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Incorporating research and development news from:

Department of Agriculture and Food

Spring 2013


Agriculture in Action

In this issue

DAFWA seizes the opportunity

Worm resistant sheep boost bottom line

Asia leads WA ag exports rise


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Spring 2013


Department of Agriculture and Food, WA Main office: 3 Baron-Hay Court, South Perth WA 6151 Mailing address: Locked Bag 4, Bentley Delivery Centre WA 6983 P. (08) 9368 3333 F: (08) 9474 2405 E. W.

What is AG in Focus WA

Grower Group Contacts


Corrigin Farm Improvement Group Anita Stone Secretary PO Box 2, Corrigin WA 6375 E. W. Evergreen Farming Erin Gorter Executive Officer PO Box 231, Kojonup WA 6395 P. (08) 9833 7524 W. Facey Group Felicity Astbury Executive Officer PO Box 129, Wickepin WA 6370 P. (08) 9888 1223 F. (08) 9888 1295 W. Fitzgerald Biosphere Group PO Box 49, Jerramungup WA 6337 P. (08) 9835 1127 F. (08) 9835 1329 W. Liebe Group Chris O’Callaghan Executive Officer PO Box 340, Dalwallinu WA 6609 P. (08) 9661 0570 F. (08) 9661 0575 W. Mingenew-Irwin Group Jane Bradley Executive Officer PO Box 6, Mingenew WA 6522 P. (08) 9928 1645 F. (08) 9928 1540 W.

North East Farming Futures Chris Wheatcroft Executive Officer PO Box 478, Geraldton WA 6531

AG in Focus WA is a partnership publication between Kondinin Group and WA’s leading agricultural research bodies and industry experts. A unique publication, AG in Focus WA delivers the latest research and innovations that are of most relevance to agriculture, with the aim of helping you improve the productivity, profitability and sustainability of your farming operation.

Seizing the opportunity


Biosecurity a priority


Centenary of commitment


Trials seek answer to age old question


Worm-resistant sheep boost bottom line


P. (08) 9838 1018 F. (08) 9838 1635

Making stomach worms count


SEPWA Niki Curtis Executive Officer PO Box 365, Esperance WA 6450

Sheep Centre to boost industry future


Asia tucking into WA ag exports


Investments target sustainable landuse


P. (08) 9971 1471 F. (08) 9971 1284 W. Ravensthorpe Agricultural Initiative Network Rodger Walker Project Officer PO Box 292, Ravensthorpe WA 6346

P. (08) 9083 1125 W. Southern DIRT Erin Gorter Executive Officer M. 0429 833 752 E. WA No Tillage Farmers Association David Minkey Executive Officer MO82, UWA, 35 Stirling Highway, Crawley WA 6009 P. (08) 6488 1647 W. West Midlands Group Anne Wilkins Executive Officer PO Box 100, Dandaragan WA 6507 P. (08) 9651 4008 F. (08) 9651 4107 W.



More efficient irrigartion is key to more dollars 13 Understanding protien key to increasing export graing value


Yield and seasonal forecasts


Don’t get wild about radish – get nasty


Resistant RLEM means growers should test their control programs


Nematodes – the nemesis of the WA grain growers


Incorporating research and development news from:

Department of Agriculture and Food

22 Spring 2013

Safe is always better than sorry


Agriculture in Action


Our cover: The latest in crop research was profiled at DAFWA’s Merredin Research Station centenary field day. For details see pages 6-7. Photo: DAFWA

In this issue

DAFWA seizes the opportunity

Worm resistant sheep boost bottom line

Asia leads WA ag exports rise

AG in Focus WA is published by Kondinin Group Mailing address: PO Box 78, Leederville WA 6902 P. (08) 6316 1355 F: (08) 6263 9177 E. W.

DISCLAIMER: This publication is for information purposes only. The publisher and its agents or employees shall not be liable for any loss or damage suffered by any person as a result of reliance on any of the contents hereof, whether such loss or damage arises from the negligence or misrepresentation or any act or omission of the publisher or its agents.The opinions expressed in AG in FOCUS are not necessarily those of Kondinin Information Services. © Kondinin Information Services 2011. All material appearing in AG in FOCUS is the subject of copyright owned by Kondinin Group and is protected under the Australian Copyright Act (1968), international copyright and trademark law. No portion may be reproduced or duplicated by any process without the prior written permission of Kondinin Group.


Spring 2013


Department of Agriculture and Food

Action: Investment

Seizing the opportunity Director General Rob Delane talks to growers at DAFWA’s Merredin Research Station centenary field day.

WA’s agriculture sector has received a welcome multi-million dollar boost from the State Government in a bid to help capture business opportunities flowing from a rapid rise in global food demand.

At a glance:

The State Government has directed $297.5 million of Royalties for Regions funding to the Seizing the Opportunity initiative, to help the agriculture and food sector capture a share of unprecedented world demand for food.

The Department of Agriculture and Food will share responsibility for delivering these funded programs, in addition to its annual budget of $221 million.

