NORTHERN grainbelt growers have spoken candidly with Grains Research and Development Corporation (GRDC) western panellists and staff about what they're up against this season.
Not surprisingly, many of the issues discussed were also raised during the GRDC western panel spring tours last year, highlighting the ongoing struggles growers face and scarce options available in the short-term.
According to GRDC western panel deputy chairman Dr Mike Ewing, trying to minimise risk during a below average season, was a key concern expressed by many growers.
Dr Ewing said producers in northern and eastern areas of the Geraldton port zone were once again challenged by dry conditions.
"Many discussions with growers centred around understanding what tools are available to reduce risk, and what research and development could help them combat variable seasons," he said.
A number of growers emphasised the need to be able to maintain diversity in their farming systems by having access to profitable break crop options or through mixed farming systems.
"Many growers in lower rainfall areas want low risk production systems developed for canola, and in sandplain farming areas there was discussion about the ongoing role and economics of lupins."
He said lupins had dropped off in profitability after yields failed to meet expectations and as a result its use as a break crop had been steadily declining.
"In better rainfall areas canola was the ideal break crop but in drier areas it only really becomes profitable in above average years," he said.
"There's not a lot of profit in those drier areas so growers want more choices."
Getting better performance from crops in a hostile environment on acid or compacted soils was another key issue brought up in discussions with growers, according to Dr Ewing.
"There is a growing recognition of the significance of acidity and liming, and growers want more attention directed towards this area," he said.
"One question to be answered is what pH level is realistic to aim for?"
Dr Ewing said that when times were tough financially and more lime was needed, growers faced a tough decision.
"It's important to apply lime at high enough rates but life is pretty tricky when you can't afford it," he said.
"There is an obvious need for more improvements in this area."
According to Dr Ewing, development of a low risk production system for canola was something GRDC continued to take very seriously.
"We're looking at a number of elements, it's really about getting the right mix," he said.
"We need to find the best agronomic practices to get the optimal seeding rate, fertiliser inputs and the hope is that over time we'll get better varieties that we can match those to."
Dr Ewing said weed management continued to shape northern farming systems.
"Some developing issues include weed management where there is an increased chemical fallow in spring and summer," he said.
"There are also implications around emerging weeds of importance, including summer weeds which are becoming a bigger issue.
"There is a very strong drive towards early dry seeding and a need for low weed seed banks in order for those systems to work effectively."
East Chapman Valley grower Brady Green spoke with GRDC during its tour of the Geraldton port zone and said he got a lot out of the experience.
"It's good to have that interaction and it sounded like GRDC was addressing and working on a lot of areas that we're concerned about at the moment," Mr Green said.
According to Mr Green, subsoil constraints were one of the biggest productivity constraints he faced.
"It's good that the GRDC is out there listening and is focused on subsoil acidity and constraints," he said.
Issues raised by growers during the annual GRDC western panel spring tours are included in the GRDC's investment priority process, along with priorities raised by other sources including Regional Cropping Solutions Networks, consultants, agronomists and research organisations.
Dr Ewing said the discussions were essential to ensure that research was relevant to growers locally and that project outcomes were adopted on-farm.