Ground Cover North : Ground Cover 062 June-July 2006 - North
AGRONOMY HOLDS ANSWERS TO YIELD LIFTS International and local studies are finding that improved farm management is the key to unlocking the genetic potential of crops to increase average yields BY GIO BRAIDOTTI n With substantial research efforts invested in improving both plant genetics and crop management practices, scientists have recently undertaken a stocktaking exercise to assess the relative contributions of agronomy and new cultivars to yield increases. “The data for rainfed wheat come largely from northern America and southern Australia and show remarkable agreement,” says Dr Wal Anderson of the Department of Agriculture and Food, WA (DAFWA), who contributed to one of the GRDC-funded surveys. “The proportion of the yield increase that can be attributed to crop management ranges from 47 to 83 per cent worldwide, with an average of 68 per cent,” he says. That global average stacks up well with the local data: “From a set of experiments conducted during the 1980s in WA using cultivars grown commercially from 1860 to 1982, the rate of genetic yield increase was estimated at 5.8 kilograms per hectare per year. The overall rate of yield increase in the 1980s was about 20.2kg/ha a year. “That implies crop management was contributing 14.4kg/ha a year, which amounts to 71 per cent of the yield increase.” Dr Anderson thinks that agronomy will continue to dominate, since existing WA cultivars are already genetically capable of yielding five tonnes per hectare in the right conditions. With a state average of just 2t/ha, Dr Anderson says there is clearly significant scope for management to deliver on this yield potential – especially practices targeted for specific locations and seasons. “At this time, I think it is more important for growers to have access to information about the agronomic characteristics of new varieties than to produce more genetic improvement. That’s what we are trying to do at DAFWA – provide information in the year of release to growers or in the following season when new varieties are grown commercially.” At CSIRO Plant Industry in Canberra, Dr Richard Richards is leading research into high-performance crops and agrees agronomy has effected “major changes”. He highlights the introduction of conservation farming systems, changes in herbicide use and better rotations that improve soil biology. “Changes in farming systems are producing new environments and breeders can help maximise yield potentials by producing varieties adapted to the new conditions. That would constitute an exciting opportunity for a more connected approach between genetics and agronomy, perhaps allowing for a second wave of yield improvements on the back of agronomy-driven gains.” At the NSW Department of Primary Industries, researcher John Lacy has also found that management appears to outweigh genetics when it comes to delivering yield improvements. A benchmarking database he helped devise more than 20 years INNOVATION THE GRAINS INDUSTRY BACKBONE THE HON SUSSAN LEY, MP Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister for Agriculture, Fisheries and Forestry and Member for Farrer n The Australian rural sector operates in a complex, diverse and dynamic environment. Landowners, managers and rural and regional communities have been severely tested over recent times. But they have proved time and time again that they are resilient and have the Farm management GROUND COVER JUNE -- JULY 2006 24 Dr Richard Richards: there is opportunity for a more connected approach between genetics and agronomy. KEY POINTS n Most yield gains come from management practices and cultivars developed for specific environments n A cultivar's genetic potential is usually greater than average farm yields, indicating scope for agronomy to deliver yield increases n Growers are looking to genetics for faster per formance lifts capacity to innovate. These two qualities have been important in maintaining rural and regional Australia’s commercial viability. The grains industry has an outstanding record of productivity growth of 3.2 per cent a year, with research and development as one of the key drivers. If graingrowers and other primary producers are to remain competitive and profitable in times of globalisation, they must continue to improve productivity and that means building on the culture of innovation that has proved the backbone of the grains industry. Australian graingrowers will rely increasingly on targeted and market- driven R&D to guide them. The Australian Government believes that R&D is the key to the viability of our rural industries and associated communities. Effective and targeted R&D delivers economic, environmental and social benefits, the triple bottom line. This is one of the reasons that the Government invests in the GRDC. In 2004–05, the GRDC invested nearly $106 million in research and development, covering 25 crop types. The GRDC’s grower levy income is matched by the Australian Government, up to 0.5 per cent of the gross value of production. To remain competitive and profitable, the grains industry has to identify and adopt new technology as well as implementing new and sustainable production systems. It also has to recognise international and domestic changes to consumer preferences, and meet these changing consumer demands. It will require hard work across the supply chain, enhancing the links between growers, scientists and consumers. Innovative and sustainable farming practices will minimise the impacts of agriculture on the environment and maintain and enhance our unique biodiversity and the economic viability of our rural and regional communities. The grains industry already has a proud history of innovation and adaptation and I am proud of the Government’s commitment to it. ago has been credited with delivering substantial yield increases. Mr Lacy’s ‘Crop Check’ model takes the results of the best farming practices in a particular district in a particular year and adds them to the database, which becomes a record of the experiences of the best farming outcomes. “It’s not about one or two factors – nitrogen or weed control – but getting the balance of numerous factors right,” he says. However, Dr Anderson says that while the most significant yield advances have come from combining appropriate agronomic practices with improved varieties, most growers are looking to genetics to deliver better disease resistance and quality traits. “And that’s where biotechnology stands to have the most impact for growers and the environment,” he says. GRDC Research Code DAW00012 More information: Dr Wal Anderson, 08 9892 8412, John Lacy, 02 6951 2738, Dr Richard Richards, 02 6246 5090 RESEARCH BENEFITS GROWERS: CHAIRMAN n Two-thirds of Australian graingrowers say they have directly benefited from GRDC-supported research in the past five years, GRDC chairman Terry Enright told delegates at Grains Week 2006. He said this broke down to 68 per cent in the western region, 69 per cent in the southern region and 63 per cent in the northern region. Outlining the GRDC’s success in meeting growers’ crop development needs, Mr Enright highlighted the GRDC’s involvement in the National Variety Trials, national approaches to barley and pulse breeding, the GRDC/CSIRO Crop Biofactories Initiative, the ‘Single Vision’ strategy, and the GRDC’s new strategic business plan, plus international research collaborations. In particular, he said the collaboration with Mexico-based CIMMYT (International Maize and Wheat Improvement Center) was an important milestone: “It will speed up the introduction of genetic material through all stages – from quarantine to evaluation to incorporation into Australian breeding programs. It will maximise the adoption of superior traits for maximum benefits to all graingrowers in Australia.” Mr Enright said good progress had also been made on the implementation and communication of strategies announced in the GRDC’s new strategic business plan, ‘The Way Forward’.
Ground Cover 063 August 2006 - North
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