The department is working with industry partners in each sector and on the major supply chain, targetting opportunities to secure a profitable and sustainable future for the sector.

The Department of Agriculture and Food is developing innovative strategies and exciting new projects to apply funding to support the success of the WA agriculture and food sector. A total of $297.5 million has been allocated from Royalties for Regions to the Seizing the Opportunity initiative, announced in the State Budget. Director General Rob Delane said a ‘multi-pronged’ approach was required to help the sector fulfil its potential in attracting reliable, premium markets to improve productivity and profitability and achieve sustainable economic growth. “Western Australia already has an enviable reputation as a supplier of highquality, safe agriculture and food products, backed by a world-class biosecurity system,” Mr Delane said. “We have an outstanding opportunity to build on that reputation and invest in areas 4


Adapting to seasonal variability The 2013 season will be one to remember for its variable crop performance throughout the agricultural region. While widespread rain has turned around the season in many areas, the Department of Agriculture and Food recognises the difficulty that some farm businesses face as they head into harvest. Funds from the WA government’s $7.8 million State Assistance Package, announced in April, have been distributed to businesses and communities. The department is also set to work with the new Australian government on the proposal to establish a concessional loans throughout supply chains that will generate benefits for our customers, products and supply chain businesses.” The work will complement several Royalties for Regions initiatives already underway, including: foundation work to expand the Ord River Irrigation Area and the Cockatoo Sands development in the Kimberley; the Gascoyne Food Bowl; and identifying land and water resources for irrigated agriculture in the West Midlands. It will also align with other State Government initiatives in training and workplace development, providing a better environment to attract capital investment, aid infrastructure development, achieve productivity and improve natural resource management. Mr Delane said new models and ways of doing business would have to be pursued to capture market and business opportunities. “We can’t keep doing things the way they’ve always been done and expect to sustain success in rapidly evolving production and

Spring 2013

scheme in Western Australia, as part of its Farm Finance package. In recent months, the department has hosted a Broadacre Forum and a follow-up meeting in Merredin, where industry representatives met to identify immediate and longer-term issues generated by variable seasons and pursue actions to address them. Director General Rob Delane said it was important for the industry, community and government to work together to address acute issues affecting people, as well as longer-term issues for farm businesses and the sector. “There is no ‘quick fix’ to the situation and we need to work on a range of fronts to provide immediate support to those in need, while working towards solutions to build long-term resilience in the sector,” Mr Delane said. “We are committed to supporting the success of the agriculture and food sector, which includes improving yields, livestock performance and resource risk management. “ It also involves capacity building and cultivating high-value markets.” The issues raised by the forum included legislation to provide for mandatory debt mediation, promoting a positive image of agriculture, generating a better understanding about bank requirements, encouraging greater cohesion and leadership in the community, and seeking alternatives to debt resolution. The department is working with industry to address these and other ongoing seasonal issues. market environments,” he said. “We’re operating in a highly competitive market place against many potential suppliers with the same objective. “It is important that businesses in the State’s agriculture and food sector be innovative, progressive and work together to overcome obstacles to capturing opportunities.” Mr Delane said robust partnerships would be essential for success. “We have a long history of working closely with our partners in industry on the ground, to tackle the hard issues like production and seasonal constraints,” he said. “I am extremely positive about the future of our industry and its ability to rise to the challenge before it, to adapt, change and make for a better future for businesses, families and communities.” Contact Rob Delane Director General P. 9368 3333 E.

Department of Agriculture and Food

ACTION: Biosecurity

QWA senior inspector Wayne Griffin inspects a road train at the Eucla checkpoint on the WA border.

Biosecurity a priority WA boasts one of the world’s most rigorous biosecurity systems, backed by a $30 million annual investment from the State Government.

At a glance:

The State Government invests more than $30 million in biosecurity each year to protect its $6 billion farming sector from pests and disease.

A biosecurity incursion can result in multi-million dollar production losses, trade restrictions and eradication or control costs – all impacting on livelihoods.

WA produce is highly desired by international markets due to our enviable biosecurity status, which enables cleaner production systems.

Biosecurity is a cornerstone of the Department of Agriculture and Food’s commitment to ensure the State is protected from plant and animal pests and diseases. In doing so, it also reduces operating costs for the sector and underpins trade, paving the way for market access. The system is based on an extensive monitoring and surveillance program, policy development, education and awareness, research and extension, as well as incident response. Quarantine Western Australia (QWA), operated by the department, is responsible for border biosecurity. QWA does inspections at the Canning Vale Markets, Perth Domestic Airport, seaports, rail depots, mail centres and metropolitan and regional registered premises. In 2012-13, 41,611kg of risk material was seized at the main entry points to WA. The 52 significant intercepts included coffee bean weevil, banana weevil, Queensland fruit fly, codling moth and orchid bacterial disease – all of which could have had a serious impact on a range of

