A review of Grain Orana Alliances achievements of the last five year project

Author: Maurie Street, Grain Orana Alliance | Date: 23 Feb 2016

Take home message

  • GOA has brought to growers in the central west of NSW a terrific return on their levies invested in the project over the past 5 years
  • GOA regularly engages with the local industry to identify research priorities to ensure the highest priority issues are being addressed
  • GOA has proven its ability to tackle a wide range of research topics relevant to the local region in a timely and effective manner
  • GOA has comfortably integrated itself in to the current research community and cemented its place in the region as a key research body and information provider
  • GOA will continue to build on its successes with the signing of a new 5 year agreement with the GRDC taking the project through to 2020

Introduction

June 2015 saw the completion of GOA’s sixth year of effective operation. In that time GOA has grown from an organisation with just one employee, armed with a mobile phone, laptop and a ute, to a fully functioning research organisation with three full time permanent employees. In that time GOA has successfully run an ever expanding research program specifically tailored to the growers of the central west region of NSW and beyond, tackling many of the key production constraints that they face every day.

This report presents a brief snapshot of many of the key projects GOA has undertaken and some of the key findings developed from GOA’s activities.

What is GOA?

Grain Orana Alliance or GOA for short, is a purpose built, not for profit incorporated association that was formed in 2009, specifically to undertake the then newly tendered GRDC project 'GRDC- Grower Solutions for Central West NSW'. 

The GRDC Grower Solutions Project was developed specifically to provide a framework to:

  • Regularly engage the local industry to understand and document research priorities or knowledge gaps in the grain production industry
  • Design and implement a research program to address key issues identified, but with an emphasis in addressing issues with a shorter research term (1-3 years) or those issues requiring a rapid response
  • Communicate all the issues raised in the consultation process to help guide the GRDC’s investment strategies, particularly in the mid to longer research terms (3-8 years, 8 years +)

Over the past 5 years, GOA has had over 500 growers and advisers attend their regular meetings ensuring a good cross section of the industry is consulted to help GOA and the GRDC understand the major issues.  In turn, research findings are extended directly and indirectly (via agronomists) back to the region’s growers.

These meetings also ensure GOA’s trial program is concentrating on the key issues facing growers. GOA’s trial program has grown steadily since 2009 to 2015.  The 2015 season consisted of over 2000 trial plots and over 35 separate trials in more than 15 different locations across the GOA region.

Detailed below is a brief summary of some of the key achievements, findings and outcomes from GOA’s activities over the past 5 years. There are a number of key research topics that have been undertaken by GOA leading to changes in industry practice which has then flowed through to our farming system, resulting in increased profitability, reliability or sustainability.

Weed management

Windmill grass control

Since 2010 GOA has run over 30 trials investigating herbicide control options for windmill grass (WG).  From this trial work it was shown that the use of a group A herbicide, in this case ‘Targa®’, followed by a double knock of paraquat was effective in controlling this problem weed. Other trials investigated the effects of delayed application, optimising the timing of the double knock and the potential fit of residual herbicides.

GOA’s trial work on WG possibly remains as the largest and most comprehensive body of work for herbicide control of WG to this date. Data generated from GOA’s trials was central in the granting by the APVMA, of a minor use permit (permit number PER13460) for the use of Targa/double knock strategy in summer fallow that represents the only really effective herbicide control option for growers. Prior to this, many growers had been forced to return to cultivation as the only effective control option for WG.

Fleabane

Since GOA’s inception, GOA has run over 25 trials investigating herbicide control options for Fleabane (FB). This work helped show the need for a double knock of paraquat to control medium to large fleabane, as single pass strategies were often completely ineffective. A wide range of herbicide spikes to control FB were investigated with 2,4-D spikes being the most consistent and reliable. GOA’s trial work was some of the only work to investigate the relative effectiveness of the various 2,4-D formulations as tank mix partners.

GOA also demonstrated the potential for paraquat mixed with various tank mix partners for single pass FB control. Results showed those mixes often rivalled or even surpassed what was achieved by the best double knock strategies, giving growers a useful alternative to glyphosate based knockdown strategies. This is particularly useful in light of confirmation of resistance of FB to glyphosate in that same period.

GOA also undertook trials investigating a number of pre-sowing herbicide spikes for seedling FB control; a situation that was often overlooked by many other research bodies.

GOA in collaboration with NSW DPI was also the first to demonstrate the value that Lontrel® (clopyralid) had as an in crop residual to prevent establishment of FB in crop, eventually leading to the registration of Lontrel Advanced with that very claim.

Herbicide resistance surveys

Whilst GOA has addressed some of the more acute weed issues, the organisation has also been conscious of the development of herbicide resistance particularly in our key winter weeds.

Leading growers and advisers across the region continually highlighted the lack of strong empirical evidence of resistance in the local region and the tendency of many growers to dismiss its existence or true severity.

