Ground Cover North : Ground Cover 047 November-December 2003 - North
NEWS 5 NOVEMBER 2003 By KAY ANSELL While Brooke Thompson's colleagues faced a Wimmera scorcher last summer, the TOPCROP agronomist was contending with Canada's extreme cold, meeting growers at venues such as skating rinks, while the temperature outside plunged to --20oC. Ms Thompson travelled from Horsham in Victoria to Canada in both February/March and July to investigate how Canadian farmers get their information and adopt new techniques on-farm, and to observe their grower extension services. The American Certified Crop Adviser (CCA) accreditation scheme was another important focus of her trips, which were both funded by a GRDC in-service training award. The timing enabled Ms Thompson to establish networks and observe agronomists preparing for the next sowing season and to follow-up on those contacts later, at the height of the growing season. Despite the opposite seasons, during her trips Ms Thompson was seeing the Victorian cycles for winter crops Canadian tour shows there's no place like home Seeing things differently: Brooke Thompson (left) has a renewed appreciation of the Australian approach after her trip to Canada, where observers took a back seat when touring trial plots (above). By EAMMON CONAGHAN Western Australia's love-hate relationship with canola has leapt from the blackleg-induced coma of the 1970s to the heights of a 900,000ha crop in 1999-2000. Then followed a plunging 355,000ha crop last year, as adoption was stymied by patchy performances during drought. Responding to the need for varieties suited to WA's challenging mediterranean climate, the Grains Research and Development Corporation (GRDC) established a WA canola-breeding initiative in 1999, which evolved into a specialist breeding company. That company, Canola Breeders WA Pty Ltd (CBWA), was launched in 2001, with support from inaugural shareholders Export Grains Centre Ltd (EGC), University of WA (UWA), and WA grain grower company, Council of Grain Grower Organisations Ltd (COGGO). Just two years later, CBWA is nearing the historic release of Australia's first canola varieties in which grower shareholders will have equity, via private investment. As final deliberations progress on which of three advanced triazine-tolerant lines will be released next year, CBWA has appointed Liz Jackson as Seed Business Development Manager. "Advanced lines are being bulked up at Kojonup this season and will undergo final quality testing after harvest to confirm which to commercialise," she explains. "They are exciting prospects and may all be released. After the decision is made, the varieties will be further bulked up over summer at Manjimup by our commercial partner, for distribution to interested growers for next season." CBWA's adoption of doubled haploid technology and summer seed multiplication has sped up plant breeding timelines, with these first commercial varieties to be released just five years after CBWA CEO, Associate Professor Wallace Cowling, started breeding them at UWA. It is this focus on swiftly delivering commercial products that shaped Export Grain Centre's initial interest in establishing CBWA. EGC was itself formed by the GRDC and COGGO to encourage corporate plant breeding, which required the quick delivery of commercial products. Two GRDC directors on the EGC Board have overseen investments in CBWA and Grain Biotech Australia Pty Ltd, which recently launched its first wheat varieties. According to Associate Professor Cowling, the development of WA-suited canola varieties meant clearing several hurdles. "WA experienced a boom in canola production in the late 1990s based on the variety KarooA, but the industry then declined as a result of disappointing yields," he says. Those yields regularly failed to break 1t/ha and often lingered closer to half that, at 0.6t/ha. Seed for CBWA varieties will be subject to an end point royalty which will flow back to the company, as it strives for self-sufficiency. It aims to deliver a dividend to shareholders EGC, UWA, COGGO and its almost 2000 grower members, and a German plant breeding company, NPZ Lembke, which joined in 2002. Those royalties could bring international capital to the Australian plant breeding sector in cases where CBWA lines are adopted in international production zones sharing WA's climate, such as South Africa, South America, southern Europe and north Africa. For more information: Associate Professor Wallace Cowling: Ph 08 9380 7979 Liz Jackson: Ph 08 9368 8750 Record number win Nuffield scholarships A record number of 11 outstanding primary producers from across Australia have been named winners of Australia's most prestigious agricultural award, the Nuffield Scholarship. The Australian Nuffield