Remote checkpoint protects WA

agricultural industries. Transportation throughput has increased dramatically in the past decade. Last financial year more than 120,000 vehicles, 2.7 million airline passengers and 142,826 lines of produce and seed were inspected. The department also invests in guarding against invasive species such as starlings, sparrows, camels, and Queensland and Mediterranean fruit flies. It has injected $13.82 million into wild dog control since 2010, including an upgrade and extension of the State Barrier Fence thanks to $5 million of Royalties for Regions funding, and $8.82 million directed towards materials and doggers. Invasive weed surveillance and eradication programs are another biosecurity priority, currently focused on controlling gamba grass, mimosa pigra, rubber vine, three-horned bedstraw, gorse and skeleton weed. DAFWA’s Pest and Disease Information Service is on the frontline of community engagement, and receives 800 monthly requests for identification and advice by email, letter and phone. The department works closely with industry through the GrainGuard and HortGuard programs on surveillance and to build incident response capacity. Its animal health surveillance program is also essential to detect emergency diseases early, such as avian influenza and foot-andmouth disease. Data collected from surveillance programs supports national reports to international trading partners to verify the State’s animal health status. DAFWA also works closely with private veterinarians on surveillance, while supporting the operation of the National Livestock Identification System animal traceability requirements. Staff are also trained in emergency preparedness while some are part of a rapid response team.

Snaring a pest-carrying mandarin at the remote Western Australian/South Australian road checkpoint has potentially saved the State’s horticulture sector millions of dollars. Quarantine Western Australia (QWA) senior inspector Wayne Griffin said if the fruit fly in the mandarin had escaped detection, it could have significantly reduced production, increased control costs and resulted in a multi-million dollar eradication response. “It’s definitely something we don’t need in WA,” Mr Griffin said. The detection is a typical example of the vital work at the WA/SA road checkpoint by Mr Griffin and his nine colleagues. In the past few months, they have also cut off possible incursions of Noogoora burr and Bathurst burr, which could damage the State’s grains and sheep industry. With up to 250 vehicles inspected each day around the clock, the pressure is on the team not to miss anything. Mr Griffin said most people cooperated with inspections, while commercial truck drivers made the process easier with electronic declarations and a pleasant disposition when cabs were inspected. “All suspect items that are seized are cut open so we can check there are no problems, then they are burnt,” he said. “We always hope people will get the message: no fresh fruit and vegetables – unless cooked – no honey, walnuts in the shell and no plants. Declare what you have to inspectors and they will check.”

Contact Dr Melanie Strawbridge Executive Director, Agricultural Resource Risk Management P. 9368 3020 E.


Spring 2013


Department of Agriculture and Food

Action: Research

Centenary of commitment The annual Merredin Research Station Field Day has been a fixture on the rural community calendar for 100 years.

At a glance:

The Merredin Research Station has made a significant contribution to the advancement of agriculture in WA over the past 100 years.

There are 25 on-station trials and another five being conducted off-station today.

In 1913, about 130 people attended the inaugural event, while this September, 140 people visited the Department of Agriculture and Food’s 881 hectare site, now called the Dryland Research Institute. Trials at the station have reflected the changes in farming systems since the Nangeenan State Farm, as it was first known, was established in 1905. Crops grown back then would have failed in a year like 2013. At the turn of the century, 25 per cent of on-farm production was typically dedicated to bio-energy production to feed the horses that drew the machinery.

Technology aids advancement The development of new and improved grain varieties that tolerate climate variability better - while delivering high yields - is crucial to sustainable production in the wheatbelt. The Department of Agriculture and Food has invested in infrastructure at the Merredin Dryland Research Institute to encourage research in this area by the public and private sectors. In 2011, the State Government and the Grains Research and Development Corporation invested $3.7 million over four 6


Today, the department is a leader in adopting and testing precision agriculture technology, with tractors guided by global positioning systems that enable the operator to precision-seed and monitor variable-rate fertiliser and herbicide applications. In the early 20th century, eastern wheatbelt farms were based on a wheat/ fallow system, using multiple cultivations to control weeds and disease. By the 1970s and through to the 1990s, the department pioneered research into minimum tillage cultivation, which has become widespread, helped by herbicides and pesticides introduced since the 1950s. The department has invested extensively in weed and disease research over time, particularly on pre-emergent herbicides for annual ryegrass, post-emergent broad leaf weed control, spray drift, herbicide resistance and plant diseases. In the 1950s, sheep numbers increased in the wheatbelt. This saw the department lead research into pasture ley farming based around sub-clover, while the use of annual medics was pioneered for hard-setting red loam soils in the 1970s and 80s. years to establish the Managed Environment Facility (MEF) at the research station site. The MEF-Merredin provides rain shelters and irrigation systems to control the environment to help researchers identify pre-breeding traits, including drought and heat tolerance, in wheat. The research will provide a genetic base to stabilise yields in drying climates, as well as maximise yields in good seasons. The department is working on eight trials, including collaborations with the CSIRO, Murdoch University, NSW Department of Primary Industries, the University of Sydney, Durum Wheat Improvement Program, University of Tasmania,

Spring 2013

The Merredin site has long been home to grain crop variety trials, including barley, lupins and other pulses, and still hosts National Wheat Variety Trials. The site also included the pioneering work on the new medic pastures. While crop yields have doubled over the century, some things have not changed – like the recommended May sowing time. Long-term trials continue to improve production, including more than 20 years of data on lime and gypsum applications, and the role of break crops. Today’s research is more refined and integrated, including economic and climate variables, with links to widespread on-farm trials. The Department of Agriculture and Food continues to tackle industry challenges head-on to ensure investments are targeted to support the success of the industry for generations to come. Contact: Dr Mark Sweetingham Executive Director, Grains Industry P. 9368 3298 E.

