The best soft wheat in WA .. But farmers can't grow it

30 Nov, 2005 08:45 PM

AGRICULTURE Minister Kim Chance has been urged to lift restrictions on soft wheat variety EGA 2248, purportedly the best-yielding soft wheat crop available in WA.

The variety, which has been grown under strict production conditions for the past two years, got off to a slow start when its expected release in 2001 was cancelled because it failed to meet minimum leaf rust resistance standards.

But it did have adequate levels of stripe and stem rust resistance, and after tests by the Agriculture Department in 2002 and 2003, the variety was conditionally released for the 2004 season.

Gnowangerup farmer Philip Patterson is one of the many who are frustrated at the conditions imposed upon EGA 2248, which he said was the best yielding soft wheat available in WA, and less prone to leaf rust than other unrestricted varieties.

"There is all this unnecessary red tape to grow the variety," he said.

Mr Patterson said the conditions, such as pre-seeding spraying and restrictions on how much could be grown, should be dropped.

He said the $100 paddock inspection fee should also be scrapped and the $4/t end point royalty (EPR) should be brought back to $2/t in line with other varieties.

Mr Patterson said EGA 2248 was his highest yielding wheat crop last year.

"If it was 14pc higher than Datatine and 8pc higher yielding than Harrismith, then I could not afford not to grow it," Mr Patterson said.

"Growers have to make some important decisions (on seed for next year) in the next few weeks and I am asking for the minister to step in and remove the red tape."

According to the Agriculture Department, EGA 2248 is high-yielding, non-club soft wheat superior to all other soft wheat in grain size, pre-harvest sprouting resistance, susceptibility to staining and flour yield.

The variety is only available on a yearly licence arrangement through the Agriculture Department.

Mr Patterson said WA soft wheat growers fought to have EGA 2248 released because it could help revive the state's ailing soft wheat industry, which had been on its knees due to high screenings and spouting problems.

The variety's performance has been backed by WA crop expert Ralph Burnett, who said recent trials showed 2248 had 15-20pc higher yields than Wyalkatchem.

"In most commercial plantings it was ahead of other varieties," Mr Burnett said.

He said a prudent farmer would usually spray a soft wheat crop with a fungicide to control septoria, yellow leaf spot or powdery mildew, which also provided protection against rust.

"The contracted growing of EGA 2248 has probably already served its purpose in ensuring it did not lead to a rust epidemic, and it is time to free up the market and give farmers credit for having some common sense," he said.

He said EGA 2248 should be free to trade so farmers could retain seed for the 2005 season and have a comparable EPR to other varieties.

He also wanted contracts ended after this year and a comprehensive Farmnote prepared on the variety.

Mr Burnett said an appropriate time to announce the changes would be at Crop Updates in 2006.

He said Bullaring, bred as a replacement for EGA 2248, had better leaf rust resistance and marginally better stripe rust tolerance but was inferior in many other respects, including yield.

He said that in respect to total rust scores, EGA 2248 was better than four popular varieties which comprised 18pc of the state's wheat area of 2003.

He said fungIcide prices had fallen and their contribution to agronomy was also better understood by farmers aware of how important it was to protect crops before the disease gained a foothold.

Mr Burnett said EGA 2248 would revive WA's soft wheat industry if given the chance.

"Until superior varieties are bred, there is every reason for farmers to continue growing 2248," he said.

Mr Chance said the Agriculture Department would undertake a review of the EGA 2248 rust management requirements in early 2006.

"This review will involve the Soft Wheat Growers Association and the other owners of the variety and the outcome will be announced prior to the start of the 2006 growing season," Mr Chance said.



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