Growers define nth canola future by Gary Alcorn
WANTED: A closer delivery point ~ for canol a grown in north-western NSW and southern Queensland. A new survey of canola growers in this vast region reveals the cost of grain transport to Newcastle is the main limiting factor to an anticipated expansion of this crop as a viable winter planting option.
A team of seven NSW and Queensland agricultural researchers (see reference and acknowledgement at the end of this story) conducted a wide-ranging investigation including a survey of 46 canola growers from all parts of the northern region. While sown area and yield per hectare numbers have grown strongly, particularly in northwest NSW, the survey defined an interesting mix of positive and negative influences affecting grower attitudes.
The survey found canol a could, in the future, occupy up to 15 per cent of the current wheat area, mostly driven by the need to break disease and weed cycles associated with wheat monoculture. Canola-quality mustards may also have a more prominent role in this more difficult environment.
By far the major limiting factor is transport costs, estimated at $40/tonne ex Goondiwindi and $50/tonne ex Roma.
The Catch-22 is there are no bulk handling facilities for canola grain at remote railway sidings because there is insufficient volume. A brighter spot is the earlier harvest in the northern region, enabling growers to capture high early-season bonuses with heading starting in early October.
If this bonus exceeds transport costs, then canola could become a regular component of a healthier winter crop rotation system.
What do nth growers think of canola?
All the respondents said the main reason they would grow this crop was for rotational benefits such as breaking disease cycles associated with wheat infinitum. There was some comment about disenchantment with wheat prices and the need to spread income risk.
So what is delaying widespread sowing of more fields of yellow? Climatic risk ranked highly with frost damage risk as most important, followed by high temperatures during grain filling and limited sowing opportunities.
At the business end of the season, harvesting losses were a major concern.
Frost risk response
The research team reported frost risk can be minimised by planting a suitable cultivar for the sowing time so flowering occurs after the main frost incidence period. Matching these factors reduces frost damage risk to around 10 per cent.
Future cultivar choices should include blackleg resistance particularly as more canola is grown, while herbicide tolerance and maturity traits will be important considerations.
Nutrition is another vital area where growers have different approaches. Of the 46 farmers, 44 said they applied the same rates of phosphatic fertiliser (P) for canola as for wheat, two applied more P to canola, and two used less on their canola crops.
Trials across the region have shown canola is more responsive to P than wheat. At the 40-50 kg MAPtha application rate, yields at all sites improved - some by a factor of 2-8 times the zero application treatment.
Harvesting remains a challenge in the northern regions, farmers say, with modifications required while direct heading is used. In five crops sampled in the 1998- 2000 seasons, losses ranged from 9 to 90 percent.
Questions still remain after this extensive assessment of the northern region canola industry. The rundown of VAM (vesicular arbuscular mycorrhizal under canola - which is a poor host for this beneficial soil-borne fungus that is able to extract phosphorus and other nutrients - and allelopathic effects on double-cropped summer crops (emergence problems) must be considered while transport costs remain the main disincentive.
This research was supported by growers and the Federal Government through the GRDC as well as by the CSIRO and NSW and Qld governments. The authors (below) acknowledge the generous cooperation of their grower and industry collaborators. Bob Colton kindly supplied statistics on canola production.
The research report and its authors:
Canola in the Northern Region: Where are we up to?
J.F. Holland, R. Bambach, NSW Agriculture, Tamworth Centre for Crop Improvement, M.J. Robertson, CSIRO Sustainable Ecosystems/APSRU, S. Cawley, Farming Systems Institute, QDPI, G. Thomas, QDNR&M, Leslie Research Centre, T. Dale, NSW Agriculture, Gunnedah, B. Cocks, CSIRO Sustainable Ecosystems/APSRU.
Program 2 Contact: Dr Mike Robertson 07 32142305 email Michael.Robertson@tag.csiro.au
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