InterGrain, Longreach Plant Breeding, Advantage Wheats and Australian Grain Technology. The characteristics of new genetically modified crops are also being explored at the $9 million New Genes for New Environments research facilities at Merredin and Katanning. These facilities provide onsite laboratories and field trial sites that are managed in compliance with the strict requirements of the Office of the Gene Technology Regulator. Together, these two investments provide a catalyst for research to develop more resilient, high-performance plant varieties that can improve industry profitability.

Department of Agriculture and Food

ACTION: Research

Trials seek answer to age old question

Where to invest crop inputs? The answer to the perennial question asked by grain growers every year is being pursued by research trials across the wheatbelt.

At a glance:

A five-year research project seeks to provide recommendations to growers about where best to invest in inputs for short and long-term yield responses.

Yield responses to fertiliser are constrained by widespread acidic soils in WA, which can also be affected by water repellency.

Growers can spend $15-40 per hectare on phosphorous fertiliser and up to $45 per hectare per tonne on lime treatments.

Grain growers are confronted by a dilemma every season – whether to invest in short-term gains by spending money on fertiliser, or pursuing long-term profitability by directing funds to lime. This decision is compounded by WA’s acidic soils, with 80 per cent having a lower pH than the critical level of 5.5 CaCl2 (Weaver and Wong 2011). The Department of Agriculture and Food is two years into a five-year research project – backed by the Grains Research and Development Corporation’s More Profit From Crop Nutrition project – to develop a management package to help

DAFWA research officer Dr Craig Scanlan (centre) examines his inputs assessment trial at the Merredin Research Station with colleagues Dr Peter White (left) and Gavin Sarre.

growers address this issue. Department research officer Craig Scanlan said the research sought to fill in the knowledge gap about how a change in soil pH affected the economic response to phosphorous (P) fertiliser. “We already know that yield potential is lower from acidic soils, especially where the pH is lower than 4.8 CaCl2, due to the resultant increase in aluminum concentration,” Dr Scanlan said. “Aluminum is toxic to plant roots – it results in reduced root length, effectively reducing the plant’s access to P fertiliser, which is relatively immobile in soils. “Lime is typically applied to address this constraint and so creates the dilemma, how to manage the risk versus return.” At a cost of up to $40 per hectare per tonne, liming is a relatively expensive process that can take three to five years to show any significant yield responses. To add to the complexity of the interactions, trials have shown that waterrepellent soils also reduce the availability of soil P to crops. Dr Scanlan said trials last year at the Wongan Hills Research Station compared plots with different lime and rotation histories with P applications of 0, 5, 10 and 20kg per hectare were revealing. “The lime significantly increased the access to background soil P, even when the soil P supply was above critical levels, resulting in a grain yield response of 12-25

per cent,” he said. “The trials also showed that there was a greater crop biomass response to lime and P treatments, which reduced weed biomass.” Trials are continuing this year at the Merredin and Badgingarra Research Stations, as well as the Liebe and West Midlands spring field day sites. “These trials are designed to answer the question: Can I shift money out of fertiliser and into lime and cultivation to get an immediate payback on my lime?” Dr Scanlan said. “Our early measurements show that shoot biomass in treatments where 3t/ha of lime was mixed into the soil using either a rotary spader or one-way plough were much less sensitive to cutting back fertiliser. “Another long-term trial is looking at the effect of lime and spading on the residual value of fertiliser to answer the question: Does removing my water repellence and acidity constraint improve the long term value of the nutrients I am investing in as fertiliser?” Trials results and recommendations will be presented at field days and in Crop Updates as the project progresses. Contact Dr Craig Scanlan Research Officer P. 9690 2174 E.


Spring 2013


Department of Agriculture and Food

ACTION: Livestock

Worm-resistant sheep boost bottom line Sheep producers can boost their profitability by thousands of dollars thanks to the Rylington Merino Sheep Flock research.

At a glance:

Gains of $2.50 per head can be achieved by selecting rams with low worm egg count by the first cross with an average ewe. This equates to $5000 per 2000-head flock.

This has been achieved without compromising other production traits. Instead, it improves fibre diameter by 0.5 microns and increases liveweight by 0.5kg per head.

