By John Harvey, executive manager, program operations, Grains Research
and Development Corporation
The grains industry has a strong record of innovation – of embracing
breakthrough improvements that were driven by the pressures of change.
Whether the changes were agronomic, environmental or economic, each has
offered opportunities to strengthen the industry and, ultimately, benefit
This thirst for innovation comes from a shared understanding that innovation
is our industry’s lifeblood.
This is particularly true of the technological advances that were sparked
by the search for solutions to environmental issues. Many have been enormously
successful and adopted nationally because they have delivered broader
The rise of reduced tillage in Western Australia is just one example.
It was originally pushed by the community’s concern with landscape
sustainability but produced phenomenal increases in productivity.
Controlled traffic is another example that started as a way to control
soil compaction but is significantly improving both efficiency and productivity.
Soil is a common link for a range of innovations that are highlighted
in this issue of Ground Cover. We have reports on how the hard-won
lessons from Western Australia and Canada are being shared with the new
Victorian No-till Farmers Association.
This willingness of grower groups to have a look over the fence and learn
from each other – even when the “fence” is a state or
national border – greatly accelerates the spread of better farming
It has been a conscious strategy of the GRDC, even from its earliest
projects, including one for controlled traffic that funded exchange visits
by grower groups across Queensland, Victoria and Western Australia.
The next wave of innovations is coming from beneath our feet and transforming
how we understand the parts of our plants that we cannot see – and
especially the soil itself.
We have tended to look at soils as a bulk commodity – a substrate
in which you sit the plant. As the special supplement reporting on our
soil biology initiative reveals, soil is incredibly heterogeneous in ways
not previously apparent from homogenous soil tests. Some of the work that
we have funded has discovered vast differences in the concentrations of
vital nutrients at the point of contact between the soil and the root
itself. We now know, for example, that wheat plants are exuding chemicals
that change their root environment.
This exciting work on the interaction between soil, microbe and plant
promises to unlock even greater productivity for growers as it becomes
the basis of a new generation of plants that can better cope with Australia’s
North, South, West