GRDC Research Update in NACC NRM Region

Growers and industry people in the Northern Agricultural Region were fortunate last month to be the first to hear the very latest in grain research at a Grains Research and Development Corporation (GRDC) research update in Northampton.

Hosted by the Northern Agri Group, in partnership with the Grain Industry Association of Western Australia, the event attracted a great turnout of participants from across the region and a fantastic line-up of speakers who covered a wide range of timely and relevant topics.

These presentations included a talk by Peter Roberts of GRDC-West on future direction of GRDC; and various presentations on strategies to deal with soil constraints, crop varieties, crop nutrients, weeds, frost, pests and diseases.

Other highlights included a great presentation by Dr Greg Rebetzke of CSIRO who talked about how to handle heat stress at both ends of the season.

“Climate change models are revealing increasingly warmer air temperatures and increased likelihood of wetter summers to affect the sowing WA winter crops,” Dr Rebetzke said. “Making better use of this subsoil moisture will require a subtle change in the genetic controls of establishment and crop development to ensure crops emerge well and flower at correct time.”

“Warmer temperatures speed-up coleoptile elongation to shorten coleoptile length and reduce plan establishment with deep-sowing. Similarly, warmer air temperatures hasten crop development to increase the risk of frost damage with early flowering. There is a need for a breeding program that can look at identifying new genetics targeting improved wheat adaptation to the Northern Wheatbelt of WA.”

Other highlights of the day included a joint presentation by Wayne Parker and Bindi Isbister from DPIRD, who talked about the value of deeper deep-ripping to the growers in the region. They also presented the 2017 results of ripping trials in the Geraldton Port Zone, and facilitated a panel discussion with three local growers who are experienced deep ripper operators to explore if deeper ripping is the way to go.

“Research has shown in recent years the compaction layer has moved deeper, and ripping below 500mm will give larger yield benefits,” Wayne said.

“However, growers’ experience is showing there are challenges to ripping deeper – including plant establishment issues, the cost of deeper ripping is nearly double standard ripping, and often a smaller width implement is required therefore less hectares are achievable.”

The day concluded with a presentation from international guest speaker Martin Abell, who is a mechnatronic researcher of United Kingdom-based farming services company Precision Decision Ltd.

Mr Abell delivered a keynote presentation on how his company has become the first in the world to successfully plant, tend, and harvest a crop entirely with autonomous vehicles and drones – and without a single person ever setting foot in the paddock.

Mr Abell said the Hand-Free Hectare (HFHa) project attracted global attention when its researchers successfully grew one hectare of spring barley in 2017 without humans entering the field.

“This trial has proven that automated agriculture is possible and shown that there are no technological reasons why automated cereal farming should not take place commercially,” he said.

Carried-out by Harper Adams University in Shropshire UK, with Precision Decisions Ltd, the HFHa researchers created the world’s first automated field growing cycle that incorporated  drilling (sowing), agronomy practices, and harvesting, and produced a barley crop that yielded 4.5 tonnes per hectare. The project team used modified conventional agricultural machines equipped with an open-source autopilot from a drone.

Mr Abell said such automated agriculture practices are in early stages of commercialisation in the UK, with major equipment manufacturers and start-ups offering these types of systems to the market. One of the objectives of the one-year project was to utilise machinery and technologies that are currently available and affordable, not bespoke and expensive.

NACC Regional Landcare Facilitator Stanley Yokwe, who attended the GRDC research update in Northampton, said the event was a great success.

“The day was filled with a lot information that was relevant to the region – including the new information by Peter Newman of the Australian Herbicide Resistance Initiative (AHRI) on chaff lining technology fitted to the harvester funnels to reduce weed seedbank during harvest,” he said.

“It was also very useful to hear from the international experts such as Martin Abell – on how advances in technology is revolutionising farming globally.”

Stanley congratulated the GRDC-West, Northern Agri group, GIWA for organising an excellent event for growers to learn how to maximise the potential of their business operation in future.

For more information of GRDC Research Update, please go to


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