On-farm data for eastern Wheatbelt

Stories by Jo FulwoodThe West Australian

A yardstick trial run adjacent to a National Variety Trial is attempting to provide more information on how varieties perform in the tough environment of the eastern Wheatbelt.

It's just one of several on-farm trials driven by the newly formed Merredin and Districts Farm Improvement Group, known to farmers as MADFIG.

Headed by Merredin farmer Doug McGinniss, the MADFIG group is not shy about its reason for existence and its priorities for the next decade.

Mr McGinniss said the group was formed to fill the gap of information needed by producers in low rainfall zones.

Mr McGinniss believes information and data relevant to the specific vagaries of the eastern Wheatbelt are an urgent priority.

"Our focus is on the profitability of the eastern Wheatbelt farmer," he said.

He said National Variety Trials considered the technical aspects of varietal performance in a controlled environment. "While this information is important, growers in the eastern Wheatbelt also need to see these varieties perform in an on-farm environment," he said.

Mr McGinniss said varieties in NVT trials were not necessarily tested in a low-input farming regime.

"We need to take those varieties and test them in an environment with lower rates of nitrogen and phosphate, planted on heavier soils, to see how these varieties perform in a real on-farm situation," he said.

"Growers must have the confidence new varieties can perform well commercially for them in our tougher environment."

Mr McGinniss believes long-term funding cuts to the Department of Agriculture and Food, particularly in regional areas, has meant the decline of relevant farm-ready trial data for growers in the lower rainfall zones.

"There has been a funding decline over a series of budgets, and that has seen the removal of services and staff," he said.

"In addition, the lack of a formal grower group in the Merredin area has meant research providers have struggled to partner with farmers in a co-ordinated way."

The yardstick trails are looking at different nutrition strategies; assessing water-use efficiency and also accuracy of yield prophet predictions for different varieties. They include recently released wheat and barley varieties alongside those commonly planted in the eastern Wheatbelt, and are running alongside the NVT trial site.

The trials are funded by the GRDC Kwinana East Regional Cropping Solution Network.

Mr McGinniss said future trials would consider ways to conserve summer rainfall, improved water use and farming system innovation.

While the group is only in its infancy, Mr McGinniss said membership was now open to farmers across the region.

For more information on the group, contact admin@madfig. com.au.

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