Trials test northern Australia cropping
A recent scoping study indicates winter cereals cropping in northern Queensland has the potential to lift Australia’s total area planted to grain – currently about 22 million hectares – by as much as 50 per cent.
The estimation by the Queensland Alliance for Agriculture and Food Innovation (QAAFI) comes as the United Nations’ Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) says the global cereal crop will need to increase by one billion tonnes, and meat production by 200 million tonnes, by 2050.
Showing potential to help meet this target is 10 million hectares of black cracking clay soils (vertisols) in the Queensland tropics found to be suitable for growing adapted winter cereals.
While the area is considered grazing country, a two-year study has concluded there is opportunity to develop domestic and export feed grain industries there.
The leader of the study, QAAFI plant geneticist Dr Phillip Banks, found that feed wheat, triticale and forage oats could be successfully grown in northern and coastal Queensland.
On the other hand, trials examining phenology (plant characteristics influenced by genetics and environment) showed that barley and durum wheat were less suited to the region’s tropical conditions – disease being the main constraint.
For cereal crops that could be acclimatised, the trials revealed that they introduced an added agronomic benefit for tropical farming systems by reducing nematode pressure in peanuts and maize where these crops followed wheat.
QAAFI wheat physiologist Dr Jack Christopher said wheat showed the most potential as a prospective winter crop in the tropical north.
Wheat lines drawing on tropical germplasm sourced from the International Maize and Wheat Improvement Center (CIMMYT) were higher yielding in trials than Australian wheat cultivars, even those developed for subtropical and temperate growing conditions.
For example, the CIMMYT-derived Australian Prime Hard wheat variety Buchanan yielded more than five tonnes per hectare. Other wheat varieties developed from CIMMYT lines, such as GBA Hunter and Zebu, were also high yielding.
Dr Christopher said the high yields achievable in such wheats suggested winter cereals could be developed into a grains industry in tropical Australia.
“Tropical Australian livestock industries provide a huge potential market for locally produced grain which would, for example, enable increased beef cattle finishing for Asian markets, supplementary feeding of dairy cattle and provide a local source of grain during poor grazing periods,” he said.
Dr Christopher suggested a staged approach to the tropical industry’s development, with an initial focus on establishing the feed grain market to absorb demand from the existing beef and dairy cattle sectors.
In terms of grower incentive, he said a wheat industry in northern Queensland would already have a price advantage over wheat feed grain prices in central and southern Queensland because of the freight cost for transporting feed wheat from central Queensland – a cost usually borne by cattle producers.
In a second phase of the tropical industry’s advancement, Dr Christopher said he could see no reason why winter cereal cropping could not be developed to supply export flour markets.
But before this could happen he emphasised the need to examine tropical adaptation in a wider range of crop genotypes, particularly those sourced from international breeding programs such as CIMMYT and the International Center for Agricultural Research in the Dry Areas (ICARDA).
“The preliminary findings show that simply moving existing cereal varieties and agronomic practices from central and southern Queensland to the state’s northern and coastal areas would not result in optimal productivity,” he said.
More information:Jack Christopher, QAAFI,
07 4639 8813
GRDC Project Code DAQ00140