Cereals project opening doors to new high yield possibilities

image of steve jefferies

GRDC Managing Director Steve Jefferies, pictured at Hagley in Tasmania recording the new podcast, says the transformational change being sought through the Hyper Yielding Cereals Project is setting the production agenda for the broader grains industry in Australia. Photo: Anvil Media

A unique high-yielding cereal grains project in Tasmania is expected to generate a ripple effect across Bass Strait to where mainland grain growers are following the project’s progress with interest.

The Grains Research and Development Corporation’s ‘Hyper Yielding Cereals Project’, focused on bridging the gap between actual and potential grain yields, is producing results that are expected to have positive implications for growers both in and beyond Tasmania.

GRDC Managing Director Steve Jefferies, who attended the most recent Hyper Yielding Cereals Project field day at Hagley in northern Tasmania, says the transformational change being sought through the project is setting the production agenda for the broader grains industry in Australia.

This project has been set the challenge of increasing average Tasmanian red grain feed wheat yields from 4.4 tonnes/hectare to 7 t/ha by 2020, and delivering commercial wheat crops which yield up to14 t/ha by 2020, and Dr Jefferies says it is demonstrating what is possible in Australian grains production.

“The transformational change in yield being achieved through this project is what we really need as an industry going forward,” says Dr Jefferies, who speaks about the five-year investment in a new GRDC podcast.

“The grains industry in Australia has been very successful over the past 15 to 20 years, growing from $6 billion to $15 billion. It’s been a great success story, but we can’t do more of the same.

“We’re under pressure from global competing markets, growers are experiencing a squeeze on profits due to increasing input, labour and equipment costs, and as an industry we’re facing ever-increasing regulatory pressure.

“So, we need to strive for transformational change through our investments in research, development and extension (RD&E).”

Dr Jefferies says the GRDC’s new five-year RD&E Plan is cognisant of the need for high-impact change to drive grower profitability and one of the plan’s 30 Key Investment Targets is centred on closing the gap between actual and potential yield.

“Therefore, this Hyper Yielding Cereal Project is a really important initiative. It’s about identification of the right germplasm, combined with good farming systems and good practices, modelled to the environment, so growers can achieve growth in yields and profitability,” he says.

“There are lessons that we can learn from this project that can have a huge impact on the profitability of grain growing right across Australia, particularly where there are opportunities in environments conducive to early sowing, especially into stored soil moisture.”

Aimed at reducing Tasmania’s reliance on supplies from the mainland, the project involves collaboration with international, national and local expertise and breeders. The project is being led by FAR (Foundation for Arable Research) Australia in collaboration with Southern Farming Systems (SFS).

In the project’s first year in 2016 (an exceptional year in terms of growing season rainfall and conditions), the results exceeded yield targets; late April-sown wheat yielded more than 16t/ha in experimental plots, and barley sown at the same time yielded in excess of 10t/ha.

In the new GRDC podcast, Dr Jefferies also discusses fungicide resistance – an issue that was addressed at the field day at Hagley and one that is particularly concerning for growers in Tasmania and other high rainfall regions.

“Fungicide resistance is a serious issue, particularly in high input farming systems,” Dr Jefferies says.

“The GRDC invests a lot of resources, on behalf of our levy payers and the Australian Government, in improving genetics for disease resistance, and that is our default position.

“We would like a low-cost input system where the package of disease protection comes in the seed, but the pathotypes are evolving and the disease pressure in high input farming systems, particularly in high rainfall situations, is really difficult to be able to keep in front of from a genetics point of view.

“To achieve 12-plus tonnes in long-season environments currently requires regular applications of fungicides. But if we’re not doing that in a well-thought-out way, we will evolve resistance to fungicides just as we have developed herbicide-resistant ryegrass.

“If we continually use the same chemistry, we will evolve resistance in the pathogens to fungicides, rendering them ineffective. Going forward, we have to be extremely diligent at being able to manage resistance to fungicides.”

Dr Jefferies says the GRDC’s co-investment with Curtin University in the Centre for Crop and Disease Management is addressing the issue of fungicide resistance through the development of tools to identify fungal pathotype resistance levels and disease control options which help protect the efficacy and longevity of available chemistries.

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