He appeared in Issue 4 of Ground Cover. At that time we reported his plan to bring wheat-growing back to the high rainfall and cool climate areas and provide winter feed for sheep at the same time. With the success of his dual-purpose feed quality winter wheat, Lawson, Jim Davidson's vision has been fulfilled.
While his feet were rooted in the past - some of the wheats he used were developed by Australian pioneer breeder William Farrer - his eyes were on a future: giving tableland farmers an alternative high-yielding crop which also provides feed for their sheep when they most need it.
There is something of the prophet in the wilderness in the 20-year story of Dr Davidson's research. One colleague told Ground Cover: "People have belatedly figured out that Jim's sitting on a goldmine." Growers have supported his work through the GRDC and through on-farm trials.
Don Marshall, Professor of Plant Breeding at Sydney University, has also followed Dr Davidson's work at CSIRO Plant Industry with admiration over the years.
"I believe that Dr Davidson's research has opened up an exciting new set of options and possibilities for high rainfall zone farmers, with profound economic implications for Australian agriculture," Professor Marshall said. "Only through extraordinary dedication and total commitment, innovative research and creative solutions to problems of the grains industry in the high rainfall zone has he been able to succeed."
NSW Agriculture agronomist Bob Freebairn runs trials in the field in conjunction with Dr Davidson. He says he is a "great fan" of Dr Davidson's work. "This program could be worth millions of dollars to farmers on the tablelands and slopes," he said.
Jim Davidson of the CSIRO Division of Plant Industry bred Lawson with grower support through the GRDC. He pioneered the sowing together of very quick maturing spring wheats and long season winter wheats to optimise both the grazing potential and grain production of wheat in the higher rainfall areas. his highly innovative concept is now paying off.
Lawson fills the gap for a hardy Australian winter wheat. Dr Davidson says any early-flowering spring wheat can be used in the other part of the management plan.
Lawson has tested well for feed quality. In trials last year, one of the driest on record, Dr Davidson's wheats yielded up to 7 t/ha and, commonly, more than 3 t/ha. They also provided valuable winter grazing from sowings in late summer and early autumn. The original Lawson line was susceptible to stem rust. But this year, with grower support, Dr Davidson has 50 lines of stem rust-resistant Lawson undergoing tests at five sites in NSW. Many of these also show promise in their tolerance to acid soils, to diseases such as stripe rust and to waterlogging.
In another breakthrough, resistance to barley yellow dwarf virus (BYDV) has been incorporated into Lawson and researchers are evaluating lines with this characteristic.
The Australian Wheat Board has the rights to Lawson and has supplied the variety to 20 contract growers in Victoria and southern NSW on condition that they deliver all seed grown this season to the Board.
Dr Davidson has bred another redgrained feed wheat, probably to be known as Paterson, which has yield similar to Lawson but is not susceptible to stem rust. It is currently undergoing plant breeders' rights scrutiny.
The Australian Wheat Board estimates that annual production from lines developed by Dr Davidson could exceed one million tonnes. Some of it will be destined for export to nontraditional markets. This year's total wheat crop should be 16-17 million tonnes.
Breakthrough for the slopes
Our earlier Ground Cover report emphasised the potential of winter wheat to Victoria, Tasmania and the NSW tablelands. But now Dr Davidson's ideas are also creating lively interest on the NSW western slopes. As wheat varieties are refined, interest could spread further west.
Bob Freebairn, District Agronomist at Coonabarabran, believes that winter wheats will also be winners on the slopes.
"We believe that as the range of varieties increases the winter varieties will have a big role to play on the slopes as well as the higher rainfall areas," Mr Freebairn said.
"When the CSIRO first started this program the tablelands was the target. However, some of the lines developed have enormous genetic potential and have done well in some of the heavier rainfall areas of the slopes. As the breeders add maturity to their lines winter wheats will be able to extend further west.
"Farmers on the slopes are very interested, especially if they can get the shorter season wheat with rust resistance."
Mr Freebairn said the promised resistance to BYDV and rust resistance makes the wheat "a major breakthrough for the slopes".
Twenty years work
The development of Lawson and other winter feed wheat lines represents the culmination of more than 20 years work for Dr Davidson. The wheats are testament to his determination to try to improve the economic lot of farmers in the colder higher rainfall areas of NSW, Victoria and SA. There is an estimated two million hectares of arable, higher rainfall country in these three states with the potential to grow winter crops.
"My investigations in the 1970s showed that the incomes of farmers in the high rainfall zone were lower than those in the pastoral and wheat-sheep zones," Dr Davidson said.
Graze and reap
Using wheat breeding material from England and Mexico he began the quest to give high rainfall area farmers a wheat which could be grazed then reaped.
"The problem is that most Australian wheats are spring wheats not suited to early sowing, which is why we have used English lines as breeding material. If you sow wheat on the tablelands at the beginning of March, you get vegetative production of up to 30 kg/ha a day right into winter. Sow in early May and it's down to 1 k/ha per day," Dr Davidson said.
Subprogram 2.11.03 Contact: Dr Jim Davidson 06 246 5071