Photo of John Lovett

In this issue of Ground Cover, we are very pleased to highlight the positive contributions that leading edge cropping groups are making to their local economies.

Evidence that the grains industry is helping to stabilise and inject new vigour into regional towns is readily apparent from the stories you'll find starting on p9.

The cropping groups we showcase are just some of many around the country that have been establishing best practice methods, exploring and demonstrating new ideas and technologies. The pay-off has been evident with a healthier bottom line both for individual farmers and for the regional and rural economy.

Integrating innovative cropping methods and catchment management goals is high on the agenda of some groups, such as the Mingenew-Irwin Group in WA. This focus is certain to become more widespread as farming communities struggle to cope with widespread salinity and other soil problems that limit production — see also our stories p3, 4.

Looking at Walgett, in north-west NSW, we showcase a successful conversion to more cropping in country that epitomises the challenges of a variable climate.

Previous steep declines in wool prices affected the economic health of the entire community. The switch to grains is reversing that trend. Similar concerns with grazing returns, this time in high-rainfall country, led to the establishment of Southern Farming Systems. This cropping group has gathered momentum at a phenomenal rate, and involves more than 1,000 farmers and supports communities in Victoria, South Australia and Tasmania.

One of the pioneers of Australia's leading edge farmer groups draws its membership from around Birchip in the Victorian Mallee. Research and development here — trialing everything from new varieties to complete farming systems — have been well supported by the GRDC as well as by state and private sponsors.

Investment by growers and the Federal government through the GRDC in these and other cropping groups is yielding excellent returns in knowledge and innovation for farmers both regionally and nationally and for their communities.