Achieving a step change in profitability and reducing risk in low rainfall grain growing areas are the aims of a five-year research project set to commence in Western Australia.
The Grains Research and Development Corporation (GRDC), in partnership with CSIRO, is funding the $6 million project which will investigate novel agronomy and soil water management practices.
GRDC Western Regional Panel chairman Peter Roberts said WA’s low rainfall zone (LRZ) typically received less than 350mm in annual rainfall and growers in these areas faced decreasing profitability due to increasing input costs and reduced returns.
“In addition, changing rainfall patterns mean that seasonal risk is increasing, with the region being characterised by low and variable growing season rainfall,” he said.
“Effective management of soil water is central to profitable and sustainable farming systems and many break crops are regarded by growers as too risky to include in the system.
“Growers have adopted a risk averse approach with large crop areas, cereal dominant rotations and minimal inputs, and are seeking reliable, economic and practical solutions to maximise farm productivity and profitability.”
Project leader Andrew Fletcher, of CSIRO, said the project was an exciting opportunity to address some of these issues in order to build a more profitable, low risk and sustainable farming system for the LRZ.
“The project will use field trials and modelling to evaluate three potentially complementary approaches including novel soil moisture management techniques; early sowing; and high value break crops and pastures,” he said.
“Soil moisture management techniques such as wide crop row water harvesting, winter fallows and brown manure crops will be tested for their ability to accumulate soil moisture for subsequent cropping seasons.”
Dr Fletcher said early sowing of cereal crops was already a common strategy to get big sowing programs, typical of the LRZ, completed on time.
“The research project will develop this approach further by combining this strategy with novel genetic traits such as long coleoptile and early vigour, as well as novel soil moisture management techniques,” he said.
Dr Fletcher said high value crop and pasture breaks would be tested for their ability to increase in-season profitability and subsequent cereal yields.
“Break crop acreage and diversity is currently low in the LRZ due to low yields and perceived risk, but new fast-maturing pulse varieties may be less risky, especially when teamed with early sowing and/or fallow management techniques,” he said.
“There is a big opportunity to increase the area and diversity of break crops in the LRZ by evaluating the yield and rotational benefits of these new varieties in a farming systems context.”
Information about maximising the use of available moisture is available in the GRDC western region Wheat GrowNote via this link.
Peter Roberts, GRDC
0428 389 060
Andrew Fletcher, CSIRO
08 9333 6467, 0477 347 449
Natalie Lee, Cox Inall Communications
08 9864 2034, 0427 189 827