Lighting up the northern grains landscape

Photo of a canola plant superimposed over a photo of a tilled field

Scott Cawley is proud of the new colour in northern NSW and southern Queensland, thanks to an upsurge of interest in canola in the northern grains region.

Mr Cawley, Department of Primary Industries agronomist at Roma, says the interest in canola and its potential beneficial role in rotations reflects increasing grower concern about crop disease — highlighted by the incidence of yellow spot and crown rot over the last two years — and increasing difficulty of weed control in wheat.

Interest in canola is driven by the ongoing quest for alternative rotation crops and canola's reputation as an effective buffer against soil-borne diseases. However, "we're unlikely to see paddocks of canola turn the countryside yellow, horizon to horizon, like the Canadian prairies.

"It will be at least another two or three years before there is wide-scale sowing of canola in Queensland, but 1999 saw a fourfold increase in plantings over 1998, when there was a seed availability problem," said Mr Cawley.

"Farmers are also more interested now in the whole issue of soil biota, partly prompted by the unprecedented number of companies promoting biological additives for soil. We think canola has the potential to reach 15 per cent of the traditional wheat area in the southern Queensland cereal belt."

He believes that, given the right conditions — like good planting rain in mid-April — there will be a similar further expansion of area under canola this year. He is advising potential growers to get their seed orders in early, preferably in January-February.

More than $$$ from canola

"Graingrowers are not focusing so much on canola as a crop in its own right but looking at its overall benefits in rotations, particularly its biofumigation ability which helps control weeds, suppress nematodes and break down soil-borne diseases like crown rot and take all," said Maree Crawford, Pacific Seeds area manager for Queensland's western downs.

Pacific Seeds has been heavily involved in the northern canola push over the last three years, and at press time was preparing for a predicted 2,000 hectares of canola this year on the basis of 1999 results. Ms Crawford said in addition late 1999 inquiries from the inner Darling Downs point to another 400 hectares being planted there.

"Graingrowers have had a gutful of disease problems in winter cereals," Ms Crawford says. "We are getting strong feedback that they see the opportunity with canola to go some way to solving the disease problem with a natural source.

"Of course canola isn't the total answer but it does offer a solution to at least some of the disease problem. And there's no questioning canola's ability to improve yields in following wheat crops. Our trials — harvested in 1997-1998 — show an average yield increase of 63 per cent following canola."

Mr Cawley agrees that the current interest in canola stems from increasing grower awareness of interacting issues — weed control and the possibility of developing resistance, disease control and spreading the farm workload.

"Growers are looking at canola's role in rotations, and its potential to reduce the cost of controlling problem weeds like wild oats, where a cheaper herbicide can be used," he said.

Region North