RD&E effort continues to address significant frost issue

Author: Natalie Lee | Date: 24 Oct 2016

Key Points

  • GRDC Western Regional Panel chairman Peter Roberts expresses concern at significant yield losses caused by frosts
  • Frost is a major RD&E priority for the GRDC which is continuing investment into the National Frost Initiative which combines genetics research as well as frost management and environment programs
  • Information is available to aid growers in the harvesting and marketing of frosted grain, as well as on how to best retain seed from frosted crops

Grains Research and Development Corporation Western Regional Panel chairman Peter Roberts feels deeply for the many Western Australian grain growers who have seen frosts wipe significant value from their crops this spring.

Wheat showing frost damage. Photo by Evan Collis Photography.

“I am saddened at the scale of the likely production losses caused by the frosts that occurred in many districts in recent months, and at the impacts these losses will have on farming businesses and rural communities” he said.

“Events like these can be extremely trying for farming businesses and rural communities, and if it helps growers to talk I encourage you to call me on 0428 389 060 or to call a mate.”

A grain producer at Dunn Rock, Mr Roberts’ own crops and those of his neighbours are among those which now have much reduced yield potential due to the frosts.

Mr Roberts, who is chairman of the GRDC’s long-term National Frost Initiative (NFI), said that while research progress had been made, GRDC did not have the solutions to preventing significant losses from severe, consecutive frosts like those that had occurred in WA this year.

“The genetic research component of the NFI – which aims to incorporate frost-resistance traits into new varieties better adapted to frost-prone environments - is a long and complex undertaking and even in the future is unlikely to deliver total immunity to frost in cereals, he said.

“But this will not stop frost from continuing to be a major RD&E priority for the GRDC and we are continuing investment into the NFI which combines frost management, environment and genetics research, development and extension (RD&E) programs.

“Total GRDC investments into frost research were about $11 million for the period 2003-13 and, since then, funding has increased significantly – funding for 2014-19 NFI projects alone totals about $20 million.”

Mr Roberts said frost was a uniquely challenging farm business issue in terms of its sporadic nature, unpredictability and magnitude of its severity, and this was highlighted this year when WA growers had incurred losses due to frosts after having increased inputs such as fertiliser on the back of good rains.

“Results from modelling carried out through the GRDC-funded Managing Climate Variability project show that the frequency and severity of spring radiation frosts is increasing in many parts of the Australian cropping region, including susceptible areas of WA,” he said.

GRDC Western Regional Panel member Chris Wilkins, who is also an agronomic and agribusiness adviser, said it was nearly impossible for frost affected growers to assess grain quality before harvest, so it might be best to leave all marketing until harvest was complete. 

When it came to harvest time, he said it was possible to clean light-weight frosted grains from samples, but that the economics of doing so would vary from paddock to paddock.

Mr Wilkins said that when retaining seed at harvest, growers should aim to retain good seed, but frost-affected seed was better than no seed.

“If you must use frosted grain for seed, increase sowing rates by 20 to 50 per cent,” he said.

Mr Wilkins said more information and links to resources were available in Managing frost risk – tips and tactics and in chapter five of Managing Frost Risk - a guide for southern Australian grains.

For immediate support growers struggling with the stress of frost or the impact of crop losses can call Lifeline on 13 11 14.

Contact Details

For Interviews

Peter Roberts, GRDC
0428 389 060

Chris Wilkins, GRDC western panellist
0427 940 925


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

Region West