Joint winners of the State TOPCROP awards in Western Australia, the Kunjin TOPCROP group has been pioneering test-as-you-grow trials in the central WA wheatbelt.
It started when a few of the growers in the Kunjin TOPCROP group noticed that they weren't getting quite the performance they would have liked from some of the new wheat varieties coming onto the market at the time.
"A few of us were also members of a larger group, the Corrigin Farm Improvement Group. After discussions with them, and looking at the results of their early trials, we decided that we should get some more formal trials of our own going," says grower Richard Guinness of 'Kwongan'. "The ongoing idea is to build an information base over a number of seasons to help make variety choice an easier decision in the future."
The group decided on a broad-scale approach to test between eight and 12 wheat varieties on six farms. Their trial plots were about the width of a header (10 m) by about 250 m long. With two replicates of each variety they were trialing, and a control every third strip, it was no small enterprise.
The larger plots were designed to overcome variations in soil type, and other local variations that could otherwise have confused the results.
The results were spectacular in that they achieved the same reliability and accuracy of official commercial variety trials (see the table for the yield results from just one set of the trials, located on 'Kwongan').
"We had a lot of help. A soil scientist came in and made sure that we were all testing on the same soil type. Agriculture WA helped us with the statistics and with designing the trials so we weren't testing for too many things at once, a fertiliser company (CSBP) helped out with soil sampling and testing, and the GRDC assisted with finance for an on-farm weighing machine," said Mr Guinness.
Even so, Mr Guinness adds quickly that even between the six growers participating in last year's trials there was a fair bit of variation in performance of varieties, depending on factors like sowing time, on-farm management, and minor variations in soil type.
"It means that you can't just take the results from any one farm and translate the same results onto another farm somewhere else. Every place is different."
Participating in the trials has been a great learning experience, according to Mr Guinness.
"With all the involvement from outside specialists, and from having to pay so much attention to what is going on on each trial plot, I have learnt more about how the soil and environment on my farm work to produce the variations in crop yield and quality that we all have noticed over the years."
The Kunjin TOPCROP group plans to continue its good work, choosing to test another four wheat varieties this year, at four farms. Other growers will be using the same approach to trial lupin varieties, and others trialing the use of clay to deal with non-wetting soils.
Yield results from an on-farm test at 'Kwongan' showing significant yield responses
Sorghum 98-99 after winter fallow
Contact: Mr Richard Guinness 08 9065 7045