Mallee lessons the TOPCROP way

From left: TOPCROP group coordinator Chezley Guest with Brian Scheer and Greg Kenney inspecting canola, which the group is evaluating as a break crop.

An award-winning WA farmer group sees potential for increasing wheat yields by 40 per cent as a result of its participation in the TOPCROP program.

On a study visit to eastern mallee regions, WA's North Mallee Farm Improvement Group members saw how alternative break crops and liquid phosphorus fertiliser use had produced a 40 per cent wheat yield increase in trials at Eyre Peninsula, SA.

Winner of the 2000 award for best TOPCROP group in WA, the North Mallee group is centred around Salmon Gums, 130 km north of Esperance, and is one of 86 WA TOPCROP groups. The Group's winning prize includes $2,000 from GRDC to support future group initiatives.

Group members ran systematic trials using the Eyre Peninsula techniques on their own land. One family, for example, modified its combine to deliver liquid fertiliser onto sowing tynes. (See Ground Cover 34 for a discussion of the liquid fertiliser work by the Eyre Peninsula Farming Systems program — Ed.)

TOPCROP has had a profound impact on the farming practices of members, according to the leader of the North Mallee Group, Greg Kenney.

One focus of the Group was to understand mallee soil limitations. Members are running deep nitrogen tests to predict the availability of nitrogen from year to year.

And, "besides trialing of liquid phosphorus, we have dropped canola from rotations, while faba beans and durum (with attention to zinc nutrition) have performed well," said Mr Kenney.

The group's scientific approach has attracted GRDC funds for a weigh trailer, shared among members for paddock comparisons and accurately calibrating yield monitors.

"Benchmarking and crop monitoring are the backbone of scientific research, and TOPCROP groups are about applying those principles on WA farms, which are, effectively, thousands of hectares of laboratories," said WA TOPCROP co-ordinator, Tresslyn Walmsley.

"Summer weed control has also been earmarked as a key factor — preserving soil moisture and mineralised nitrogen to maintain protein, allowing early sowing which has been shown to relate to crop success.

"One member is applying gypsum for the first time, while zinc fertilisers, foliar sprays and spray topping have grown in popularity as a result of the program," Mr Kenney said.

The next challenge: marketing the groups' new harvests of durum.

Contact: Ms Tresslyn Walmsley 08 9690 2111