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Spotlight on CQ Cropping Research

27 September 2011

AUSTRALIA - Central Queensland was the centre of attention for some of Australia's key cropping research, development and extension funding decision-makers earlier this month.

The Grains Research and Development Corporation (GRDC) northern panel met with growers, researchers and advisers at sites across CQ including Biloela, Emerald, Capella, Springsure and Kilcummin.

GRDC-supported CQ cropping research has recently been reviewed and revamped in line with grower priorities in a production environment characterised by summer-dominant, extremely variable and often marginal rainfall.

James Clark, GRDC northern panel chair said the annual spring tour took on special significance this year with inspection of new trial sites and the launch of a new CQ-specific desi chickpea variety, Pistol.

“This is a positive time for the CQ cropping community because growers are now driving research priorities which clearly focus on addressing one- to three-year production issues,” Mr Clark said.

Peter Keys, DEEDI shows growers and the GRDC northern panel through GRDC-supported National Variety Trials (NVT) near Biloela.

He said the availability of water was the most significant factor affecting crop yields and quality in CQ.

“Fertility rundown, soil loss through water erosion resulting from high intensity summer rainfall events and the need to maintain surface cover are among the major drivers of farm practices,” Mr Clark said.

“In response to the complex, flexible and risky CQ production environment, grain growers have developed a highly opportunistic production system that is based on maximising the use of rainfall.

“While opportunistic zero-till cropping and the advent of new technology, novel practices, better varieties and other system improvements have enable growers to produce more grain per millimetre of rainfall today as compared to 20 years ago, the problems generated by the status quo have also become more apparent."

Issues discussed during the tour included weed management, including the problematic weed feathertop Rhodes grass which has proliferated under the minimum till system.

Mr Clark says cropping over the last 30-50 years has also resulted in significant depletion of key soil nutrients nitrogen and phosphorus in many downs soils, whereas the incidence of deficiencies in others such as potassium and sulfur is expected to increase.

The panel met with local growers and advisers at sites throughout the tour and visited on-farm with growers including Darren Jensen, Col Dunne, Ken Sullivan, Ivan Gowlett and Dave Daniels. The panel also toured Emerald Agricultural College, Biloela Research Station and Goonoo Feedlot.

CQ adviser Graham Spackman, Spackman Iker Ag Consulting works with the newly-formed GRDC-funded grower solutions group.

He says having the GRDC northern panel and managing director John Harvey on the ground in the region to talk to growers about production issues and the future direction of research was highly valuable.

“There are two main issues at the forefront of growers’ minds – one is our grass weed problem, particularly feathertop Rhodes grass and sweet summer grass; the other is soil fertility issues such as phosphorus, potassium and sulphur,” Mr Spackman said.

“Some of these nutritional problems are emerging problems that we will have to grapple with.”

He says some crops are on a knife-edge in CQ after a dry winter but the outlook is still positive as harvest approaches.

“We’ve had a fairly dry winter but fortunately we went into the autumn and winter with very good profiles so a lot of our winter crops are looking quite good, particularly the early ones.

“The later crops and double cropped wheat and chickpeas are not so good but provided we get good conditions for harvest we’ll harvest some really good crops.”

Stripe rust emerged this season in CQ and has been reported from Rolleston to Biloela.

Mr Spackman says this is a concern because although stripe rust has not been a big issue in past the industry is mindful that it could increase in intensity and occurance.

“We’ll be working with growers before next season to development plans for managing stripe rust,” he said.

TheCropSite News Desk

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