Growers surveyed over six years by the Liebe Group are optimistic about their future and have a high adoption level for key soil health and precision agriculture strategies.
The grower group ‘technical audit’ of 61 farmers in Western Australia’s northern grainbelt was funded by the Grains Research and Development Corporation (GRDC) and tracks the adoption of practices relating to management of variation in soil types and yield potential, soil health and innovative enterprise.
Its newly released results will help the Liebe Group make research investment decisions and to evaluate the effectiveness of GRDC supported research it has conducted, in terms of grower uptake of farm practices.
Participating farm businesses – most from the shires of Dalwallinu, Coorow and Perenjori and with an average property size of 5839 hectares in 2012 - were surveyed every three years since 2006.
Liebe Group project coordinator Nadine Hollamby said the survey showed that technologies such as liming, soil testing, stubble retention and auto-steer had been adopted by virtually all respondents.
"In the case of auto-steer – used by 92 per cent of growers - this adoption has been rapid; on average the farmers had only just used this technology for the first time in 2006,” she said.
“The number of growers using yield mapping has also increased significantly – by 46 per cent in six years.
“The other variation management strategy shown to have a significant increase in its adoption is variable rate technology (VRT), for which the adoption rate has increased over the last three years in particular, and now sits at 22 per cent.
“Several farmers indicated that 2012 was the first time they were using VRT.”
Ms Hollamby said adoption of soil management practices was relatively unchanged since 2006 and the take-up rates for liming, minimum tillage and stubble retention were above 95 per cent.
The survey showed growers now had less intention to use zero-tillage and tramlining than they did three years ago, with the adoption rates at just 5 and 7 per cent respectively.
“Some growers adopted these practices in the past but are now scaling down or no longer using them due to issues such as reduced crop yields and poorer crop establishment in the case of zero-till,” Ms Hollamby said.
The division of time spent on business management activities – including field work, farm financing, marketing and planning – and the use of farm consultants was unchanged since 2006.
“Almost three-quarters of respondents indicated that they used farm consultants on an ongoing basis for an average of 52 hours per year,” Ms Hollamby said.
“Half of growers’ time is spent on field work.”
Ms Hollamby said 72 per cent of growers surveyed had introduced a new farming enterprise or management practice over the last three years.
“Auto-steer was mentioned by nine growers as the most beneficial practice they had adopted over the last three years,” she said.
Farm economics, followed by rainfall/climate change, were listed as the main limiting factors for farming in the future.
Ms Hollamby said 70 per cent of growers indicated that soil sampling was the most important technology for managing yield variability on-farm.
“Given growers are making important decisions from soil sampling, the Liebe Group believes more research should be done into ensuring the accuracy of soil tests (for nutrients such as phosphorus) and understanding the implications of different management systems on nutrient cycling,” she said.
“The survey also showed that burning is still a valuable tool to manage weeds and stubble loads and cheap and effective alternatives would need to be developed if the industry wished to move away from this practice.
“Investment in areas such as business skills and office management is also recommended given that growers surveyed spend more than a quarter of their time on business management activities.”
For more information about the survey contact Ms Hollamby on (08) 9661 0570 or download the results at www.liebegroup.org.au/technical-audit-of-grower-practices/
PHOTO CAPTION: Liebe Group member and grower Nigel Dickins completes a survey with Liebe Group project coordinator Nadine Hollamby.
Media releases can be found at www.grdc.com.au/Media-Centre/Media-News
Nadine Hollamby, Liebe Group
(08) 9661 0570
Natalie Lee, Cox Inall Communications
08 9864 2034; 0427 189 827
GRDC Project Code
West, North, South