Sprouting test: pregnant with possibilities by Bernie Reppel

Paul Langley: getting the most valuable crops out before rain yielded big dollar return.

A new paddock test for pre-harvest sprouting in wheat, that works in much the same way as home pregnancy tests, earned north-west NSW graingrower Paul Langley an extra $40,000 last season.

Last November Mr Langley used one of the first WheatRite™ kits to selectively harvest and then segregate an organic wheat crop during a harvest disrupted by more than 200 mm of rain.

Mr Langley — cropping manager for Warrengulla Land Management at Lightning Ridge — says the best 700 tonnes of grain so harvested, and then stored separately, made premiums of $60-$70/t in a harvest that was otherwise "totally stuffed".

Distributed by Graintec Pty Ltd of Toowoomba, WheatRite was developed by CSIRO within the Cooperative Research Centre for Quality Wheat Products and Processes (Quality Wheat CRC), which is supported by the GRDC.

Quality Wheat CRC education and training coordinator Clare Johnson says WheatRite.is similar to home pregnancy tests in that it is a quick, antibody-based card test, assessing levels of alpha amylase in grain to measure pre-harvest sprouting.

How it works on farm

The wet harvest of 1999 saw Warrengulla Land Management make full use of one of WheatRite's major advantages — the ability to identify areas of a paddock with better quality grain, allowing them to be harvested first in rain-threatening situations.

Warrengulla had contracted to supply organic wheat to Defiance Milling, conditional on the grain being graded before leaving the property. More man 100 mm of rain fell on the day harvest was to begin and falls continued throughout the job.

"We tested over about 2,200 hectares, with between 15 and 20 tests," Mr Langley says. "That let us decide where to take the headers first in a situation of continual rain and big paddocks — one is 1,600 hectares.

"We were looking at $60/t for damaged grain against $115—$120 for the better wheat. We were lucky to get three days straight without rain, so it was important to know what to do.

"Way out here, it's a serious situation when you have a bin full, could lose $60-$70/t and have no way of finding out how the grain will go until it reaches the silo. At the rate headers take grain off now, whole areas are gone before you get the results back."

Mr Langley says operating WheatRite was very easy. It was easy to distinguish differences between degrees of sprouting, even between varieties, and the test results compared very favourably with the ones from the silo. "And WheatRite also helped us decide where to send the trucks," he says.

With two sheds and field bins, Mr Langley used WheatRite to segregate wheat throughout the harvest, a policy that paid off with premium sale prices for the better grain.

Warrengulla neighbours' keen interest in the test outcomes was hardly surprising—from Lightning Ridge it is 150 kilometres to Noondoo silos, 90 kilometres each way to Walgett.

The farmers agreed with Ms Johnson that: "WheatRite is a pretty good investment, since it costs around $200 for 24 tests, a very small outlay in comparison with the potential savings."

She said while current WheatRite kits depend on operator judgment, by about April an electronic reader should be available for installation at receival points, making for more valid testing and faster delivery throughput.

Australia's graingrowers and the Federal Government, through the Grains Research and Development Corporation (GRDC), make significant investments in the Quality Wheat CRC