The Rylington Flock, run by the Department of Agriculture and Food, is regarded as the nation’s most wormresistant sheep, after 25 years of selecting rams with low worm egg counts. Intestinal worms (Nematodes) cost the Australian sheep industry an annual $370 million in lost production, drenching and flystrike. Researchers have demonstrated a gain of $2.50 per head, or $5000 per average sized flock of 2000 head, by selecting for low worm egg count (WEC). Senior researcher Johan Greeff said such gains could be achieved with a first cross. “The research has demonstrated that by purchasing rams with Australian Sheep Breeding Values for a WEC of 50 and crossing it with an average ewe results in a 25 per cent gain in WEC resistance in its progeny,” Dr Greeff said. “When translated at a flock level the figure increases to 33 per cent, as the improved resistance of the more resistant sheep acts like a vacuum cleaner that protects the more susceptible animals in the flock. “This results in an improvement of the overall performance of all the animals in the flock.” 8


DAFWA research officer Dr John Kalsson

Rylington flock saves growers $ The Rylington Merino project celebrates its 25th anniversary this year, highlighting its contribution to improving sustainable worm control in the State’s sheep flock. It started when department veterinarian and geneticist John Karlsson and a group of growers got together in 1987 to breed a high performance flock with natural resistance to gastro intestinal worms (Nematodes). A total of 95 growers from Esperance to Northam contributed eight mated hoggets each, based at Rylington Park – a property bequeathed to the Shire of Boyup Brook. Back then, resistance to white and clear drenches was increasing, while the next new drench group was not yet available. With funding from the department and the then Australian Wool Corporation, a breeding program to explore natural host resistance to internal parasites was established. “By understanding the lifecycle of the worms we identified the best time to This gain also results in a cost-saving with drenching, with 10 per cent less drenching required in mature sheep and 15 per cent in young animals. Most importantly, all this has been able to be achieved without compromising other performance traits. “Another ‘freebie’ is that the sheep are 0.5kg on average heavier, because the animal’s performance is not compromised by worm and associated scouring – even when drenching is delayed,” Dr Greeff said. “The wool is also 0.5 microns finer, because worm-resistant sheep do not need to be drenched as often, which reduces fibre diameter, but with no reduction in clean fleece weight.” Flystrike is also reduced as there is less scouring, or diarrhoea, from wormresistant sheep. The financial gain to growers is actually

Spring 2013

measure for worm egg count was in the winter/spring season,” Dr Karlsson said. “So it was well worth the effort of doing monthly measurements of each animal, which kept two technical officers well and truly occupied.” In that time, the researchers were able to achieve an annual genetic gain of 2.7 per cent in reducing worm egg counts (WEC). “Scouring was also investigated and it became obvious that you need to select for low WEC, as well as low dag scores as separate traits, as individual animals have a unique scouring response,” Dr Karlsson said. In 2000, the flock was moved to the department’s Mount Barker Research Station for logistical reasons. By 2005, the mulesing debate had emerged and the Rylington flock made a significant contribution to the Australian Wool Innovation-funded breech strike flock to find indicator traits to breed for breech strike resistance. The department is continuing research on worm resistance, scouring and flystrike to improve the profitability of the State’s wool and sheep meat industries. higher than $2.50, as the figures do not take into account the cost of labour from mustering and drenching, the cost of flystrike treatments, improved management practices (ie. clean paddocks, flock segregation) and reduced risks of unseen losses. Many WA growers are reaping the benefits of worm-resistant sheep, with about 15 per cent more rams being measured for WEC in WA than in other states, according to the national Genetics Evaluation Scheme. For more information about the Rylington Flock research, visit the department’s website Contact Dr Johan Greeff Senior Research Officer P. 9368 3624 E.

Department of Agriculture and Food

ACTION: Collaboration

Making stomach worms count Case study Farmers: Deb and Richard Coole, and daughter Alex Location: ‘Glenerin’, Bokerup, 30km west of Frankland River Property size: 5300ha over six properties Enterprises: 40,000 sheep (fine wool, sheep meat lambs), oats and barley for feed, canola, 250-sow piggery, 150ha silage Flock size and composition: 11,000 mated ewes, 12,000 lambs, 17,000 dry sheep Micron average: Adults 20 micron, hoggets 18 micron Average rainfall: 650-700mm

A desire to breed more robust sheep that could ‘help themselves’ saw Bokerup producers Deb and Richard Coole become foundation members of the Rylington Merino Sheep Flock project in 1988. Now 25 years later, the Coole family is reaping the benefits of that association – and money in the bank.

Bokerup growers Richard and Deb Coole have profited by selecting sheep with a low WEC.

