Regional Cropping Solutions
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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 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 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.
Foliar diseases are considered to be a significant factor limiting yield potential of canola crops in the high rainfall zone. The main foliar diseases include blackleg flower, stem and pod infections, sclerotinia and powdery mildew. Conditions in high rainfall environments favour the infection and spread of these diseases in canola crops. In recent years, there has been an increase in the range of diseases and levels of infection in canola crops across the high rainfall zone. An improved understanding of the epidemiology, yield loss and economic impact is essential to the development of cost-effective disease management strategies.
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 to disease management are required to reduce the reliance and over-use of fungicides. Genetic resistance is essential to reduce the reliance on fungicides to manage diseases. The development of new varieties which provide improved resistance to a range of important diseases is required. The adoption of non-chemical control strategies which reduce inoculum levels prior to fungicide applications are also critical to reducing selection pressure and fungicide resistance.
Additional inputs to manage weeds, pests, diseases and nutrition are required to grow high yielding wheat crops which increase financial risk. There is the opportunity to reduce inputs, costs and the financial risk whilst optimising yield and maximising profits. Systems/rotation and practices strongly influence weeds, pests, diseases and nutrients and therefore influence 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 reduce financial risk and increase profits.
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 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.
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, both between and within crops. 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.
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 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.
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.
The changing climate has increased the extremes and variability of seasons, e.g. an extreme dry followed by an extreme wet in the 2015/16 and 2016/17 seasons. Growers require a greater range of knowledge and management skills to optimise profit from such contrasting seasons, i.e. management complexity is increased.
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 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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
This issue was a combination of three issues relating to profit and costs. As growers reach water limited yield potential, assuming that maximum grain price is also being achieved, there is a need to look for other opportunities to increase profit. Obviously, there will be businesses where extracting more grain yield and achieving higher grain prices remain sources for improved profits.
Growers are concerned about the increasing cost structures of businesses as they increase scale and intensity and take on more debt. A continuation of this trend will erode profits.
It is suggested that a better understanding of business costs and strategies to more effectively manage costs is required to further improve profit. It is recognised that farm businesses with upper quartile returns display business acumen and are focussed on profitability.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
In LR 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 LR 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.