N available in the soil (mainly due to low uptake of deep soil N testing), the amount of N required by the crop (yield potential) and the financial risk associated with meet crop N demand if there is a dry spring or a frost or heat stress event.
Growers have observed an increase and/or ingression of “hard to kill” weed species in low rainfall districts. It is suggested that this may be attributed to a number of factors including seasonal conditions, changes in rainfall and temperatures, modern farming systems and practices, selection and shifts in weed ecology. Important hard to kill weeds include Fleabane, Feathertop Rhodes Grass, Windmill Grass, Button Grass, Gazanea and Statice. These weeds are not well controlled with blanket sprays. Understanding the ecology and cost effective management practices for low rainfall farming systems is required to reduce the impact of hard to kill weeds.
Herbicide residues appear to be persisting longer than label indications, particularly on sandy soils. The evidence for this is anecdotal and creating uncertainty. There may be low level yield losses and reduction in returns or on the other hand, the perceived risk may be leading to decisions that reduce returns. The situation needs to be clarified.
The technology of robotics is advancing rapidly and offers a greater level of automation which may provide significant opportunities to increase efficiencies and profitability of farm businesses.
Improved farm business management skills will improve long term profitability of grain growers in the low rainfall zone. Identified farm business skills which are essential to enduring profitability include risk management, economics of machinery investment, understanding the trade-off between investment in machinery and labour, tools and skills for better farm decision making, people management, assessing farm business performance, business planning, farm business succession, farm business models and pathways for entry into farming. Peer farmer learning groups are seen as an effective vehicle for improving farm business management skills.
This issue recognises the current and developing importance of social media in agricultural extension and seeks to explore mechanisms by which this can be further enhanced.
In low rainfall areas, there can be considerable benefits in adopting alternative seeding plans depending on where the season is heading. It would be highly advantageous to have access to more skilful seasonal outlook forecasts at the time of planting. Coupled with this is the need for improved methodology for utilising forecasts of varying skills in effective decision making.
In the low rainfall zone, pest and weed management is often based on the use of low cost generic products. Several of these are under the threat or are about to be deregistered. The application of the precautionary principle (hazard based assessment) may restrict access to commonly used cost effective chemicals with the need then to use more expensive options. There is the need to advocate for the protection of farmer’s interests in any attempt to deregister active ingredients.
Our farming systems are heavily reliant of the use of Glyphosate, both as a crop establishment knockdown and for fallow weed control, pasture topping and crop topping of canola, feed barley and sometimes wheat. The loss of this chemical would substantially impact the farming systems in LR areas. While the withdrawal of regulatory support is considered unlikely, loss of efficacy, through increased resistance poses a significant threat. It raises the question of whether it is possible to farm without glyphosate and what techniques would be required. The pressure on glyphosate in the EU was behind the question about ongoing regulatory support.
The development of high value pulse varieties, especially lentils and chickpeas, which are better adapted to low rainfall environments and farming systems would increase the area sown to pulse crops and thereby increase long term profitability. Improved varieties of pulses for situations where high value pulses are not suited would also increase in the area sown to pulses and thereby enduring profitability of growers in the low rainfall zone. Identified issues and traits of improved varieties include, lupins tolerant of free lime and high residue field peas which provide protection of soils from wind erosion.
A risk management feature of traditional low rainfall farm businesses has been the adoption of mixed farming practices, in part to minimise the financial impact of poor seasons. High cropping intensity systems adopted from higher rainfall districts can expose low rainfall businesses to higher risk. There is the need to improve the identification, development and quantification of practices which better balance the multiple goals of maximising profit, reducing risk and increasing business resilience.