“We realised back in the 80s that Australia’s sheep flock was out of balance with the environment. “It was being propped up by chemicals, which we knew shouldn’t – and couldn’t – last,” Mr Coole said. “We thought that by contributing sheep to the Rylington flock we’d benefit from the knowledge of other like-minded people, as well as the Department of Agriculture and Food, the Australian Wool Corporation – as it was known then – and other tertiary organisations. “In doing so, we thought that maybe we could do something to help the sheep help themselves.” Each year the Cooles battled with the cost of a flock with high worm egg counts, such as scouring, flystrike and expensive drenching, on their high-rainfall property. Mr Coole said involvement in the Rylington project provided a different perspective on how to improve flock performance. “Before we got involved we only ever thought of profitability in terms of micron and fleece weight,” he said. “But the results the project has achieved, with some outstanding research by the many dedicated scientists working with us from the start, has been a real shift in breeding objectives and the benefits that can be achieved.” Mr Coole said the gains translated into a significant increase in profit. “I would estimate in my flock, the minimum benefit is between $1.50 and

$2.50 per sheep per year,” he said. “But I am also now able to run more sheep per hectare and because they are better animals, my returns on that basis are higher.” Selecting rams with Australian Sheep Breeding Values (ASBV) for Faecal Worm Egg Count (FEC) has become an integral part of the Cooles’ breeding program. “In our stud flock, as well as production traits associated with wool and carcass, we select for ewes with low worm egg counts and rams have to have an ASBV for FEC of -30 to -40 as a bare minimum,” Mr Coole said. “Because our commercial flock is so big, you obviously can’t select for ewes with low FWEC. “But you know through the rams that the breeding program for worm resistance is trickling down through the sheep.” Mr Coole said that at times, their breeding program had seemed to be a very slow journey. “But we know it is always going forward, and still is, and occasionally years of great progress are made,” he said. “What we have achieved from identifying more worm-resistant sheep was a natural move towards a plainer bodied, easy-care animal with a marginally finer clip and increased fertility with better production per hectare in our environment. “These days, if we get a year when our lambing rate is less than 100 per cent, we would be very disappointed.”


Spring 2013


Department of Agriculture and Food

Action: Industry development

Sheep Centre to boost industry future The establishment of a Sheep Industry Development Centre at Katanning is designed to increase the value of the WA sheep industry by 20 per cent in four years, assuring a progressive and profitable future for the industry.

At a glance:

The State Government has committed $10 million over four years to establish the Sheep Industry Development Centre at Katanning.

The program will work throughout the sheep supply chain to build industry capacity and secure a share of the growing global demand for highquality sheep meat and wool products.

Plans for the centre, which is expected to officially open next year, are already underway by the Department of Agriculture and Food. The State Government has committed $10 million to the project over four years, which will provide a one-stop-shop for information, research, training and extension in the sheep meat and wool industries. The centre will be supported by a Sheep Business Innovation Program, which will be closely aligned to the WA Sheep Industry Strategic Plan 2025+ to target opportunities and direct investments. Department livestock executive director Kevin Chennell said there was a great opportunity for Western Australian sheep producers to grow their industry to maintain existing markets and capture new ones. “There is great interest from overseas, particularly China and Saudi Arabia, in sourcing sheep meat to feed a growing population, while China continues to be our biggest wool customer,” Dr Chennell said. “But to satisfy this demand we need to grow the State’s sheep flock, which has halved in the past six years to 14.4 million head. “This needs to be supported by the 10


creation of new value chains, business models and building up the capacity of the industry to be in a position to become a preferred supplier of high-quality wool and sheep meat products.” The Development Centre will be based at the department’s Great Southern Research Institute at Katanning, using the existing 1750 head industry resource flock, which is in close proximity to the WA Meat Marketing Corporation’s processing works. The innovation program will harness and sometimes expand existing projects, while generating new ones. Dr Chennell said the department would continue to work with partners such as Meat and Livestock Australia, Australian Wool Innovation, universities, the CSIRO, Cooperative Research Centres, the processing sector and local grower groups. “While the central location of the centre is logical, it will not preclude the department from working with partners throughout the agricultural region and the nation,” Dr Chennell said. “Collaboration will be crucial, especially with growers, to optimise WA sheep enterprises as part of a whole farm business.” Dr Chennell said the Development Centre would build on its More Sheep initiative and take it to the next level. “The department and industry have made great production gains in both wool and sheep meat in recent years and the sector has become very sophisticated,” he said. “We now have an opportunity to transfer those gains to commercial opportunities and establish a strong industry for the future.” Contact Dr Kevin Chennell Executive Director, Livestock Industries P. 9368 3420 E.

Spring 2013

Beef producer David Cook (left) and DAFWA research officer Geoff Moore discuss tissue testing of perennial grasses on his Dandaragan property.

Sandplain transformation The northwest wheatbelt is being transformed by a partnership encouraging the adoption of perennial grass pastures to boost livestock and grain production on challenging soils. The Department of Agriculture and Food understands the constraints growers in the area face while pursuing sustainable agricultural production on deep, sandy soils that are marginal for cropping. Its recent Transforming the Northern Sandplain project investigated the drivers and barriers to the adoption of subtropical grass pastures, such as panic and Rhodes grasses, pasture cropping and companion legumes. All these strategies have the potential to improve grower productivity, profitability and sustainability. The partnership included the West Midlands Group, Evergreen Farming and the Mingenew-Irwin Group, with support from the Federal Government’s Caring for Country program and additional funding from the Future Farm Industries Cooperative Research Centre. A number of paddock-scale demonstration sites were established over the past two years that focused on pasture establishment and pasture cropping (over-sowing a winter crop into perennial grass pastures). Another set of trials examined the summer sowing of serradella pods to increase the legume content of grass pastures and improve winter feed quality. An extensive survey of the nutritional status of perennial grass pastures on 15 properties between Gingin and Walkaway was also undertaken. Several extension videos have been developed to help growers integrate perennial grasses into their farming system. These are available at

Department of Agriculture and Food


Asia tucking in to WA ag exports The Western Australian Department of Agriculture and Food is supporting the success of the State’s agriculture and food sector to capture a long-term share of surging demand from Asia.