Ahead of the harvest of 2013, GOA initiated a program where growers or advisers could submit weeds samples of annual ryegrass (ARG) or wild oats (WO) for testing to a wide range of herbicide options. The response was immense. Within a day, our projected intake of samples had been surpassed by nearly 4 times and submission of samples had to be shut down. Over 120 weed seed samples were submitted to the survey and the results were alarming. Of the ARG samples submitted, none were completely susceptible to the herbicide tested, 100% were resistant. The level of cross resistance was also alarming with 54% of samples showing resistance to four or more herbicide groups or herbicide subgroups tested. The WO samples also showed alarming results.

This survey undeniably showed that resistance was present in the GOA region and in many cases it was severe. Following on from the results of the 2013 survey a second survey was initiated ahead of the 2014 harvest. The response to this survey (94 weed samples) was numerically lower than the 2013 survey, but the results were arguably much worse.

Samples submitted in 2014 showed high levels of resistance and cross resistance. Resistance to clethodim was present in 61% of populations and 57% of populations showed glyphosate resistance.

These surveys have undeniably shown resistance to be present in the region and provide some insight into its severity. The evidence from these surveys serves as an immensely strong weapon to promote acknowledgement of the issue by growers and advisers in the region as the first step to addressing it. The level of cross resistance revealed puts serious challenges to the belief by many that there are other herbicides out there to use and that simple herbicide rotation is enough.

This data gives industry leaders and advisers a launch pad to talk about other options for weed management such as harvest weed seed management and alternate agronomic tools.

Annual ryegrass management

Driven by concerns raised by growers and advisers regarding increasing resistance in ARG to many of our post emergent herbicides and the increasing reliance on pre-emergent chemistries, GOA initiated a series of trials aimed to improve pre-emergent performance and grower confidence in their use. The need for this work was only enhanced by the results emerging from the herbicide resistance surveys, particularly with resistance to clethodim.

The trials aimed to offer independent data on the performance of a range of chemistries available to growers over a range of crop types and locations. The trial looked at the standard “off the shelf” pre-emergent herbicides including older ones such as trifluralin or atrazine but also newer options like Sakura®, Boxer Gold® or Rustler® (propyzamide). It also trialed a number of tank mix combinations and the results of some of these mixes was nothing short of impressive.

The stand-alone chemistries, even the newer generation products, in the high weed populations in which they were trialled achieved only around 80% control at best, with some “district practice” options achieving little more control than applying nothing at all. Across three seasons and more than 12 trials, the tank mix options generally performed better than the individual components resulting of up to 99% control in exceptional cases.  The other finding was that in many cases growers could easily add extra products into their current or common district practice pre-emergent strategies and see substantial improvements in their efficacy against ARG.

In some of these trials, ARG populations of over 300 plants/m2 in the UTC control was reduced to less than 1 plant/m2 but only when multiple modes of action were applied.  No single pass treatment achieved such levels of efficacy.

If growers were to implement some of these findings into their systems, significant reductions in ARG should result in less crop competition and improved yields. By applying follow up treatment with in-crop herbicides and weed seed capture and destruction on these reduced weed populations it should in turn lower the chances for resistance selection potentially prolonging the useful life of these chemistries.

Harvest management of canola

Windrow timing in canola

GOA initially investigated windrow timing in canola for its potential to influence of canola oil %. What was found over numerous trials was that windrow timing had more influence over crop yield than on oil %.

It was found that windrowing canola earlier than the current recommendations of 40-60% seed colour change, could negatively impact on yields by up to 30%. These impacts were shown to be the case even when timings were only a number of days too early, as was often the district practice.

It was seen that district practice had drifted earlier than recommended timings most likely due to concerns over potential yield loss through pod shattering with delaying windrowing. GOA’s research showed that even with delays well past the recommended timings, yield was not usually compromised and in a number of trials.  Further yield gains were achieved where seasonal conditions were favourable.

Direct heading of canola

GOA has investigated the potential fit and performance of direct heading of canola. Trial work showed that direct heading compared to a well-timed windrowing had comparable yield, but with cost savings up to $40/ha added to growers’ bottom line.

Further work investigating the benefits of desiccants, pod sealants and yield impacts by delayed direct heading, have all combined to increase grower confidence and understanding of when to use direct heading and windrowing techniques.

GOA advocates direct heading as an option for growers particularly in lower yielding environments and this has driven strong adoption by many growers as their preferred harvesting option. It is estimated that less than 5% of the region’s crop was previously direct headed prior to this research. By 2015 it is estimated that possibly more than 30% of the crop is now direct headed. Comments from a number of experienced growers sums up the situation well, “I have direct headed crops from 1 t/ha up to 3 t/ha now and I don’t think I will windrow again- it’s just not needed.”

GOA’s research has shown to have universal appeal and application across many growing environments. This is demonstrated by the requests for GOA to present on the topic on more than 30 occasions including numerous GRDC Updates at locations as diverse as Adelaide, Eyre Peninsula, Victoria and all areas of NSW.

Canola nutritional management

Sulfur

GOA has been investigating canola nutrition in the central west since 2010, although the focus has changed over time. This work was originally initiated with the aim to investigate if sulfur nutrition was influencing the low oil% achieved in the regions canola crops.

