Research vital for farming in a challenging climate
Author: Toni Somes | Date: 12 Nov 2018
When it comes to putting this season into perspective, Riverina grower Roy Hamilton has 128 years of rainfall records to show that, for his family’s property, this year is one of the driest since 1890.
The grain and fat lamb producer from Rand in southern New South Wales said 2018 was the third driest year on record on his property, behind 1982 and 2002, with just 110mm of growing rain received this season against a long-term average of 290mm.
The Hamilton family has owned Bogandillan Pastoral Company, a 4400-hectare mixed farming operation for more than 90 years and was one of the early adopters of minimum tillage, direct drill and controlled traffic farming.
Mr Hamilton said these practices, along with a growing understanding of how to store soil moisture, control weeds effectively and manage nutrition, have meant even in really dry times there was still crop planted that would reach harvest.
“In the past, a season like this would have meant bare paddocks, but major improvements in how we do things on-farm, driven by quality research, have meant we can now plant on just 10mm of rainfall and still get crop establishment with limited moisture and take it through with some harvest potential,” Mr Hamilton said.
“The key difference between then and now is our understanding of how to store moisture: 20 years ago, we would never have had a boom spray in the same paddock as a harvester, but now it’s standard practice, because we know early weed control preserves soil moisture for the next crop.
“So essentially, research has changed the way we farm and improved critical elements like our water use efficiency and made it possible to get a crop planted and through to harvest in some of the toughest years we’ve had.”
Mr Hamilton, who is also a Grains Research and Development Corporation (GRDC) Northern Region Panel member, credits the organisation with continuing to help growers build their knowledge and understanding of strategies to cope with drier years.
“Our records show the past two decades have been significantly more variable in terms of annual rainfall than the century before, and for this reason GRDC needs to keep pushing into new frontiers and playing a vital part in developing on-farm management tactics that help us deal with seasonal challenge,” he said.
“As a grower I feel the evidence is there to show our climate is becoming increasingly volatile and extreme, so we need all the tools we can get in terms of research and development (R&D) to manage this and stay in the farming game.”
GRDC Chair John Woods agreed the Australian climate has challenged many growers again this year, but he said work done by the grains industry as a whole – from machinery manufacturers and seed companies, to researchers, advisers and growers – had better positioned the sector to cope with the challenges.
“We often talk about the yields in a good year, but arguably it is more important to have a small crop in a tough season, like the one many Queensland and New South Wales growers experienced this year,” Mr Woods said.
“However, we recognise this has been an exceptionally dry year and for many growers there was no chance to plant at all.
“Generally though, a primary focus of the GRDC is investing in R&D that increases the reliability and resilience of the system to reduce the risks for growers.”
Mr Woods said gains made over the past two decades at all levels of the grains sector had raised the bar in terms of productivity and profitability, even in the tough years.
“We need to continue this work to mitigate climate effects and raise productivity in marginal years, as these years often coincide with very rewarding prices.”
Mr Woods cited the whole-of-sector approach to chickpea production, including investments by the GRDC on behalf of growers, as an example of R&D that had produced significant benefits on-farm in dry years.
“Agronomic, plant husbandry and breeding packages developed for chickpeas in the past 20 years now allows a highly profitable crop to often be produced in very trying circumstances,” Mr Woods said.
A recent report, prepared for Queensland's Department of Agriculture and Fisheries (DAF), looking at chickpea industry growth from 2001 to 2018 found chickpea research programs in Queensland and New South Wales delivered approximately $16 worth of benefits for every $1 invested.
The report also indicated the $55 million investment in chickpea research by the GRDC and the Queensland and NSW State Governments over the past decade had returned approximately $876 million to industry.
“This research has given us the faith to plant chickpeas deep so they can seek moisture. New varieties withstand long periods of dry conditions and are higher and more erect at harvest. They benefit our rotations and paddock nutrition and ultimately our profitability,” Mr Woods said.
“As a result, we have seen chickpea production grow from about 300,000 tonnes in 2005 to more than 1.3 million tonnes in recent years. This is a direct result of grower and industry investment.”
Mr Woods said the GRDC was continuing to invest in programs focused on crop production for drier and hotter environments to ensure growers were as well equipped as possible for future climatic challenges.
“Today we know more about plant population and row spacing impact, and other agronomic practices that can counter the potential impact of dry and hot conditions on yield, thanks to the hard yards put in by researchers and industry in the past,” he said.
“We are also increasingly aware our farming families need the tools and resources to be resilient and well equipped to deal with challenging times, so the GRDC will continue to invest in farming business research as well as focus on crop profitability.
“We are committed to continuing to build knowledge through effective, relevant research, development and extension (RD&E) to position both the grains industry and individual growers to deal with the challenges that come our way.”
For information to assist growers deal with the dry times visit the Dealing With The Dry page.
Toni Somes, GRDC
0436 622 645
Was this page helpful?