Teamwork vital for grower groups

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Jenne BrammerThe West Australian
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Corrigin Farm Improvement Group chairman Simon Wallwork highlighted the benefits of grower groups at the recent Grower Group Alliance annual conference in Perth.

Mr Wallwork, a former agronomist who farms at Corrigin, said the group - established in 1983 - offered education, co-operation and support as well as the ability to share information, deal with changes and work as part of a team.

"The group provides an environment or catalyst to offer support on the technical side of things, but the social side is also very important," he said.

"The social side is important as farming is an environment where people operate in a fairly isolated way."

On the technical role of the group, Mr Wallwork said CFIG would explore both existing concepts and new ideas.

"We need to be careful we don't take on scientific projects that are beyond our scope. There is a lot of scientific knowledge behind good research, and we will never get to that level," he said.

"But we are able to take some of those concepts and "ground-truth" them to see if they are practical and make good farming sense.

"Yes, you can operate independently as a farmer and do this testing yourself, but then you miss out on the feedback from peers."

Mr Wallwork said the group had in the past done a lot of variety demonstrations, particularly in canola, but this in itself had presented challenges.

"With the privatisation of that industry we went from about three or four canola varieties to about 20. Trialling all of these is quite a big job when using farmer-scale machinery," he said.

"It could take a full day to plant the trial. Also that trial goes over a very large area so there would be some soil constraints.

"We have relinquished that now and gone back to small plot trials to get our information."

Mr Wallwork said CFIG was one of the first groups to explore grazing crops.

Although grazing crops is not a new concept, Mr Wallwork said this prac- tice had made a comeback in recent years.

Mr Wallwork said a likely situation for practices perceived as risky was that there were often just one or two early adopters in the area.

If the practice was proven to be beneficial it would then become more widely used.

He said it could also be the case that concepts were tested and found not to provide a benefit.

"We tested narrow versus wide row seeding during 2009 and 2010, which were two of our driest seasons," he said.

"We found no benefits from planting wide rows. In fact the weeds went nuts in the inter rows. That's fine, we tested it, it didn't work and we move on."

Mr Wallwork said CFIG was also keen to keep up with technology and be involved with precision farming. Likewise, CFIG was also an early adopter of moisture-probe technology.

He said machinery trials were particularly popular with farmers.

Recently, CFIG has been looking at the issue of non-wetting soils and herbicide resistance, in particular testing the mouldboard plough.

"Some of these mouldboard trials have yielded amazing results," he said.

"In fact, testing this concept over a number of years has provided enough evidence for me to go and invest in my own mouldboard plough - the ability to adopt practices is one of the key benefits of grower groups."

Mr Wallwork said the social aspect of grower groups was also very important because enabling farmers to exchange ideas and get feedback built the confidence to change.

He said CFIG had recently employed an executive officer (Veronika Crouch) and was in the process of consulting with the Shire of Corrigin to have a stronger relationship and share resources.

In addition, CFIG had adopted social media and was now targeting a broader audience.

The 12th Annual Forum, Practice Change to Profit: Supporting Effective Grower Groups, demonstrated the huge role that regionally based grower group's play in driving innovation, and focused on how groups could support research to be effectively extended into on farm change and adoption.

Opening the conference, Department of Agriculture and Food WA executive director Mark Sweetingham said grower groups would play an increasingly central role in directing and delivering on ground development and extension activities.

"DAFWA is always looking to partner with and support regionally based grower groups directly or through the GGA wherever it can," he said.

"Working together will foster the exchange of ideas, provide growers with the latest R&D information and encourage the uptake of research results."

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