AGRONOMY CONFERENCE REPORT Pick your tasks: crop monitoring gets out sourced in NSW Central West

James Deeves and Linda Stockman of Condobolin monitoring a vetch crop

SOME NSW Central West graingrowers like to keep tabs on the crops while concentrating their energies elsewhere.

Under a popular program set up through Central West Farming Systems (CWFS), farmers no longer monitor crops themselves, but pay people to do it instead.

This has overcome the fact that, however necessary, farmers in the region aren't keen on the task of monitoring. According to research manager with CWFS, Catherine Evans, monitoring includes carrying out crop establishment and weed counts, plant tillering measurements, and grain head counts.

"They might do it once or twice but quickly lose enthusiasm," she said.

"In 1999 a small group of volunteers carried out field measurements on 76 paddocks using TOPCROP cards. It generated a large amount of interest among farmers as a benchmarking exercise." Ms Evans was speaking at the Australian Agronomy Conference in Geelong, supported by growers and the Federal Government through the GRDC.

She said that, in 2001, 18 people were employed by CWFS, received training and then collected data from more than 250 paddocks, most of them sown to wheat. As well as information about the crop itself, a range of other data was collected including the paddock history; soil type; fallowing practices; details about machinery and equipment used; fertiliser, herbicides and insecticides applied; and monthly rainfall totals.

Ms Evans said the data were used in three ways. Firstly, it provided a picture of the farming practices of the region; secondly, farmers in each subregion could compare results from their own paddocks with those of neighbours and, as well, the effects of such things as rainfall, tillage systems and row spacings across the region could be measured.

What 2001 showed

She said results from 2002 were still being collated but the type of information that emerged from the 2001 analysis showed:

  • many crops were not achieving their water-limited potential so other factors must be affecting crop yield — for example, the lack of nitrogen available to crops, either as applied fertiliser or produced by legumes
  • crops with the highest water-use efficiency were topdressed with nitrogen after a light application at sowing and were in paddocks where a pulse had been grown in the past three years
  • the most common cropping sequence was wheat after wheat, followed by wheat after fallow, and then wheat after pasture. Not many break crops, such as canola and pulses, were grown — a common feature of rotations in low-rainfall districts.

Ms Evans said the fact that farmers are returning to the program, and that the number of paddocks monitored is increasing, implies that farmers are happy with this style of program.

Program 4 Contact: Ms Catherine Evans 02 6895 1001