Technology drives germination hopes

Stories by Jo FulwoodThe West Australian

With germination and establishment the most important growth phase of a winter crop, strategies to improve access to moisture are critical for eastern Wheatbelt farmers.

Bencubbin farmer Nick Gillett believes there are many opportunities for farmers to improve their crop germination, despite a drying climate.

Mr Gillett travelled through the US, Canada and the UK as part of his Nuffield Scholarship looking at a range of different techniques farmers across the globe employed to improve crop germination and establishment.

Speaking at the 2015 annual Nuffield lunch, Mr Gillett said products such as biodegradable polymers that pulled moisture into the seed and encouraged quicker germination could be valuable to Australian farmers but were not yet commercialised.

"In the US, there is a huge suite of seed treatments available, most of which are not yet available to farmers in Western Australia," he said.

Mr Gillett said other products he investigated included spray-on anti-evaporative soil coating, moisture measurement devices to measure soil moisture potential, and moisture- seeking seeding machinery.

He said while these innovative products still required further trial work to ascertain their suitability for the eastern Wheatbelt, technologies of this type were extremely positive for those farming in a drying environment.

"Our seasons are getting drier, but the months suffering the biggest deviation from the average is that autumn period, from April through to early June, which is the core of our seeding establishment window," he said.

Mr Gillett said breeding programs also offered some hope in improving the genetic traits of crops grown in WA, increasing the ability of seed to access subsoil moisture.

"For example, breeding a wheat with a longer and stronger coleoptile would allow the plant to chase deeper profile moisture," he said.

"There are a lot of opportunities now for establishing a crop on summer moisture, or early April rainfall, but we need the plant technology to be available to us so we can take advantage of this."

Mr Gillett said large-scale moisture-seeking seeding equipment may prove too expensive for eastern Wheatbelt farm businesses.

"But I think moisture measurement variability can provide some opportunities," he said.

"In seed beds, we could have different moisture-seeking arrangements, such as deeper and wider furrows for water harvesting, and by measuring moisture we can manage the rotations, have taller straw, and we can use the moisture measurements to really adopt some management techniques."

Mr Gillett said he would be trialling various techniques on his farm in the coming season.

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