Innovation the focus of grower tour

Megan Meates, Grower Group AllianceCountryman
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No matter the rainfall, soil type or style of management, farmers are farming to the best of their environment.

That was the message from the Grower Group Alliance (GGA) study tour, in which 10 growers from 10 grower groups visited sites in South Australia and Victoria.

The tour introduced growers to new methods of improving productivity and cutting costs, giving them ideas they could take home and trial within their own group. Low seeding rates, crop topping in wheat, trialling spreaders and other innovative machinery and grazing crops were just some of the subjects they explored.

Reducing risk with the use of the Yield Prophet tool and monitoring water use efficiency with soil moisture probes were also of interest.

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The tour kicked off at the Australian Centre of Plant Functional Genomics and Plant Accelerator Facility at the University of Adelaide's Waite Campus.

Warradarge grower Will Browne, of Evergreen Farming and West Midlands Group, said it was amazing to see how genetic breeding tools were used in the transformation lab, and the way plant phenomics research was carried out.

"I found this facility interesting, and it is great to see growers are backed up with this kind of technology," he said.

At Mark Branson's Tarlee property, the group got a chance to run their fingers through an estimated six tonnes per hectare wheat crop and a potential 7t/ha barley crop, with the yield potential in this district out of reach of even the highest WA rainfall regions.

Scott Dixon, of the Kellerberrin Demonstration Group, said he may look into trialling the crop topping used on this high-rainfall property on his property.

The process of spray topping wheat may be another tool to add to combat ryegrass problems.

"Crop topping of wheat is not seen at home, but this farm visit showed it might be worthwhile," he said.

Another highlight was seeing the Grains Research and Development Corporation's National Frost Project trial site in Loxton, SA where results showed different varieties having varied levels of frost tolerance, heading towards frost susceptibility ratings to help farmers select varieties and for breeders to select the right germplasm for improved frost resistance.

"While management is still the main method for frost control, it was good to see the trial in Loxton was using lines applicable to WA farming systems and they are working towards a solution," Scott said.

Heading south-east to the Mallee Sustainable Farming Inc main trial site in Karoonda, the importance of participating in trial work was recognised by local farmers Hannah and Peter Loller.

The Lollers hosted an information-packed trial site producing high-quality research relevant to their area, especially studies on water use efficiency.

Peter Dunbar, of the Bodallin Catchment Group, was impressed with the trial work on low seeding rates and time of sowing trials.

"It's good to travel to other parts of Australia and see high-yielding crops. But it doesn't matter where you farm - there are soil constraints, seeding issues with all types of machinery and weed resistance wherever you go," he said.

Keith grower Brendon Smart and manager Ian Mattherson demonstrated how they used ground water to irrigate lucerne pastures and ensure high productivity at all times, adding value to their cropping and sheep enterprise. The groundwater in Keith is freely accessible once a licence is obtained.

"This is a great example of making the most of what is available in your environment," Peter said.

A visit to the Wallup Ag Group allowed the tour group to get on-farm and on-ground with local farmer members. The former TopCrop group has about 30 members who are open and honest with one another about their farm management.

Drew Bartram, of the Facey Group, said he was amazed with the honesty of members. "I was impressed with their openness to sharing information, and their willingness to open their farm to scrutiny," he said.

The tour ended with a visit to two Southern Farming Systems trial sites displaying Grain and Graze projects, where the effect of grazing and non-grazing was compared, assessing European canola varieties in local conditions, testing time of sowing, cover crops and water use efficiency.

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