Keeping Jack Frost at bay

25 Sep, 2002 10:00 PM
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As the frost season tightens its icy grip on WA, the Grains Research and Development Corporation (GRDC) has intensified efforts to equip graingrowers to counter the big chill.

Frosts cost WA $5m in lost yield in an average year and can penalize growers from susceptible regions more than $250,000 a year when they strike viciously.

Stemming from a GRDC supported review of the financial impact of frosts, which identified these costs, a range of potential and anecdotal damage minimization techniques were identified which will be investigated over the next three years.

"A bad frost could cost WA $45 million in lost yield and growers could be foregoing as much as $18 million every year by delaying seeding to avoid wheat flowering coinciding with the major frost danger time from mid-September to mid-October," Eradu grower and GRDC Western Regional Panel member Ian Blayney explained.

"But research has proved that subtle changes in air temperature at seed head height, brought about by agronomic techniques, could significantly improve wheat's survival rate in a frost and save growers some of the associated costs."

Garren Knell of Consult Ag, who, with the support of growers and the Federal Government through the GRDC, will conduct the research, indicated that seed mortality rate could swing by 100 percent over just a 1C temperature difference.

"When you get to the critical zone, you can go from harvesting a complete yield to losing every living seed over just a 1C drop at seed head height, so we need to scrape and squeeze for every centigrade of heat we can over spring nights," he said.

"Promisingly, past research suggests that wider row spacings could raise the air temperature at head height by 1-2C and so that's one of the priority areas we'll be tackling through this GRDC project."

One of the keys to Consult Ag's research will be the implementation of paddock scale trials to avoid anomalies arising from the unique thermo dynamic behaviour of small trial plots.

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