Australia's grain belt is moving east and south into higher, wetter country.
Farmers in Australia's pastoral and wheat/sheep zones have traditionally earned more than those in higher-rainfall areas. Yet lower profits were returned year by year on an estimated 2 million hectares of arable high-rainfall country grazed by stock.
The reason, according to CSIRO Plant Industry researcher Jim Davidson, was that most high-rainfall zone producers were totally dependent on meat and wool. The obvious question was why weren't they growing crops?
Dr Davidson's question was followed by almost 30 years of research after he concluded that the high-rainfall zone should indeed produce the highest-yielding crops. Using material from England and Mexico with traditional breeding techniques, he produced a long-season winter wheat, Lawson, which, when sown early, was high-yielding and also provided potentially profitable stock feed in winter. Thus the farmers finally had a viable cropping option.
Problems of stem rust were overcome through further years of intensive resistance breeding. The newest varieties, Brennan and Tennant, have good resistance to all three forms of rust. Don Marshall, Professor of Plant Breeding at Sydney University, believes that Dr Davidson's research has opened up an exciting new set of options and possibilities for high-rainfall zone farmers, with profound implications for Australian agriculture.
Program 1.6.2 Contact: Dr Jim Davidson 02 6246 5071