Guest speakers at the Nuffield sponsors luncheon included 2014 scholar Colin de Grussa (left), Esperance, 2015 scholar Reece Curwin, South Stirling, 2013 scholar Kate Mason, Kojonup and 2014 scholars Bob Nixon, Kalannie and Nick Gillett, Bencubbin.A COMBINATION of innovation, new and adapting existing technologies and a preparedness to continue learning will enable eastern Wheatbelt farmers to have a positive future despite a drying climate.
This is the view of 2014 Nuffield scholar and Bencubbin farmer Nick Gillett, who was a guest speaker at the 2015 WA Nuffield sponsors luncheon at the University Club last week.
Co-owner and manager of a family farming operation growing 5000 hectares of wheat and 2000ha of barley a year, plus pulse crops and running sheep on 2000ha, Mr Gillett spent three weeks in the eastern Wheatbelt studying local innovation, then toured Canada and the United States, with a brief stop off in the United Kingdom on the way home.
Supported by the Grains Research and Development Corporation, he studied innovative ways of improving crop germination and yield in a drying climate.
His comments about a positive future coupled with a fleeting reference to Premier Colin Barnett’s criticism earlier this year about some marginal eastern Wheatbelt farmers, drew wide applause from the audience.
“Gaining a superior knowledge of the germination process and moisture retention of soils will enable growers to understand and tweak management practices – variability highlights opportunity,” Mr Gillett said.
In the US, university-led studies were developing localised wheat varieties to suit specific low-rainfall and soil-type areas, concentrating on vigour traits to increase early plant growth – particularly root growth to search for water – for deeper sowing, and “stay-green” drought-tolerant traits to maximise grain fill, he said.
Minor modifications made to seeding machinery to keep dry surface soils from mixing with moist subsoils, hybrid disc drills and using autosteer to access moisture stored in the previous season’s press-wheel furrow were ways of maximising germination potential from what soil moisture already existed, Mr Gillett said.
“New generation seed treatments and polymer coatings to attract moisture and polymer soil surface coatings to minimise evaporation were options being developed,” he said.
“Improving the storage of water and rooting depth to increase plant-available-moisture for yield conversion is paramount.
“Cover is king for evaporation and soil life.”
He said previously highly-regarded heavier soil types had been shown to be less “forgiving” than lighter soil types.
“Typically, an air dry, heavy clay loam soil will require (up to) 10 millimetres more rain than sand to bring the soil to a state where water is available for plant growth,” Mr Gillett said.
His assertion of a positive outlook for the eastern Wheatbelt was reinforced by fellow 2014 scholar Bob Nixon who runs a cropping and sheep property at Kalannie with 11,000ha of wheat, canola and barley planted.
“Business diversification and value adding is difficult in the eastern Wheatbelt due to the lack of water, labour costs and product range to value add,” Mr Nixon said.
“We have no choice but to be the most efficient, lowest cost producers in the world with the flexibility to adapt to change.”
Managing costs and having a low break-even yield was critical to minimising risk, Mr Nixon said.
“Low-cost canola was the most reliable break crop in the eastern Wheatbelt and stacked rotations with 100 per cent weed and disease control for two years had proved most effective in providing rotational diversity,” he said.
His study tour took him to Brazil, Argentina, Mexico, the US, Canada, UK, Ireland, Italy and Kenya.
The Nationals WA president and third 2014 scholar at the luncheon Colin de Grussa, Esperance, spoke about his trip to California, Germany and the UK studying the way farmers interact with government and consumers.
Mr de Grussa said the catalyst for his study tour was a telephone death threat received after he told a caller he had at times sent animals for live export from his 2100ha family farm.
A German model of a “pop-up farm”, complete with a genuine farmer, to show city residents where their food comes from and to explain the issues from a rural perspective might be one innovation that could be adapted to Australia, he said.
When asked about his political ambitions, Mr de Grussa said he thought it was “good” for the farming industry “to have people on the inside” of government and policy making.
The three will present their reports to the Nuffield conference in Albury, New South Wales, in September.
Other speakers were 2013 scholar Kate Mason, Kojonup and 2015 scholar Reece Curwin, South Stirling.
Mr Curwin is one of 26 Nuffield scholars Australia-wide to travel overseas on study tours this year.
p See page 57 for more photos from the event.
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