Farming began with an information harvest

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Aerial image of Lyn Brazil's property

The Northern Farming Systems Initiative’s large core trial site at Lyn Brazil’s property ‘Anchorfield’ is comparing a range of approaches to drivers of farm system performance, such as nutrient balance and inputs, and crop choice and sequences, among others.

PHOTO: Melina Miles / Adam Quade

Lyn Brazil came to grain cropping by choice. He did not grow up with it or have a parent or relative to direct him. Instead, he was a poultry farmer whose wider interest in farming and the landscape saw him make the switch to grains and cotton in 1986.

Image of grower Lyn Brazil

Lyn Brazil says research and extension were vital to him when he was starting out in grain cropping. “I’ve always been a believer in public research and publicly owned knowledge,” he says.

PHOTO: Sarah Clarry

When he married his wife Bobbie, the pair lived around Killarney and Warwick, in Queensland, for 20 years. He also ran a stockfeed business before buying ‘Anchorfield’ and moving over to the Brookstead property in 1988.

During this time, Lyn says, he got more deeply involved in agriculture. He was building commercial properties in Brisbane throughout the same period, a business interest in which he is still actively involved.

Snapshot

Owners: Lyn and Bobbie Brazil
Location: Brookstead, Queensland
Size: 3000 hectares
Rainfall: 650 millimetres
Soils: black Condamine clay soils through to lighter Anchorfield clays
Enterprises: cotton, sorghum, maize, wheat, chickpeas and mungbeans

Being largely self-taught, Lyn relied on diverse sources for his information in his early days of farming: “When I started I knew nothing,” he says. “I relied on the blokes working for me to tell me what to do, and going to the pub and talking to people.

“We used to have a Department of Primary Industries book that came every year – the summer cropping and winter cropping guides – and that was my bible.”

The farming extension officers were another valuable source of information. “Every grower has their own experience and knowledge – if that can be shared around that is good for the industry.

“I’ve always been a believer in public research and in publicly owned knowledge. There are things to be learnt that don’t result in a commercial product or patentable knowledge.”

His commitment to research and extension has seen him become a member of the GRDC Northern Panel and, in the early days, chair a farming systems institute.

Lyn is continuing his involvement in GRDC research by hosting the core experiment of the Northern Farming Systems Initiative.

Dr Lindsay Bell, from CSIRO, is leading this research, which is examining how performance can be improved by modifying existing farming systems, rather than trying to develop new systems.

The project – large in scale and scope – aims to tease apart the key aspects of agronomic management to determine what changes in farming systems will increase system efficiency.

In the search for a sizeable core site for this project, Lyn’s Brookstead property ticked all the boxes. It was a site where researchers could run a complicated experiment in a manageable way, they could trial a range of farming systems representative of the northern grains region, and with a trial cooperator very supportive of the work.

The core site is complemented by six regional sites from Trangie in central-west New South Wales through to Emerald in Central Queensland, which are comparing modifications to locally relevant systems. The Northern Farming Systems Initiative is a partnership involving CSIRO, the Queensland Department of Agriculture and Fisheries, and the NSW Department of Primary Industries.

Lyn says he is not seeking any specific outcome from the Northern Systems Farming Initiative, but that he supports the research effort in general.

“I’ve always believed that you can’t be competitive without getting better, and you can’t get better without better knowledge, which comes from research.”

Northern Farming Systems Initiative

Image of Dr Lindsay Bell

Dr Lindsay Bell is running a Northern Farming Systems project on Lyn Brazil's property

PHOTO: CSIRO

Led by Dr Lindsay Bell of CSIRO, the Northern Farming Systems Initiative is a five-year project examining how the performance of farming systems might be improved in the face of emerging challenges to grain farming.The project will compare various farming systems that differ in their approach to key drivers of system performance:
  • soil water thresholds for sowing;
  • nutrient balance and inputs;
  • crop sequences and choice; and
  • use of practices to maintain long-term soil health (for example, pasture leys and cover crops).

“Our experimental program will look at the various treatments singularly and in combination,” Dr Bell says. “We will examine how the various systems perform in terms of water use efficiency, nutrient balance, changes in weed and pathogen populations, and system risk and economics.”

The core site is comparing 38 systems involving treatments that will alter crop frequency (that is, number of crops per year), crop diversity, nutrient supply and soil health. These treatments will be conducted on systems that are dominated by summer crops, dominated by winter crops and systems with flexible choice of summer or winter crop options.

The range of systems chosen is aiming to emulate the cropping systems employed across the northern grains region.

“We will use the results to conduct rolling economic comparisons of each of the systems,” Dr Bell says.

“We want to be able to inform growers about how current systems are performing and whether there is potential to improve, as well as highlight any potential threats as farming systems evolve in the future.”

More information:

Dr Lindsay Bell,
0409 881 988,
lindsay.bell@csiro.au

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GRDC Project Code CSA00050, DAQ00192

Region North