Grains course speeds uptake of latest crop know-how

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Australia’s only tertiary grain-production course is expected to attract a larger than average number of students this year, following record enrolments in 2012.

Seventy industry-based students and 40 undergraduate students started the Sustainable Grains Production course in 2012. 

Dr Craig Birchall manages the course at the School of Environmental and Rural Science at the University of New England in Armidale, New South Wales. He says: “There is an increasing trend for students to do the units in preparation for changing jobs and getting into agronomy.”

Since the course started in 2003, approximately 275 industry-based students have participated in the course – including advisers, consultants, growers, grain handlers, researchers, students and anyone interested in grain production in the northern and southern regions.

A photo of growers at a grain course

Grains course participants discussing nozzle selection and spray drift.

PHOTO: NSW DPI Tamworth Agricultural Institute

Dr Birchall says the course is especially beneficial for advisers who are based in smaller centres where experienced mentors may not be available, or where staff turnover is high.

“One adviser in the course said that local knowledge was so limited that he needed to teach himself,” Dr Birchall says. 

“Industry advisers play an increasingly important role in assisting producers in decision-making and the adoption of new technology.

“At times, advisers can have limited knowledge of grains production systems, particularly new and inexperienced participants who may have been exposed to very little grains-specific information during their training,” he says.

“While many will develop this expertise over time, the industry will benefit if they are exposed to a broad range of information and cropping issues through a structured training course.”

The course covers four units including the science of soil management and crop production, crop protection, environmental impact and management, and other systems issues that are part of the grains industry.

It is the only one of its kind in Australia and has been designed and written by grains industry experts with advisory, consulting, agribusiness, education, research, policy and extension backgrounds.

Dr Birchall says: “The course provides specialist training to increase the ability of growers and others at all stages along the grain supply chain to survive in a highly competitive and increasingly regulated environment.”

Participants study the two-year course externally and attend a four-day residential school for each unit of study at Toowoomba in Queensland, Tamworth or Wagga Wagga in NSW, Horsham in Victoria or Adelaide.

The four units included in the course are:

  • Agronomy of Grains Production. This provides an overview of the grains industry and covers topics including plant breeding and adaptation/biotechnology, crop morphology and physiology, soil characterisation, health and management, tillage systems, plant nutrition, water management and precision agriculture.
  • Grain Crop Protection. This covers weed management, disease management, pest management, pesticide resistance, chemical application and pesticide legislation, grain quality and product integrity, and grains industry biosecurity.
  • Grains and the Environment. This encompasses ecology and sustainability of grain systems, crop and pasture rotations, environmental impact and management, native vegetation and soil conservation, legal issues and property management planning.
  • Grains Industry Systems. This includes quality-assurance systems, occupational health and safety, human resource management, the socioeconomics of grain production, grain processing and products, and marketing and finance.

More information:

Dr Craig Birchall
02 6773 2721
cbirchal@une.edu.au

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