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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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 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.
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, 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 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 such as robotic weeders 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.
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.
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. Technical knowledge of livestock production efficiency and drivers is also a constraint. 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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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 de-registered. 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.