Ground Cover North : Ground Cover 073 March-April 2008 - North
MARCH -- APRIL 2008 GROUND COVER BY BERNIE REPPEL n Sunflower production in Australia does not come anywhere near meeting domestic demand -- the Australian Oilseeds Federation (AOF) and the GRDC are working to redress that and increase the returns to growers. When the Australian Oilseeds Federation (AOF) and the GRDC surveyed grain growers, asking why they would, or would not, plant sunflowers, more than 70 per cent answered "profitability". And, given recent drought years, it was no surprise either that more than half said that "rainfall variability" was the most significant factor limiting the area sown to this distinctive oilseed crop. Sunflower production totalled some 18,000 tonnes last year, while domestic market requirements are around 130,000t. Insightrix Research surveyed growers and advisers as part of the AOF/GRDC Better Oilseeds project, looking for an understanding of why producers plant oilseeds and to find out what industry changes would be needed to increase the area planted to them. Focusing on canola and soybeans as well as sunflowers, the Better Oilseeds project aims to lift Australian productivity to ensure critical mass and consistency of production and to improve the quality of grain produced. Dr Sue Knights, national program coordinator for the sunflower (and soybean) components of Better Oilseeds, says the Insightrix Research survey threw up a number of grower concerns about sunflowers that the project could address. "Insightrix Research found that 45.3 per cent of survey respondents thought sunflowers were more difficult to grow than cereal crops, but also that a similar proportion (41.3 per cent) thought they were about as difficult to grow," Dr Knights says. "Almost half (47.2 per cent) of growers used sunflowers to diversify their farming operations. Only 17.8 per cent of growers planted sunflowers to control herbicide resistance and 30.2 per cent mentioned vulnerability to disease as a significant consideration in any decision to include the crop in rotations." Dr Knights says one milestone for Better Oilseeds was to determine and promote best practice, data on yield, grain quality, profitability and rotational benefits for individual sunflower growing regions, with best management practice (BMP) recommendations reported to growers. Growers would be invited to inspect Better Oilseeds demonstration sites, with project reference teams advising on issues to be targeted by researchers. Two sunflower demonstration sites were planned in northern NSW this summer -- an early season site at Moree and a late season site on the Liverpool Plains -- with NSW Department of Primary Industries (DPI) specialist sunflower agronomists Loretta Serafin and Stephanie Belfield working closely with a sunflower team from Pacific Seeds. The demonstration sites would compare plant populations of 27,000, 37,000 and 47,000 seeds to the hectare and row spacing of 75 centimetres and 100cm, with variations of solid plant and single-skip at these spacings. An extra-wide spacing of 150cm would also be planted. "Sunflower growers have always been interested in varying plant populations, as higher populations tend to lead to thinner stalk, which are not as hard on machinery," Dr Knights says. "It's been suggested that lower populations provide higher yields, while too high a population can increase lodging potential and reduce head diameter. Then there is the question of the optimum plant population for different regions. "Many growers are also considering the value of widening their row spacings or using single-skip configurations to save moisture for use by the crop once it reaches flowering and grain fill." Dr Knights says Better Oilseeds would also take advantage of the expertise of Professor Phil Stahlman, a dryland crop specialist from Kansas State University who is on a five-month sabbatical based at the DPI's Tamworth Agricultural Institute. Professor Stahlman specialises in integrated weed management and herbicide development in broadacre crops, and is spending part of his time in northern NSW working on weed-management options in sunflowers with Ms Serafin and Ms Belfield under the Better Oilseeds project. "A range of current and alternative herbicides as potential options for use in sunflowers will be tried on commercial farm paddocks surrounding the Better Oilseeds demonstration sites," Dr Knights says. "Due to the increasing presence of herbicide resistance to Group A chemicals, and the current lack of post-emergent broadleaf control options in sunflowers, weed management is becoming an integral component in trying to retain and increase the area sown to sunflowers." GRDC Research Code AOF00006 More information: Dr Sue Knights, 03 5382 5427, firstname.lastname@example.org; copies of the survey are available from www.australianoilseeds.com PHOTO: KELLIE PENFOLD NEW BID TO LIFT SUNFLOWER CROP 13 Oilseeds The Better Oilseeds project aims to determine and promote best management practices in its efforts to lift Australian productivity.
Ground Cover 072 January-February 2008 - North
Ground Cover 074 May-June 2008 - North