Ideas germinate from global ag tour

Ideas germinate from global ag tour

Agribusiness
Third generation Bencubbin farmer Nick Gillett was awarded a 2014 Nuffield Scholarship, and plans to research ways of improving crop germination and yield in a drying climate.

Third generation Bencubbin farmer Nick Gillett was awarded a 2014 Nuffield Scholarship, and plans to research ways of improving crop germination and yield in a drying climate.

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FARMING in the marginal north eastern Wheatbelt requires specific skills and expertise, as well as adaptability and a willingness to innovate. Bencubbin farmer and Nuffield Scholar Nick Gillett has all these things and a limitless enthusiasm for agriculture.

Aa

FARMING in the marginal north eastern Wheatbelt requires specific skills and expertise, as well as adaptability and a willingness to innovate.

Bencubbin farmer and Nuffield Scholar Nick Gillett has all these things and a limitless enthusiasm for agriculture.

Nick was awarded a 2014 Nuffield Scholarship, and plans to research ways of improving crop germination and yield in a drying climate.

"That is pretty much code for farming in Bencubbin," Nick said.

After attending the Nuffield Contemporary Scholars Conference on the east coast earlier this year, Nick embarked on the organisation's Global Focus Program and visited New Zealand, Brazil, California, Washington DC, Mexico and the UK.

He said the program aimed to get growers out of their own backyard and looking at agriculture on a global scale so they could think outside the square.

Inspired by the changing eastern Wheatbelt environment, Nick hopes to deliver tangible benefits that will allow grain growers to continue farming successfully in the region into the future.

"Last year we were staring down the barrel of a really shocking season," he said.

"But there was big variation in germination across paddock, not from end to end, but from metre to metre.

"Some of those crops ended up performing really well where they germinated early, so it once again proved the importance of a timely germination on subsoil moisture.

"Even if we have a poor season we can still improve our management to grow wheat."

Through his Nuffield research trip, Nick plans to visit China, India, the Middle East, US, Canada and eastern Australia.

There he will research key areas that aim to improve germination and yield including seeding machinery, moisture measurement, plant breeding, soil additives and seed priming.

Following a dream start to the 2014/15 growing season, a lack of moisture in recent weeks has affected germination in the region, a testament to the relevance of the issue.

"We've had our best start ever, that late April, front end of May rainfall was just fantastic, you can't ask for any more than that," he said.

"But we had limited summer moisture, a lot of warm dry weeks and the moisture has moved pretty quickly.

"It will be interesting to see how much of our crop actually comes up.

"I am pretty nervous, we have had a good start but we haven't had any good rain since May.

"We have some crop that is looking really good and moving along really quickly, maybe even a little bit too quickly for how much is underneath it.

"We only just finished seeding last week so we probably had 20-30 per cent of the program that isn't going to germinate properly because it didn't get enough moisture."

This year Nick put in a cropping program comprised of 5000ha wheat, 2000ha barley and 400ha canola, and despite the lack of moisture Nick is positive about the season.

"In the past we have had seasons that looked absolutely dire and they have turned out to be our best seasons ever," he said.

"Then we have seasons that have looked the best early and they have tapered off so you can't judge a season until it is done.

"You have to have some cards on the table, you have to have some exposure to have a chance at all.

"But you really can't judge a season until September."

Despite the challenges of farming in the region, Nick sees even more opportunities for agriculture in WA.

"I think our low land costs, low inputs and our ability to have scale to minimise some of the costs are all advantages," he said.

"After my travels through Brazil and the UK, where they are growing big crops at high costs, I was more than happy to get home.

"We just have to try and find some innovation that can reduce our risk, whether drought tolerance or improving germination or whatever it is, I think that is a key area.

"You'll never grow wheat on nothing but you can still grow good wheat crops on minimal rainfall.

"Cropping out here has a great future going forward."

He said external investment into agriculture would give land values buoyancy and boost demand, and a growing population and slowing mining boom would allow agriculture to thrive.

"The mining boom won't go on forever and eventually I think it might cycle back to what established the country in the first place, which was agriculture," he said.

"Nothing will be what it was, there will always be transition and change, we just have to keep innovating to stay alive.

"What we did five or 10 years ago is just not going to work, we just have to keep improving."

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