Innovation is our industry's lifeblood

By John Harvey, executive manager, program operations, Grains Research and Development Corporation

The grains industry has a strong record of innovation – of embracing breakthrough improvements that were driven by the pressures of change. Whether the changes were agronomic, environmental or economic, each has offered opportunities to strengthen the industry and, ultimately, benefit growers.

This thirst for innovation comes from a shared understanding that innovation is our industry’s lifeblood.

This is particularly true of the technological advances that were sparked by the search for solutions to environmental issues. Many have been enormously successful and adopted nationally because they have delivered broader benefits.

The rise of reduced tillage in Western Australia is just one example. It was originally pushed by the community’s concern with landscape sustainability but produced phenomenal increases in productivity.

Controlled traffic is another example that started as a way to control soil compaction but is significantly improving both efficiency and productivity.

Soil is a common link for a range of innovations that are highlighted in this issue of Ground Cover. We have reports on how the hard-won lessons from Western Australia and Canada are being shared with the new Victorian No-till Farmers Association.

This willingness of grower groups to have a look over the fence and learn from each other – even when the “fence” is a state or national border – greatly accelerates the spread of better farming practices.

It has been a conscious strategy of the GRDC, even from its earliest projects, including one for controlled traffic that funded exchange visits by grower groups across Queensland, Victoria and Western Australia.

The next wave of innovations is coming from beneath our feet and transforming how we understand the parts of our plants that we cannot see – and especially the soil itself.

We have tended to look at soils as a bulk commodity – a substrate in which you sit the plant. As the special supplement reporting on our soil biology initiative reveals, soil is incredibly heterogeneous in ways not previously apparent from homogenous soil tests. Some of the work that we have funded has discovered vast differences in the concentrations of vital nutrients at the point of contact between the soil and the root itself. We now know, for example, that wheat plants are exuding chemicals that change their root environment.

This exciting work on the interaction between soil, microbe and plant promises to unlock even greater productivity for growers as it becomes the basis of a new generation of plants that can better cope with Australia’s hostile soils.

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