More than 80 per cent of NSW canola growers and a growing number in Victoria have taken part in Canola Check, a decision support system used by growers since 1989. The program aims to increase grower confidence in crop management and marketing, guaranteeing canola a permanent place in rotations with cereals and grain legumes in south-eastern Australia.
The program which was developed in NSW and is grower-supported through GRDC funding, provides a framework for growers, advisers, researchers and retailers to focus on increased yield and profit. The format relies on timely group discussion.
Barry Minogue from Yiddah via Barmedman started growing canola two years ago without knowing too much about it. He found the program extremely beneficial at this early stage.
"We formed our own group, and had 20 to 25 people at our first meeting, most of them new to canola."
Mr Minogue's first crop won the group prize for his district. He attributes this success to Canola Check. This year his crop is even better.
John Lamont is Secretary of the Canola Association of Australia. Farming near Old Junee. he is in one of the first Canola Check areas.
e first Canola Check areas. "One of the key factors is short, convenient meetings," Mr Lamont said. "They are within easy distance, don't take long, and you don't have to dress up. This makes it very easy for farmers to hop in the ute, attend the meeting and be back at work in a couple of hours."
Mr Lamont said that about 75 per cent of people who attended a Check meeting kept on attending, and this attested to the success of the program. He said he could not speak too highly of the Departmental officers behind the program. "I've never gone to a field day and not learnt something," he said.
Canola Check is based around four 'checkpoints', which coincide with specific crop growth stages. Checkpoints establish a target for the specific stage and highlight such aspects as emergence, establishment and insect pests.
There are regular group meetings through the growing season to coincide with the crop check stages. Meetings are held at local crop sites, giving growers a chance to discuss issues concerning them at that stage of crop development.
Common topics for discussion are establishment, nutrition, windrowing, harvesting and marketing. Specialists often attend the meetings to offer their guidance.
Growers are asked to record observations on their own crops, to reinforce the checks.
NSW Department of Agriculture extension officers collect the recorded information from growers for analysis and for district comparisons.
NSW Department of Agriculture extension officers collect the recorded information from growers for analysis and for district comparisons. The comparative analysis of economic information, agronomic data and inputs allow growers to compare their own performance with that of their peers.
Two years ahead
Victorian growers are now learning about the program and liking it. Glen Humbert of Prairie is amoung those first-time growers. "The system was very beneficial and gave me that little bit of extra knowledge that makes all the difference," he said. "It probably put me two years ahead of where I would have been without the program."
Canola Check allows early diagnosis of problems. A network of extension officers can quickly and easily relay information that may be of widespread concern.
Daryl Simons from Carisbrook can vouch that it works. Another first-time grower, he said that the support he got from the program enabled him to look for problems and procedures well ahead of time, rather than when they happened. "I rate the program as excellent."
A direct result of improved communications between canola growing areas was the heliothis monitoring program run during 1992. Weekly reports were broadcast every Friday morning on ABC regional rural reports. This improved the timeliness of critical inspections of canola crops, winter legume crops and pastures. The success of this initiative has led some to assert that Canola Check has established canola in Australia as the most progressive of the oilseed and grain legume industries.
Canola production has more than doubled from 58,000 tonnes in 1989 to an estimated 140,000 tonnes in 1992. There is a unity between primary producers, oilseed crushers, and margarine and edible oil manufacturers, which has resulted from their involvement in this popular extension program.