Summer grains shape northern systems

Author: Rachel Bowman | Date: 21 Jun 2013

The rise of summer grains in double-cropping areas has seen some growers, researchers and advisers questioning the future of wheat as the backbone of production in the farming systems of NSW and Queensland.

James Clark, Grains Research and Development Corporation (GRDC) northern panel chair says rotations involving summer grains (including sorghum, maize, sunflowers, mungbeans and soybeans) have become vital to future of farming in the region.

Mr Clark, speaking at the Australian Summer Grains Conference 2013 held at the Gold Coast this week, says rotations and careful crop sequencing are at the heart of managing major issues including crown rot, herbicide resistance and soil fertility decline.

Mr Clark said many GRDC-supported research programs were on show at the conference, including pre-breeding activities that develop potential lines for new varieties.

A new mungbean variety, Jade-AU PBR logo was launched at the conference and boasts a significant 12 per cent yield improvement on the current, widely-grown variety, CrystalPBR logo .

Liverpool Plains, NSW grower Xavier Martin shared his summer grain-growing experience at the conference and says gross margins reveal a telling story about the importance of summer grains, particularly mungbeans.

Mr Martin says he has been able to treble his return on capital and optimise profitability with mungbeans in the cropping mix.

He says the Liverpool Plains farming system has traditionally been dominated by rotations based on sorghum/cotton/sunflowers and wheat/durum.

Adopting new varieties such as Crystal PBR logo developed via the National Mungbean Improvement Program based at the Department of Agriculture, Fisheries and Forestry’s (DAFF) Hermitage Research Station, Warwick, Queensland and supported by GRDC has been instrumental to this success, he says.

Shaun Nolan, Roma is one grower who says changing rainfall patterns appear to be increasing the incidence of summer rain and consequently he is ramping up ‘opportunity’ summer plantings.

Mr Nolan says both the rainfall and cropping program are split 60 per cent winter to 40 per cent summer with plantings dependant on prices and moisture.

He value-adds grain within his cattle operation depending on gross margins.

“Our operation is traditionally wheat and chickpea based,” Mr Nolan says.

“We’ve moved (to other crops); not a lot of other people have moved; nobody else owns disc planters in western Queensland; nobody spreads manure so it’s been a challenge to go and look at other people’s (operations) and try and learn from our area.”

Mr Nolan says conferences such as the 2010 and 2013 Australian Summer Grains Conference have been vital to his understanding of summer grain potential.

 “I would say going forward sorghum will play a larger role, particularly with more variability that our climate is showing at the moment,” he says.

GRDC northern panellist and Darling Downs grower Rob Taylor, Curraweena, Macalister is a summer crop specialist and floodplain farmer.

Mr Taylor is on the committee for the biannual conference and says the event brought together the whole summer grains supply chain.

“It has been an opportunity to communicate – everything from the grower’s perspective, to the experiences of agronomists, researchers, seed companies and marketers.

“Linking all those sectors together under one roof is very beneficial.”

GRDC chair Keith Perrett was one of the opening speakers of the conference and welcomed the exchange of information.

“It is an opportunity to showcase what’s happening in research and development across Australia and internationally.

“It’s pleasing to see such a large number of farmers here at this conference, directly getting the information they require, including the latest knowledge from around the world.”

Mr Perrett says GRDC recently committed more than $3.75 million over five years to the Northern Pulse Agronomy Initiative as well as support for pest and disease management.

Bernard Salt, KPMG partner brought yet another perspective to the conference opening, reiterating his message from three years ago that agriculture is a good business to be in for the three decades.

Mr Salt says the increasing trend towards food quality, Asian cuisine and customs and a looming peak world population augur well for summer grains.

“I think there is a bright future for agriculture, a bright future for summer grains and other agricultural products but changes to the business model are needed,” Mr Salt said.

“Businesses that understand the drive for a new business model will be at the forefront; they will be more adaptable, more agile (and able) to respond to the way the world is changing, agriculture is changing and business is changing over the next decade or so.”

Mr Salt says the maxim “get big or get out” still rings true for modern agriculture but Australia is well positioned as world demand rises for food, energy, water, security, space, resources and commodities.

For more information on GRDC-funded summer grains research, visit


Contact Details

For Interviews
James Clark
GRDC Northern Panel Chair

0427 545 212 


Rachel Bowman, Senior Consultant, Cox Inall Communications
07 3846 4380; 0412 290 673

Caption: James Clark, GRDC northern panel chair discusses the future of agriculture with Australian Summer Grains Conference 2013 speakers, Bernard Salt, KPMG partner and Keith Perrett, GRDC chair.

Region West, North