Pure challenge for the seed grower

Image of three people in a paddock

As part of their seed production management process, Richard Madden (AusWest Seeds) (left) and Lynn Madden (PGG Wrightson) (right) check Gerard Elias's (centre) seed-increase crop of MitchA in late July 2014.

PHOTO: Bob Freebairn

Gerard Elias is one of that rare breed of growers who specialise in seed production as part of their broadacre farming business. It is a challenging field of specialisation as seed purity has to be safeguarded through the many handling operations from sowing to marketing.

However, Gerard and growers like him are the crucial link between the country's breeding program achievements and commercial production.

In 2014, Gerard was engaged to grow seed crops for the new wheat varieties Sunmate and Mitch, bred by Australian Grain Technologies (AGT) for subsequent marketing by seed companies PGG Wrightson and AusWest Seeds.

Gerard works closely with people such as Lynn Madden, production agronomist with PGG Wrightson, and Richard Madden, seed production manager at AusWest Seeds. They regularly assess the seed crops for purity and quality, as well as help Gerard with decisions such as rotations – every effort is made to ensure the highest yield and quality and no risk of contamination.

Gerard produces seed under contract on his property ‘Lila Park’ at Condobolin, New South Wales, and has been a supplier of many new cereals as well as hybrid canola, sorghum and faba beans (the PBA Warda variety in recent years).

Gerard says that as a rule he sows pure seed crops after a pasture phase, for example lucerne, where there is no risk of contamination from a previous crop. Where pure seed crops are sown in a cropping rotation there is at least a two-year separation between crops of the same type.

Due to the need to provide the seed crops with optimum growing conditions, soil fertility is carefully tested and adjusted prior to sowing. In Gerard's case, many of his soils are deficient in phosphorus, so a typical fertiliser application at sowing is 90 kilograms per hectare of monoammonium phosphate (MAP). Urea may be applied once or twice after crop emergence, depending on soil test data and season progress, typically 100kg/ha.

Sowing is timed for the early end of the recommended sowing window for any given variety.

He says weed control is crucial for both purity and maximum yield and the farm is also set up for bulking-up irrigation wheat varieties – the yield benchmark being 7.5 tonnes/ha.