However, after nearly 30 trials across the GOA region over the past six years, with all but a couple of sites predicted to be responsive to the addition of S, no positive response in yield or oil % has been measured to applied S.

These findings have challenged long accepted recommendations that applying sulfur to each and every crop was essential to optimise production.  This body of work also highlighted that S removal rates in canola grain are all too commonly exaggerated and that there is very limited data used to calibrated soil test critical values. Which in both cases has contributed to a perpetuation of such high and unnecessary fertiliser recommendations.

Nitrogen

What was revealed was the responsiveness of canola to added N. In almost all of the 30 canola nutrition trials, canola has shown a strong positive response to added N.

Trials in 2014 near Dubbo demonstrated an economic response to the addition of 200 units of applied N to canola achieving a yield increase of over 1 t/ha. This trial work also demonstrated the potentially negative effect such high rates of N may have on oil %, but also the positive attribute of canola to resist “haying off” in response to high N applications, even in moisture limited environments.

Previous narrative for canola nutritional strategy was that S was non-negotiable in its requirement and that N could be more prescriptive. Our work suggests that N should be more heavily focused on and that the fertilising of canola with S should be based on confirmed symptoms or other evidence rather than standard practice. That is, if growers shifted their fertiliser expenditure on N instead of S, they would almost universally increase their bottom line with return on investments as high as 3:1.

Disease management

Yellow leaf spot (YLS)

During the yellow leaf spot epidemics of 2010 and 2011 GOA undertook over 10 trials aimed at fine tuning fungicide strategies for the control of this disease. What these trials revealed was that although fungicides have the ability to suppress the YLS infection, suppression was short lived and there was very limited yield benefit. Trials showed that only where five fungicide applications were made to YLS infected crops was there a positive yield benefit, although it was barely enough to cover the fungicide costs.

Common application strategies of Z32 and Z39 timings were not effective in reducing the impact of the disease. These trials also demonstrated that the concern with seedling infection and the need to apply fungicides at an early stage were not justified with no yield advantage gained.

The trials demonstrated the source of the YLS infection is from the underlying infected stubbles which fungicides did not address, and any protective or prophylactic effect of fungicides was very short term. This allowed for re-infection potentially at each rainfall event.

Trials run at the same time investigating pre-sowing/stubble management and the potential to impact YLS helped reinforce this view. In these trials, burning or removal of infected stubble ahead of sowing resulted in significant reductions in the level of infection and improved yield performance. The burning treatments in these trials out yielded treatments in the adjacent trials even where they had received 5 fungicide applications.

This work suggests that expenditure on fungicide application for YLS is generally not cost effective and better strategies that address the source of the infection are often more effective.

Stripe rust

Trials investigating the management of stripe rust in the central west provided local field validation of core recommendations developed in research conducted outside the GOA region.  This gave growers and advisers confidence that outcomes from trials that were at that time conducted in different climatic regions would still be effective.

GOA also investigated the management of stripe rust in dual purpose wheat, as this crop was seen as a major source of inoculum in the region. Previous recommendations supported the use of Jockey® fungicide on the seed and grazing to reduce disease incidence. GOA’s work showed however that Jockey or grazing of the crop did not delay or reduce the infection or associated yield penalty.

Besides trial work

GOA value has been shown to extend beyond just undertaking trial and research work. GOA has been a strong advocate for a number of key issues and principles as well as acting as voice for the central west of NSW.

For example, GOA is well known for its advocacy for herbicide resistance management, particularly with techniques such as narrow windrow burning. As little as 4 years ago, only one or two growers in the region practiced the technique. Since then, the number of growers adopting the technique has increased steadily in a large part through GOA promotion. GOA’s Chief Executive Officer is well known publicly promoting the topic with numerous Podcast interviews, YouTube videos and via presentations at GRDC Updates and other industry forums.

The list above is not an exhaustive list of GOA trials conducted over the past 5 years, but summarises several of the key projects with the largest potential to increase growers’ profitability or sustainability.

GOA undertook quite a number of other trials investigating regional or season specific issues. Some of these found answers and outcomes adopted quickly. Some did not reveal any change or development in our current understanding - which may not have alleviated the problem, but may have helped avoid unnecessary or ineffective attempts to manage them.

In either case, these sorts of investigations or trials are examples of what GOA and other grower solutions groups have been designed to address - local issues raised that need a quick response. Issues that may not otherwise not be worthy of larger investment or capture the attention of existing research bodies.

Central to process of identifying such problems is the Local Research Updates (LRU) that GOA runs twice a year. The LRU’s are an opportunity for growers and advisers to raise issues that are challenging their production systems.  These meeting are open to anybody to attend. Details of when and where these meetings will be held are available on the GOA website

Our website is where you can also subscribe to our mail list to ensure you will be kept informed via email.

Acknowledgements

The research undertaken by GOA is only made possible by the significant contributions of growers through both trial cooperation and the support of the GRDC.  The author would like to thank the GRDC for their continued support.

Contact details

Maurie Street
Grain Orana Alliance
Po Box 2880
Dubbo NSW 2830
Ph: 0400 066 201
Email: maurie.street@grainorana.com.au

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GRDC Project code: GOA00001