THE first of a series of field trials have been planted across the agricultural region to evaluate early sowing opportunities for canola and lupins - six weeks before the traditional Anzac Day start.
The two-year trial program is contributing to one of the recently announced new projects that have co-investment from the Department of Primary Industries and Regional Development (DPIRD) and the GRDC.
The project aims to boost the profitability of canola and lupins grown by expanding the sowing window and capturing very early sowing opportunities, increasing the area sown to these crops from their current combined level of about 15 per cent.
DPIRD project leader Martin Harries said there was increasing interest in very early sowing opportunities to take advantage of rainfall in March and early April.
"Canola and lupins are break crops that have the potential to be a profitable addition to WA crop rotations, assisting growers to reduce financial risk and incorporate diversity into their cropping programs," Mr Harries said.
"This project aims to provide growers with the most appropriate varieties and best bet agronomy to pursue early sowing opportunities with confidence of achieving a suitable yield and profit."
The first trial plots were sown the week of March 19 at Mullewa, Wongan Hills, Dale (Beverley) and Esperance on soils suited to canola and lupins.
The trials will test eight commercially released canola and lupin varieties each, over five sowing dates, replicated three times.
Irrigation will be used to simulate years with significant summer rainfall, in which opportunities are created for very early sowing.
The plots will be sown into wet soil, prepared using DPIRD's mobile irrigators, to stimulate germination to enable plant growth and development to be tracked.
Mr Harries said yield risk profiles across a wide range of sowing dates, plant types and environments would be developed as part of the project.
"We will assess the main drivers of plant development which include temperature, vernalisation (cold temperatures triggering flowering) and photoperiod (the length of time plants receive light) at each of the trial sites to identify the most suitable varieties for each situation," he said.
"For canola, we will test a wide set of currently available varieties, including those with and without vernalisation requirements, to see if the longer season types make better use of the season length when sown very early.
"For lupins, we will include new varieties and older varieties that have vernalisation requirements, as they may have greater stability in their flowering time."
A key focus of the research for both the canola and lupins trials is to define the agronomy required to enable better plant water-use efficiency to improve yield and profitability, and reduce risk.
"This project will draw on previous research by the department in an effort to expand the sowing window for canola and lupins," Mr Harries said.
"It will also contribute to the longer term goal to identify canola and lupin varieties suited to early sowing, which could be used by plant breeders to develop new, more profitable varieties for WA growers."
DPIRD will host field walks at the trial sites during the growing season.