Frost remains hot research priority for grains industry

Author: Natalie Lee | Date: 04 Feb 2013

close up of crops with frost on them

Significant yield losses caused by frost in Western Australia last year have underlined the importance of the grains industry’s continued investment in research, development and extension (RD&E) to address the issue.

It is estimated that frosts in WA last growing season - particularly in the central and southern cropping regions during mid to late September - caused losses totalling at least $100 million.

Grains Research and Development Corporation (GRDC) western regional panel chairman Peter Roberts said frost remained a high priority issue for the GRDC and the western panel, but was a ‘tough nut’ to crack, despite ongoing and significant research investment.

With frost costing the national grains industry more than an estimated $360 million on average each year, the GRDC is about to embark on new RD&E investments, in addition to an existing stable of frost research projects.

Two new projects to commence this year will provide the grains industry with an accurate source of background data to inform future frost research and management decisions, as well as access to wheat and barley frost tolerance data relating to the impact on yield.

A two-year frost situation analysis project will quantify the incidence (severity, timing and frequency) of frost in different agro-ecological zones through historical data analysis and simulation modeling, enabling the grains industry to improve current risk management tools.

A new three-year project to generate frost tolerance data that specifically relates to yield will provide growers and advisers in the GRDC’s western and southern regions with essential information upon which to make varietal selections as part of their overall frost risk management process. This data will be made available through crop variety guides and GRDC’s National Variety Trials (NVT) program.

Mr Roberts says these new areas of research will complement existing RD&E initiatives.

“Frost is a major issue that the grains industry continues to grapple with and so it remains a high priority in terms of GRDC investment,” he said.

“Frost is an incredibly difficult constraint to research. Frost events can be unpredictable and their impact can vary depending on the nature of The frost and the stage of crop growth.

“Research indicates that the incidence of frosts across Australia has increased and more frost events are occurring later in the year.”

Mr Roberts said that while cultural practices such as delayed time of sowing could reduce the risk of frost damage, yield potential losses caused by such frost avoidance strategies could be sizeable.

“It is therefore important that the GRDC also encourages and funds significant scientific effort in the area of genetics-based research, because that is where the most gains in combating frost are likely to be made,” he said.

The GRDC has long acknowledged the severe implications of frost, and since 2000 has invested more than $13.5 million into frost-specific projects including investments in genetics, farming systems and climate predictions and modelling.

A further $45.3 million has been invested in projects aimed at delivering data and tools needed by growers to manage the impact of frost, such as variety specific agronomy information, online sowing time tools and improved long-range frost forecasting capacity.

Among these initiatives is the Australian National Frost Program (ANFP) which was established last year by the GRDC, the University of Adelaide and the Department of Agriculture and Food Western Australia (DAFWA). The ANFP has been set up to provide a national frost screening facility and through this, frost sensitivity ratings are being developed for current wheat and barley varieties to assist growers manage the risk of frost.

National frost pre-breeding research is also aiming to develop the capacity to identify and select frost-tolerant barley and wheat germplasm for use in breeding programs to reduce the frost sensitivity of commercial varieties.

DAFWA researcher Ben Biddulph says research to date has shown that under severe frost (below -4C for wheat and below -6C for barley), all varieties tested are equally susceptible.

"However genetic variation has been identified under milder frosts which induce grain sterility in the range of 10 to 80 per cent. What is not yet well established is if frost-induced sterility is directly correlated to yield loss, and if certain varieties are better able to compensate through other mechanisms such as increasing grain size or better filling secondary tillers,” Dr Biddulph said.

For information on frost damage and what steps to take when it occurs, see the GRDC’s Back Pocket Guides, and A GRDC Managing Frost Risk booklet is also available for download via or for purchase of a hard copy at $10 plus postage and handling from Ground Cover Direct, free phone 1800 11 00 44 or email


Caption: Frost remains a funding priority for the GRDC. Image Ben Biddulph.

For interviews:

Peter Roberts, GRDC western regional panel chairman
Phone 0428 389 060


Natalie Lee, Cox Inall Communications
08 9864 2034; 0427 189 827

GRDC Project Code DAW00162, CSP00143, UA00114, UA00063, UA00100

Region West, National, North, South