BRENDON CANT brendon at iinet.net.au
Wed Dec 19 01:31:24 CET 2007

LOOKING BACK, LOOKING FORWARD 19.12.07 <?xml:namespace prefix = o ns =
"urn:schemas-microsoft-com:office:office" />


With the exception of a few areas, harvest expectations have not been met,
making 2007 a challenging year for many WA growers.


Yet grain productivity, as measured by output and yield, has increased
markedly in the previous two decades, due to a mix of better cultivars and
farming practices.


Growth in productivity has been one per cent per year for the 20th century
until 1980, but since then has been almost four per cent per year.


A GRDC-supported study by CSIRO researcher, Dr Senthold Asseng, attributes
one per cent to better cultivars and three per cent to better agronomy.


Alan Umbers, project consultant to the GRDC, has researched productivity and
sustainability of farming practices in Australian grain growing.


He indicates that there have been three major decades of accelerated growth
in crop productivity in the last century: 1900 -1910, 1950 - 1960 and 1990 -


In 1900, crop production occurred with multiple cultivations, without
fertiliser, weed control or other management practices and was generally of
low productivity.


Increases in yield from 1900 to the mid 20th century were due to
superphosphate use and cultivation-based fallowing.


According to Mr Umbers, the 1950s was when the benefits of rotating crops
with nitrogen-fixing legumes, as well as identifying useful trace elements,
led to a dramatic increase in yield.


At that time, better farm machinery became available, leading to increased
efficiency – a trend continuing to this day. Further productivity increases
were due to semi-dwarf and later disease-resistant cultivars, herbicides and
medic and lucerne-based pasture.


The last accelerated phase, beginning in the 1990s, was due to rapid growth
in number and type of herbicides, particularly grass selectives, improved
foliar and stem disease resistance in cultivars, the introduction of canola
as a profitable break crop and pulses used as break crops and for nitrogen


Other advances were development of non-selective herbicides to aid crop
establishment, better management of nitrogen use, knowledge and control
measures for root diseases and identifying and addressing various soil and
subsoil constraints.


But the major advance since that time has been adoption of minimum and now
no-tillage and stubble retention crop establishment systems, which can help
retain moisture in soils and assist with timing and accuracy of planting.


With projected climate changes, at least part of the way forward will be to
make the best possible use of limited rainfall in cropping systems and many
of today’s successes, especially the use of no-till systems, are showing the
way forward.




The Crop Doctor is GRDC Managing Director, Peter Reading, Tel 02 6166 4500

Further Information: Alan Umbers, Tel 0428 432 557

GRDC REF: CDDec072.doc/ /Blumenthal

Brendon Cant & Associates
Public Relations & Marketing 
Suite 5
4 Gugeri St
Claremont WA 6010
Tel 08 9384 1122


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