Farming Scholars' Association announced the winners of the scholarships worth a total of more than $220,000 on 3 October, after a rigorous selection process. The 2003 Nuffield Scholarship winners join an elite group of about 1100 scholars from around the world. Each scholarship is valued at $21,000 and supported by leading Australian primary producer and agribusiness organisations, including the GRDC. The association's chairman, Brendon Smart, says the Australian Nuffield Farming Scholars' Association provides a select group of young Australian farmers with scholar- ships to travel internationally to expand their personal horizons while exploring agricultural issues and opportunities in a global context. "We are focused on developing the practical, managerial and commercial capacities of each scholar to enable them to be better farmers and to make a significant contribution to the future of Australian agriculture," Mr Smart says. The Nuffield Scholars will leave Australia in either February or June 2004 to join other scholars from around the world in a compulsory six-week group study program in Australasia, North America and Europe. After the initial program, the scholars will go their individual ways to pursue specific study programs. The 2003 winners of GRDC-sponsored scholarships are: Brent Alexander, of Lockhart, NSW, Phil Longmire, of Esperance, WA and Charlie Hilton, of Bordertown, SA. The other winners are: Peter Draper, Leeton, NSW; Jim Friend, Walgett, NSW; Anthony Hamilton, Forbes, NSW; Sandra Kirk, Farnsfield via Childers, Qld; Michael McKellar, via Morven, Qld; Steven Jaeschke, Keith, SA; Paul Bethune, Lake Boga, Vic; Steven Hobbs, Kaniva, Vic. The lines under consideration for commercial release are: TrilogyA A very early flowering T T canola variety with adaption to low rainfall environments. This variety has large seeds, average blackleg resistance and a similar flowering time to Surpass 300TT, which it out-yields. TribuneA A very high yielding mid-season TT canola with good blackleg resistance. After flowering slightly earlier than Surpass 501TT, it goes on to produce a greater yield. TristateA A mid-season TT canola with good blackleg resistance and high yield and protein content for long-season, high rainfall environments. This variety is slightly later than Surpass 501TT and better suited to long seasons. mirrored in Canada's summer grains. However, she saw little reflection of Australia's approach to grower group activities on the ground in Canada's prairie provinces of Saskatchewan, Manitoba and Alberta. When provincial agronomists met grower groups in the off- season during February/March, they brought expert speakers and delivered presentations and there was little interaction until question time at the end. "At our TOPCROP meetings, we start off by reviewing what worked well or didn't work in the previous season and encourage more give and take," she says. "It's not about us being the experts -- we learn from each other." In July, extension activities moved to the more familiar ground of field days and diagnostic schools run by the provincial government, where seated observers sometimes toured the trial plots from the back of a trailer. The schools were usually reserved for agronomists. "Over here, our diagnostic schools are set up for farmers and agronomists," she says. " I see no reason why they shouldn't be open to growers." Government extension services were generally provided on a one-to-one basis, with extension agronomists responding to calls from individual growers, rather than meeting grower groups. While Saskatchewan and Manitoba each had 30 extension agronomists, in Alberta extension agronomists had been cut back and growers received advice via a call centre, she says. Ms Thompson gained a renewed appreciation of the effectiveness of the Australian approach. "It really opened my eyes to how effective our groups are in getting information out," she says. "We are doing good things back here." Her interest was aroused in seeing an Australian equivalent of the CCA. Since its introduction in 1997 from the United States to Canada, the CCA, which sets mandatory exams for agronomists and requires ongoing training, has greatly improved the quality of advice provided to growers, she says: "It is a really impressive program." Ms Thompson's networks now stretch right around the globe: "I have a book full of cards of the people I've met. A few were interested in coming here and since I've returned, I've talked to people who would like to visit Canada to learn more about how they work. It might encourage people to go." Page 15: special report on grower groups Oilseed program boosted by grower shares Liz Jackson: overseeing commercialisation.
Ground Cover 048 February-March 2004 - North