International comparison of average input costs per tonne confirms that Australian growers have relatively high costs of production.
A wide range of opportunities exist that can lead to incremental and transformational reductions in input costs while optimising productivity. The challenge is to identify and prioritise the incremental opportunities to match costs with production at a regional scale while also identifying transformational opportunities on a national scale.
Key investments 2019–20
Examples of investments in 2019–20 that met this objective include:
Hydrogen to ammonia research and development project
The hydrogen to ammonia project, undertaken in collaboration with CSIRO, Orica and the Australian Renewable Energy Agency (ARENA), explores new technology to produce nitrogen fertiliser on-farm using renewable energy. The major objective of the discovery project is to develop technology for ammonia production at distributed scale with the only inputs being water, air and electricity from renewable sources of energy such as solar PV/wind generators.
In 2019–20 this project is developing a membrane-based process that allows ammonia synthesis at much lower pressures (10–30 bar) compared to over 150 bar that is required for the conventional Haber-Bosch process. Establishment of ammonia synthesis facilities, catalyst development and reactor design is well underway. Technology has been developed to achieve hydrogen to ammonia conversion rate (> 10.0 per cent) and ammonia content in the product stream (> 11.0 per cent) approaching those in the conventional Haber-Bosch process.
Low weed seed bank persistence under sustained integrated weed management
With Statistics for the Australian Grains Industry (SAGI) analysis of annual ryegrass, brome grass, wild oat and wild radish flowering time, seed dormancy and plant structure was conducted from in-crop collected populations and compared to unmanaged control populations. Results showed that the evolution of resistance is not only confined to herbicide use. Furthermore, the study highlights that weeds have evolved lifecycle adaptations to evade the effects of herbicidal and non-herbicidal weed control strategies. For growers to maintain the effectiveness of both herbicidal and non-herbicidal weed management techniques, new thinking on the application of control tactics is required.
Australian Herbicide Resistance Initiative
This investment supported the development of the ‘Weed Chipper’, a targeted tillage system developed for site-specific fallow weed control. It is based on a rapid response tine that selectively target weeds in a fallow setting. It was successfully developed to a point that allowed a commercialisation partner to deliver it to the market.
Centre for Crop and Disease Management—cereals research
In 2019–20, the Centre for Crop and Disease Management (CCDM) released mlo-11(cnv2), a durable powdery mildew resistance gene, to Australian barley breeders. The gene is a novel naturally occurring variant of Mildew Locus 0 (mlo), which has few of the side effects of previous mlo alleles used by breeders. In addition, the CCDM identified a new class of powdery mildew resistance genes that are active in adult leaves and appear to be broad-spectrum and durable. These genes represent the only non mlo-based broad-spectrum resistance to barley powdery mildew.
Integrated disease management strategies for southern region cereal and pulse grow
During 2019, nine field experiments were conducted in western Victoria to evaluate yield loss and management of priority diseases of pulse crops. The experiments showed that yield losses of up to 70.0 per cent could be reduced to 3.0 per cent with a combination of variety selection and timely fungicide application.
Likewise, another seven field experiments investigated yield loss and management of foliar diseases in wheat (yellow leaf spot and Septoria triticiblotch), barley (net form of net blotch) and oat (red leather leaf). These field trials demonstrated yield losses of 16.0 to 46.0 per cent due to Septoria tritici blotch, 13.0 to 16.0 per cent due to red leather leaf and 18.0 per cent due to net form of net blotch when infected stubble was applied. Susceptible cultivars were grown without fungicide protection.
The corporation extended the results of these trials and information to growers and their advisers through articles in GroundCover, fact sheets, the annual Cereal Disease Guide, the Pulse Disease Guide and multiple presentations at GRDC Updates, meetings and field days.
Towards effective control of blackleg of canola program 1–disease epidemiology and management
This is an ongoing project, focused on disease epidemiology, genetic resistance, fungicide control and cultural practices used to minimise the effect of blackleg. During 2019–20, 32 blackleg monitoring sites were established nationally to determine the regional disease severity of different blackleg resistance groups. Data was collected on blackleg severity for eight different blackleg resistance groups, severity of upper canopy infection, control of disease using fungicides and impact of disease on yield.
Molecular markers for eight avirulence genes (genes involved in disease) were used to determine the frequency of isolates virulent towards specific resistance genes in ten different regions across Australia. Data from field and lab-based monitoring was used to provide in-season advice as well as recommendations to growers for cultivar selection in 2020.
The Blackleg Management Guide and BlacklegCM app were updated to include all current advice for minimising blackleg. New fungicide selections were added to the app as well as warnings about potential evolution of fungicide resistance. The BlacklegCM app provides growers with information on practices that may be affecting disease pressure and therefore identifying potential yield gaps. This has supported a reduction in growers’ input cost and increased canola production by at least 2.0 per cent.
Disease epidemiology and management tools for Australian grain growers
Blackspot Manager was used to generate blackspot risk forecasts for Australian field pea growers and was delivered by SMS, direct email and web during 2019. During forecasts for this period, weekly forecasts were generated by the Blackspot Manager for 28 locations in Western Australia, 32 locations in South Australia, 16 locations in Victoria and five locations in NSW. These forecasts are provided to advisors, agronomists and growers to assist with making decisions relating to the time of sowing of their field pea.
The BlacklegCM app has been popular with growers since it was released in 2018 to effectively manage blackleg on canola. This was demonstrated in the 2019–20 growing season when at least 1,338 user sessions were completed.
Two decision-support tools (apps), StripeRustWM and PowderyMildewMBM were developed and launched in 2019–20. These tools have been delivered to growers and advisers to help them make informed and economically feasible decisions on the managing wheat stripe rust and mung bean powdery mildew.