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Probing 50 paddocks to pinpoint production problems

It’s a problem that challenges many farmers and their advisers.

The rain was good, the management seemed sound but why did the wheat not perform?

Now Department of Environment and Primary Industries (DEPI) scientists are aiming to find some answers as they put the agronomic microscope over 50 Wimmera paddocks this winter.

In a first for Australia the researchers will follow wheat crops across 50 paddocks in a 50-70km radius of Horsham.

Project leader Roger Armstrong, DEPI Horsham, said while water is the number one limitation in dryland cropping, there were many questions about the impact of many other factors.

“A lot of people will blame disease, weeds, the variety, the sowing time and nutrients. Farmers often know they’ve got a problem but they get bombarded with a range of explanations.

“Just as importantly, they often don’t know the relative importance of particular factors on grain yields so are unsure of how they should prioritise their efforts (in terms of time and dollars),” he said.

“What we want to do is analyse these crops, taking into account variables such as environment, soils ( toxicities and  nutrients), management ( sowing time, tillage and stubble management), pests and disease  and variety, and then determine how much influence they have individually and collectively on the final grain yield,” Professor Armstrong said.

“We can use the French and Schultz water use efficiency calculation to work out what the potential  yield should be and now we hope to determine what is responsible for any differences between actual and potential.”

Soils on the 50 commercial paddocks were sampled pre-sowing and the paddocks will be monitored over the 2013 growing season.

“From this we hope to better understand where research and development should be targeting the cause of yield gaps,” Professor Armstrong said.

“We will not only find out what the problem is but quantify its impact on the grain yield,” he said.

Fellow project member Chris Sounness, also from DEPI Horsham, said this information could then be used to ensure that research efforts were addressing the real problems.

“The industry is aware of the yield gaps but they don’t know the cause. Until you really understand the problem you can’t find a solution. It’s about understanding where our efforts should be targeted,” he said.

“While we are starting in the Wimmera the project can have a national impact and we hope it will eventually be rolled out in other regions to get an even better picture of real problems affecting crops.”

Wimmera cropper Simon Tickner said it was always a challenge for farmers to improve crop yield and quality in a cost effective way.

“This project  seems to be a practical way to link science with what is happening in the paddocks.

“Often seasonal outcomes don’t add up and this project should help to provide some of the answers to the questions why.”


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