Farm tech saves harvest

February 12, 2016

Advances in farming technology are being credited for an average grain harvest in South Australia despite a devastating fire.

Farm tech saves harvest

The state produced 7.2 million tonnes of grain in 2015–16, slightly down on the 7.6 million tonnes harvested in 2014–15. Although it was the seventh consecutive year the state was above its 10-year average, the result was well below the five-year average of 8.2 million tonnes.

Wheat again led the way with 4.3 million tonnes while barley contributed 1.9 million tonnes.

Grain Producers SA CEO Darren Arney says it was a rollercoaster season courtesy of a slow start followed by a cold, wet winter and a very hot, dry spring.

“In the end it was quite incredible that we actually had the harvest that we did,” he says.

“The crops had the potential to yield another 15–20% if we’d had a normal spring so it could have been 8–9 million tonnes of grain.”

Arney says a fall in world grain prices generally had been offset by a falling Australian dollar.

He says varietal advances resulting in better strains of wheat and barley, more efficient matching of fertilisers and the strategic use of herbicides were among advances helping to achieve productivity gains.

“A similar rainfall year was probably 2007 where we produced 5.5–6 million tonnes so we’ve picked up 20–25% because of advancements in research and development and advancements in cropping systems,” says Arney.

The Upper South East and Western Eyre Peninsula regions recorded below average harvests while the Eastern Eyre Peninsula and Mid North regions experienced relatively good seasons, helping them to produce about a million tonnes each.

Extreme weather conditions in late November resulted in a fire in the Pinery area, which spread rapidly and burnt approximately 85,000 ha.

About 22,500 ha of unharvested crops were burnt with estimated crop losses of 60,000 tonnes of grain, 33,000 tonnes of hay and 50,000 tonnes of straw. The fire also destroyed 18,000 sheep and 87 cattle.

Agriculture Minister Leon Bignell says the farm gate value of the crop was estimated at $1.8 billion and the export value was estimated at $2.2 billion.

“Despite the challenging season, South Australia’s grain sector continues to be a powerhouse industry generating more than $4.6 billion in revenue in 2014–15, with approximately 85% exported around the world,” he says.

Primary Industries and Resources South Australia Grains Industry Account Manager Dave Lewis says overall the yields were highly variable.

“Wheat crops were generally more affected by the hot, dry finish with significant tonnages downgraded,” he says.

The future of grain research in South Australia has been secured through a joint $50 million investment by the State Government and the Grains Research and Development Corporation (GRDC).

Bignell says the five year deal included $25 million from GRDC and $25 million in-kind support from the State Government’s South Australian Research and Development Institute (SARDI).

“SARDI is the nation’s leading research provider in farming systems for low to medium rainfall areas, crop protection and improvement as well as projects such as the National Oat Breeding Program,” he says.

“SARDI will commit staff, equipment and resources to the value of $25 million and the GRDC will match the State Government’s investment with a cash investment.”

In other South Australian agriculture news, the State Government has welcomed the Federal Government’s decision to relocate offices of the GRDC and Fisheries Research and Development Corporation to Adelaide.

The latest results from the State Government’s soil improvement project have confirmed sandy soils can be greatly improved, resulting in increased grain yields.

Bignell says the New Horizons Project had shown vastly improved crop production at three trial sites through managing the top 50 cm of soil, rather than the traditional top 10 cm.

– Andrew Spence

This article was first published by The Lead on 10 February 2016. Read the original article here.

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