Growers adopt sustainable practices: farm survey

Survey Lady w/ iPad
The survey showed growers were increasingly implementing changes that lifted their business resilience and delivered improved productivity and profitability, while generating better environmental outcomes.

A comprehensive survey of 1200 Australia grain growers from different farming regions shows they are increasingly adopting more sustainable crop management practices.

The Grains Research and Development Corporation’s (GRDC) Farm Practices survey collects data from growers on grain and mixed enterprises across the nation to identify where, what and how they are changing their farming practices.

This was the fifth survey undertaken by GRDC since 2008 designed to help the organisation better understand on-farm practices. Growers interviewed for the survey managed a total of 4.7 million hectares of farming country.

This survey showed growers were increasingly implementing changes that lifted their business resilience and delivered improved productivity and profitability, while generating better environmental outcomes.

GRDC Managing Director Nigel Hart said the survey results were encouraging and provided invaluable insights into how Australian grain growers were using science-based research to make on-farm practice change.

“We undertake this survey to help gain a better understanding of trends relating to farm management, which in turn lets us identify the gaps and target research, development and extension (RD&E) that meets grower and industry needs,” Mr Hart said.

“Growers are innovative, and they are increasingly looking for ways to mitigate against factors that affect their businesses, such as seasonal weather conditions and rising input costs.

“What this survey indicates is they are implementing farming practices that deliver genuine gains to their bottom line.”

The GRDC survey showed the precision agriculture practice of controlled traffic farming has also increased and was now being used on 34 per cent of the nation’s cropping areas.

Variable rate technology for fertiliser application has also increased from 2011 to 2016, with notable rises in Victoria’s Mallee region and eastern and northern parts of Western Australia. Growers across 65 per cent of all cropped areas were also using soil testing to inform their management decisions, such as determining variable rates for nitrogen application.

“By soil testing and really understanding their fertiliser needs growers can maximise the efficiency of some of these really expensive inputs costs, like nitrogen,” said Mr Hart.

“Technology is one of the real game changers in agriculture, it’s letting us take comprehensive data from the paddock and analyse and use it in a way we haven’t been able to before to inform our farm decision making.”

Nigel Hart Face
GRDC Managing Director Nigel Hart

When it comes to environmental gains, such as water use efficiency, the GRDC survey showed a rise in the number of growers retaining stubble. Data shows 57 per cent of growers are keeping stubble intact through to planting – a six per cent increase from 2016.

Across the country there were also indications of increased adoption of integrated weed management tactics. Results show one third of growers surveyed were using crop planting approaches that assisted with weed control, such as higher seeding rates or narrower row spacings.

While 58 per cent were using a ‘double knock’ tactic – using two different modes of action herbicides in separate applications – to control weed seed set and reduce herbicide resistance. Close to half the growers (48 per cent) interviewed were also using harvest weed seed control techniques to reduce weed spread.

“Growers are continuing to adopt effective management practices backed by research that helps them to respond to industry challenges and ultimately ensure enduring profitability,” said Mr Hart.

“As an organisation it is critical that GRDC continues to work closely with growers and the broader grains industry to understand the issues and constraints, so we can invest in targeted research to address these problems.”

The information gathered from the survey allows GRDC and the grains sector to observe trends in farm management practices, including those underpinned by GRDC-supported RD&E. This includes investments related to tillage, fertiliser application, crop residue management, crop rotation, precision agriculture, and integrated pest, disease and weed management.

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