Season throws up challenges

Claire TyrrellCountryman

Seasonal conditions across the State this year will help growers learn a lot going into next season.

That was the message at the Grain Industry Association of WA (GIWA) Seeding Success seminar held in Floreat last week.

Close to 40 farm consultants and industry representatives attended the forum, where a run-down on each of the port zones was given.

While most of the State is experiencing well above average yields this harvest, weeds and disease issues have been a challenge.

Kojonup Farmanco consultant Chris Robinson said a wet spring in the southern port zone led to weed problems at harvest.

"Given the good spring we've had, a lot of weeds have emerged post control," he said.

Mr Robinson, and other consultants at the seminar, called for an easing of herbicide restrictions.

"There is a lack of flexibility with how we can control weeds at this time of year," he said.

He said laws preventing glyphosate and paraquat use at harvest time held farmers back.

Sclerotinia has affected broadleaf crops across the State this year, but for most growers it has come too late in the year to inflict too much damage.

Mr Robinson said the southern port zone had never experienced the disease, but the abnormally warm winter this season meant sclerotinia was rife.

"It's a problem we've never had, but it is prevalent this season," he said.

"Lucky it has come late in the year, so it hasn't had much of an impact on yields."

Sclerotina has also been found in canola and lupins around Geraldton this year.

Grower uptake of GM canola was also a hot topic at the seminar.

Signs that WA would reduce its GM crop for next season were evident.

Mr Robinson said growers in his zone were attracted to the price premium of non-GM canola.

"The differentiation of $50 a tonne is starting to steer growers away from growing Roundup Ready," he said.

Geraldton Agrarian Management consultant Craig Topham said feedback from growers in the northern zone also pointed to decreased GM canola plantings next season.

"We have had one of the softest finishes in 10 years, but GM canola results aren't promising," he said.

Mr Topham said growers needed at least a 40kg per hectare yield advantage of GM over non-GM canola, but in many cases that hasn't been achieved.

He said growers in the Geraldton zone were in the midst of a record harvest and soil nutrition into next season should be a priority.

"We had a really good season in 2008 and a lot of people got caught out in 2009 by not realising how much nutrients the big crops took out," Mr Topham said.

"Lack of confidence in season forecasts leads to a conservative approach, which ends up costing farmers a lot."

Mr Topham advised farmers to soil test going into next season to "match their knowledge to available water".

He said anthracnose in lupins was something growers should exercise vigilance with.

"Anthracnose is throughout the northern zone this year," he said.

"We anticipate a lot of issues with lupin establishment next year due to seed quality."

Mr Topham encouraged growers with anthracnose in their lupins this year to buy new seed for next season.

He said high weed burdens were likely to be evident in paddocks next year.

"We are going to have huge weed burdens in 2012 - not just radish but also wild oats," he said.

"Resistance will be a big issue - we are getting to the bottom of the barrel with herbicide groups."

South East Agronomy Services consultant Luke Marquis said herbicide and insecticide resistance was an issue for growers in the Esperance zone.

He encouraged farmers to conduct glyphosate resistance tests to help avoid the inevitable.

"Glyphosate resistance is not insurmountable and we can farm with ryegrass, but we can not have our head in the sand over this issue," he said.

He said crown rot was evident in cereal crops this year and could claim as much as 10 per cent yield in some wheat crops.

Diamondback moth is causing headaches for canola growers in the Esperance zone this season.

"This is the most widespread we've had diamondback moth since canola has been grown in the district," he said.

Mr Marquis spoke about the potential for insect tolerant canola varieties, which would reduce growers' reliance on insecticides.

He said the wet harvest had caused sprouted grain in some wheat varieties, but this was something Esperance growers were used to.

"A wet harvest is not uncommon in Esperance. Farmers are used to getting their grain off fast and drying it," he said.

GIWA issued its latest crop report, which estimated 13.795 million tonnes of grain to be produced in WA this year, including grain retained on farm for seed and stock feed.

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