At a glance:

DAFWA is supporting success in capturing market opportunities in Asia.

DAFWA’s efforts have seen it recognised as a finalist in the 2013 Premier’s Awards for Excellence in the Public Sector.

WA agriculture and food total exports increased by 18 per cent last financial year, with Asia accounting for more than 34 per cent.

TOTAL exports of agriculture and food products from Western Australia leapt 18 per cent in the 2013 financial year to $6.1 billion. China/Hong Kong, Japan, Korea and Taiwan are the biggest buyers, accounting for 34 per cent of WA’s agrifood exports valued at $2.08 billion. Indonesia has become the State’s biggest wheat customer, with an 80 per cent rise in imports on the previous year worth $547 million. DAFWA’s efforts to facilitate this trade were recognised recently, when it was chosen as a finalist in the new WA in Asia category of the prestigious Premier’s Awards for Public Sector Excellence. DAFWA trade development manager Mar Hube said it took a cross-agency approach from the laboratory to the table. “WA is well-placed to satisfy rising demand for food from the growing Asian middle class, which is expected to grow by more than 2.5 billion people by 2030,” Mr Hube said. “But it is a very competitive marketplace, so we need to be strategic and innovative

InvestWest foreign investment agribusiness head Verghese Jacob (third from left) and DAFWA senior research officer Dr Steve Gherardi (on his left) with Bencubbin farmer Rob Grylls. Examine Old Man saltbush seedlings with representatives from the Zhejiang RIFA Holding Group, China, during a fact-finding visit on opportunities in the sheep supply chain.

to capture these opportunities.” Significant investments have been made to identify and cultivate agricultural developments, such as the Ord-East Kimberley expansion project, the Gascoyne Food Bowl and the South West precinct. The department continues to work on improved productivity, with investments in the New Genes for New Environments and Managed Environment facilities, as well as development of new practices, tools and knowledge. DAFWA’s trade development program also plays a key role in providing market intelligence. It also supports importers and exporters, while providing the WA trade offices in China and Indonesia with agriculture specialists. New market opportunities are also being generated through partnerships with the Australian Export Grain Innovation Centre, including its Pilot Malting Australia venture, the Asia Fresh Strategy and the Beef Quality Supply program. The department’s AGWEST Food Security unit also has a long history of capacity building in countries such as Cambodia and Bangladesh. Mr Hube said relationships were crucial to trade with Asia. “WA has a long history of doing business with Asia and now is the time to build on that relationship,” he said. “We also have to be creative and consider new business models for the future, such as the alternatives offered by InvestWest and the dairy prefeasibility study. “As an export State, where 80 per cent of our agricultural production is sent offshore, this is the time to consolidate our efforts in Asia and build a strong future for the next generation.”

InvestWest to attract business The InvestWest Agribusiness Alliance is open for business, established in August to attract and coordinate investment in the State’s agriculture and food sector. The non-profit network includes a range of companies, peak industry bodies, government agencies and higherlearning institutions that work together to help the sector to grow and prosper. The Department of Agriculture and Food is supporting the alliance by providing a specialist, based at the Chamber of Commerce and Industry Western Australia, to cultivate interest, knowledge and relationships. Verghese Jacob has been seconded from the department’s Trade Development branch to coordinate investment opportunities. “My role is to get closer to businesses and enable them to be investment-ready for potential target investors by linking the opportunities and what is required to capitalise on them,” Mr Jacob said. “I’ll also be assisting members of the alliance and potential investors to embrace the network’s message of being ‘all together successful’ by sharing knowledge and building relationships. “The aim is to make WA an attractive investment destination and a source of safe, quality food to satisfy growing world demand.” Mr Jacob will continue to work closely with the department and with WA Trade offices in Asia. Contact Mar Hube Manager, Trade Development P. 9368 3129 E.


Spring 2013


Department of Agriculture and Food

ACTION: Natural Resource Management

Investments target sustainable land use A range of land resource management challenges has been identified by a recent report on the condition of the State’s agricultural assets to ensure a sustainable and profitable future for the agriculture and food sector.

At a glance:

The Report Card on sustainable natural resource use in agriculture summarises the condition and trend of the land resources in the State’s agricultural region.

The Department of Agriculture and Food has been working in partnership with industry, NRM groups and landholders for many years to address resource condition challenges documented by the report.

The Report Card will help the department, other state and federal government departments, industry, the community and landholders to prioritise investments in sustainable use of natural resources.

