Northern zone wheatgrowers from Dubbo to Emerald are now planting up to one month earlier and managing their fear of frost according to Mr Wheatman, Dave Woodruff.
Having retired in July, he looks back on 35 years of wheat research as a practical crop physiologist with the former Department of Primary Industries (DPI) and Queensland Wheat Research Institute in Toowoomba.
He rates his work on earlier planting time and frost risk-reduction strategy, both major inputs to the world-best crop decision support system, Wheatman, as his most significant work.
“The Grains Research and Development Corporation (GRDC) has been with me since Day One supporting my role as ‘the glue’ — the facilitator who took original data from other researchers, farmers’ own records and extension people and put it all together with my research to create Wheatman,” he said.
He still has the original publication, Decision Making for Wheat Growers in Queensland, typewritten on foolscap paper and dated 1975 which brought together, for the first time, frost incidence records, varietal sensitivity and nutrient data for various soils to help growers reduce frost-induced grain losses which amounted to $5-10 million a year.
“Even worse than lost production is the fear of frost (losses) — which causes later planting. That zero yield option is the fear. I think we’ve increased production reliability by earlier planting, knowing the risk and so reducing the fear.
“I believe we’ve upped the yield by 15 per cent over the last 30 years, just by that one factor alone — earlier flowering. GRDC put in $300,000 over that time to assist my research on various aspects of stress physiology and Wheatman development,” he said.
Today more than 250 growers plus almost every private and public consultant and university in the northern wheat zone use Wheatman 6.1 in Windows format on CD-ROM and it is still underwritten by GRDC, DPI and product sales.
Wheatman moves into new generations
DPI principal extension agronomist, Condamine district wheat grower and Wheatman marketing manager, Vic French says this versatile product helps smooth the steep learning curve every agronomist faces when starting off in a new region.
“We started on the Wheatman project in 1984 and it’s developed through six versions, thanks to a lot of farmer and industry support. The fertiliser, frost and variety interaction data are powerful tools in demonstrating what can happen in various localities.
“Just last March we had 25-30 growers attend the latest Wheatman demonstration in this district and more growers are taking it up. In some cases their sons and daughters who are in tertiary studies are entering the data and helping with the decision making,” Mr French said.
Woodruff agrees, “Wheatman would not have succeeded without heavy input from farmers and their advisers in the form of individual financial records such as costs and returns; their emotions — hopes and disasters—as well as physical yield and climate data.”
As a facilitator he set aside career advances awarded to original researchers and chose instead to coordinate many areas of research and observation into a practical package intelligible and useful to growers.
As usual, the tough little former Welshman famous for his attention-grabbing antics at field days and meetings can have the last word.
“I started on frost and I will finish on frost — all I can say at this stage is that next year a breakthrough in this area will be released which should ultimately help farmers worldwide achieve more reliable yields.”
So long and thanks, Mr Wheatman.