GROWING AUSTRALIAN Hard (AH) or Australian Prime Hard (APH) quality wheat means attractive premiums and extra dollars in the pockets of growers.
Australian Prime Hard - Australia's premium quality, high-protein, hard-grained wheat - is used for Chinese-style yellow alkaline noodles and Japanese Ramen noodles of exceptional quality and it has long been the preserve of growers in Queensland and northern NSW.
Not any longer, as researchers from the CRC for Quality Wheat (now the Value-Added Wheat CRC), with GRDC support, have expanded the Prime Hard option to growers in southern Australia using northern varieties such as Batavia, Hartog and Janz. The southern breeding programs at Wagga Wagga and Horsham are contributing potential APH varieties with better adaptation to the south.
The latest of these varieties is Babbler, released by NSW Agriculture in 2000. Anthony Metcalfe, farming between The Rock and Lockhart in southern NSW, found Babbler became his highest-yielding variety in 2001. Two paddocks of 40 ha and 30 ha respectively yielded 4.6 t/ha and 4.4 t/ha compared to the farm average for wheat of 3.9 t/ha.
The other varieties included Diamondbird, Chara and H45.
As well as impressive yields, Mr Metcalfe has seen other advantages in Babbler. "It performed well in the wet in 2000 and in last year's dry conditions," Mr Metcalfe said.
"This year we were worried about screenings, but had no problems with Babbler."
Mr Metcalfe has seen very little leaf disease on Babbler compared to his other varieties. "We were obviously concerned over all the fuss and negative comments about Babbler following the breakdown of its leaf rust resistance," Mr Metcalfe said. "However, in our paddocks it has been very clean."
This is backed up by Peter Martin, the breeder of Babbler at NSW Agriculture, Wagga Wagga. "Babbler has the Sr24/Lr24 rust resistance that has now broken down for leaf rust, but it also has the Lr34 leaf rustresistance gene. This resistance is widespread in Australian wheats (Rosella, Meering, Janz and many more) and it provides a level of resistance for leaf rust that we believe is sufficient for southern NSW".
"Babbler has also improved Septoria tolerance and this may be the reason for Mr Metcalfe's observation of the lack of leaf disease seen on Babbler," Dr Martin added.
Getting the additional premium for Prime Hard means delivering grain at 13 per cent minimum protein - not an easy task in these days of fewer pastures, closer rotations and expensive nitrogen. Only one of Mr Metcalfe's paddocks went APH in 2001, but he does not see that as a major concern. "This is not Prime Hard country. I base all my nitrogen decisions on deep nitrogen measurements and then adjust the rates based on rainfall," he observed. "Our objective is to maximise yield at reasonable protein and avoid getting caught for high screenings."
Payment for protein
The 'horses for courses' approach is seconded by AWB Limited's Wheat Quality Specialist, Bob Cracknell. "With AWB's Golden Rewards scheme the continuous payment scales for protein mean that growers are paid for the quality and protein level they actually achieve. Thus, if a grower delivers Babbler at 12.5 per cent - just missing APH, he or she will still receive the base rate for AH plus $4.25 (current February 2002) for the extra 1 per cent protein," Mr Cracknell said.
For Mr Metcalfe, chasing the additional $8 per tonne on offer for APH at 13 per cent does not make good economic sense especially when the extra fertiliser might induce greater screening and consequent dockage. "Only if the deep N is around 200 kg/ha would I consider extra fertiliser to get a paddock up to Prime Hard."
Brian and John Rooney of Melton on South Australia's Upper Yorke Peninsula have also found Babbler a positive addition to their farming system. The all-crop property (wheat, barley, durum, lentil, field pea) grew Babbler for the first time in the 2001 season. "We had been looking for a Janz replacement because of black tip [black point] problems. Our season was very good last year with rain right up to harvest - just the year for leaf diseases and black tip, but Babbler was very clean (it followed a lentil crop) and the grain was beautifully plump and clean," Brian Rooney said.
Babbler is currently classified as APW (Australian Premium White) in SA, however an AH classification is under consideration. "For us, the vigour of Babbler, its performance across soil types, the plump grain and better tolerance to black tip are reasons enough to keep it in our system. Getting AH would be cream on the cake," he added.
Babbler at AH protein levels (11.5 per cent and above) is also likely to be in demand for the domestic milling trade. Dai Suter of George Weston Foods has been involved in the NSW evaluation of Babbler and is excited by the potential of the variety. "We still have to complete commercial testing, but Babbler is looking good. We are looking for a replacement for Janz as most varieties favoured for export tend to be too strong for the domestic industry.
Babbler, however, appears to have dough properties that will suit both the export and domestic markets," Dr Suter said. Babbler is subject to Plant Breeder's Rights and seed is available from PlantTech Pty Ltd (previously know as SGB Australia).
Program 1 Contact: Mr Anthony Metcalfe 0269201016 Mr Brian Rooney/Mr John Rooney 08 8827 3206 Dr Peter Martin 02 6938 1999 Mr Bob Cracknell 03 9209 2084