Growers guiding frost research agenda

Author: Sarah Jeffrey | Date: 03 Dec 2015

Image of NFI steering committee member and Toowoomba based plant breeder John Sheppard

Grain growers from across Australia are playing an influential role in shaping the research direction for the Grains Research and Development Corporation’s National Frost Initiative (NFI).

Six growers from the southern, western and northern cropping regions have been appointed to the NFI’s steering committee which also comprises consultants and scientists. With years of experience managing frost in their own farming environments, the growers bring a comprehensive range of advice and support to the NFI, which is a multi-disciplinary program to mitigate the effects of frost.

GRDC General Manager of Genetic Technologies, Juan Juttner, says grower engagement is pivotal to ensuring the NFI’s research focus remains relevant and aligned with grower needs.

“By having grower representation on the NFI steering committee, we know the frost-related issues confronting our grain producers are being captured and that the GRDC’s investment in research, development and extension is addressing key concerns with practical outcomes,” Dr Juttner said.

The steering committee’s second meeting was held in South Australia where members met with growers in frost-prone areas. They also inspected the GRDC-funded frost screening nursery in Loxton.

The nursery is one of three trial sites (also Wickepin in WA and Narrabri in NSW) where current wheat and barley varieties are being benchmarked for sterility at flowering under frost conditions.

Assessment of the frost susceptibility of wheat and barley varieties is being carried out under the collaborative Australian National Frost Program (ANFP) which is a key component of the GRDC’s NFI.

The three-pronged initiative is committed to the following approaches:

  • Genetics – aiming to develop more frost-tolerant varieties
  • Management – investigating if there are preventive products, stubble and nutrition management practices or other measures that growers could implement to reduce the impact of frost
  • Environmental prediction – focusing on predicting the impact of frost events on crop yields and mapping frost events at the farm scale to enable better risk management.

NFI steering committee member and Toowoomba-based plant breeder John Sheppard said targeted frost research investment by the GRDC would help northern growers develop practical and effective frost mitigation strategies.

“Northern region growers know only too well the devastating effects of frosts which can occur at any time in the growing season,” Mr Sheppard said.

“The effect can be devastating on cash flow and grower resilience depending on crop type (chickpeas may reset pods if there is sufficient moisture) and severity which can range from mild, causing some grain to be lost due to loss of reproductive organs in the head, to severe where temperatures of minus 9 degrees centigrade can cause stem frosting and complete crop loss.

“Losses in the north are hard to quantify but are thought to be approximately 10% each year for wheat and more than 20% each year if losses attributed to later than optimum sowing are taken into account due to growers’ ‘fear of frost’.

“Crop and variety selection is a difficult process which should involve a decision matrix that includes paddock rotations, knowledge of current varieties, their maturity grouping, disease status, paddock nutrition levels and end-user requirements.”

Mr Sheppard said information gained from trials conducted at the Plant Breeding Institute near Narrabri would allow growers to select varieties of wheat and barley based on their relative susceptibility to frost under similar paddock conditions.

“Ideally we should aim to have crops flowering just after the last damaging frost of the season but that can be easier said than done,” he said.

“We should remember there are no frost tolerant varieties, there is no silver bullet variety, but having statistically accurate information will allow growers and advisers to make informed decisions.”

The NFI steering committee comprises: Peter Roberts (committee chairman), GRDC Western Regional Panel chair and grain grower, Dunn Rock, WA; Gary Lang, Facey Group, Wickepin, WA; Craig Brown, Synergy Consulting, Perth, WA; Allan Mayfield, Allan Mayfield Consulting, Clare, SA; Tanja Morgan, grain grower, Jabuk, SA; Dr Neil Fettell, GRDC Northern Regional Panel member and agricultural research consultant, Condobolin, NSW; Emma Robinson, grain grower, ‘Westbury Pastoral’, Temora, NSW; Rob Taylor, grain grower, Grenfell, NSW; David Brownhill, grain grower, Spring Hill, near Quirindi, NSW; Dr John Kirkegaard, CSIRO Agriculture, Canberra, ACT; Peter Taylor, grain grower, Lubeck, Victoria; John Sheppard, plant breeder, Iredale, Queensland; Dr Francis Ogbonnaya, GRDC General Manager Capacity and National Programs.

Information about the GRDC National Frost Initiative is available in the Ground Cover Frost Supplement  and at the video.

For Interviews

Juan Juttner, GRDC
02 6166 4500


Sarah Jeffrey, Senior Consultant Cox Inall Communications
0418 152859

GRDC Project Code UA00136, CSP00180, YOU00002, CSP00143, DAW00234, DAW00241, UMU0045, CMA00002, UQ00071, CSE00198, CLT00001

Region North