The Report Card on Sustainable Natural Resource use in agriculture, recently produced by the Department of Agriculture and Food, provides a unique insight into the key resource themes affecting the productive capacity of the region’s land resources. The document summarises 10 key indicators of land condition, based on the three primary factors that influence productive performance (see graphic). Acting agricultural resource risk management executive director Melanie Strawbridge said the situation and outlook for the agricultural region’s natural resources was mixed. “Although we have made progress in some areas, such as managing wind and water erosion, the status and trend in many indicators for our land resource is not improving,” Dr Strawbridge said. The department has a long history of working in partnership with industry, researchers and landholders in addressing many of the challenges raised by the report. “Soil acidity is a widespread problem 12


throughout the agricultural region, and the overall condition is rated as poor, with more than 70 per cent of soil samples considered more acidic than recommended,” Dr Strawbridge said. “For more than 20 years the department has been working with landholders to treat this problem through liming, backed by extensive research and monitoring. In the Midwest there are indications that soil pH is gradually improving, although half the samples remain below the target pH.” Dr Strawbridge said water repellency was another challenge that seemed to be increasing, with early and dry sown crops more affected than late sown crops. “There has been a lot of research done by the department on the use of wide furrows, claying, spading and mouldboarding techniques to treat water repellency,” she said. “The department has also undertaken extensive work on controlled traffic farming and the use of gypsum on suitable soils to stabilise soils.” Dryland salinity remains a problem, with most watertables continuing to rise in areas cleared and developed for agriculture after 1960 – despite a decline in annual rainfall. “WA has led the nation in developing and promoting plant-based and engineering options to contain or adapt to salinity, although recovering saline areas is economically viable in only a few areas,” Dr Strawbridge said. Acidification of some inland waterways is associated with dryland salinity, and this requires further investigation into the extent, trends and treatment options. One of the positive achievements in recent years has been the progress made on better managing the risks of wind and water erosion. “The widespread adoption of stubble retention and minimum tillage cultivation by WA farmers, and the use of perennial pastures, has helped to reduce soil, nutrient and carbon losses,” Dr Strawbridge said. DAFWA has also undertaken widespread

Spring 2013

The three primary factors that influence the environmental performance of the land.

soil nutrition research and monitoring, which has found that on average, pasture soils have 1.3 times more phosphorous (P) than required and cropping soils 1.6. “Over the years, the department has tailored management packages for a range of industries, backed by scientific research, to best manage P levels to generate cost savings and improved profit,” Dr Strawbridge said. “On the nutrient export side, Greener Pastures and Whole Farm Nutrient Mapping are just two projects that have sought to minimise nutrient losses while optimising production potential.” In recent years, the department has been working with the University of Western Australia to learn more about soil organic carbon and how it is changing. “WA soils are low in soil organic carbon by global standards, and it is likely to take more than a decade of monitoring to determine significant changes,” Dr Strawbridge said. These were just a few of the projects and investments made by the department to improve land resource productivity and to reduce offsite problems. “We will continue to work with land managers and other groups to find innovative ways to adapt and overcome the constraints to sustainable use of our land for productive and profitable agriculture,” Dr Strawbridge said. “The Report Card will help the department, land managers, and the public and private sectors to prioritise investments and collaborate on actions to enhance the long term condition of our valuable natural resources.” The Report Card on sustainable natural resource use in agriculture is available on the department’s website Contact Dr Melanie Strawbridge A/Executive Director, Agricultural Resource Risk Management P. 9368 3020 E.

Department of Agriculture and Food

ACTION: Irrigated agriculture

More efficient irrigation is key to more dollars Big increases in irrigation efficiency are possible, sometimes for comparatively small investment, which can generate significant cost savings and improved profitability.

At a glance:

Most WA irrigators can increase their efficiency by at least 10 per cent, often much more.

Below-optimum scheduling means crops and pastures are not producing to their potential, therefore costing money.

Opportunity exists for more irrigators in regional areas from Carnarvon to Albany to access free assessments through More Dollars Per Drop.

Water-use efficiency has become a high priority in recent years as a way to produce more marketable produce for the amount of water used. For some growers, this leads to water and power savings, while for others it may result in slightly more water used for significantly improved production. Through the Department of Agriculture and Food’s More Dollars Per Drop project, funded through the Royalties for Regions program, more than 90 properties have been assessed to evaluate their irrigation efficiency and potential for improvement against industry ranges and averages. More Dollars Per Drop links closely to the fruit, vegetable, viticulture and dairy industries, with most assessments undertaken in the South West. A small number of seed potato and carrot growers have been assessed in the Midwest and 35 horticulture properties at Carnarvon, where tight water supplies

DAFWA development officer Tilwin Westrup checks water pressure as part of an assessment to improve irrigation efficiency.

from the Gascoyne River and salinity issues are driving efficiency efforts. With three more years of the project to go, there is potential for more growers to take advantage of the assessment offer, taking the total to about 300. The free property assessment begins with an initial interview that can take a couple of hours. A follow-up visit assessing the operational efficiency of the irrigation system usually takes another three hours, then preparation of the full report and recommendations. Department development officer Tilwin Westrup, who leads this part of the project, said the results were quite variable. “From the growers surveyed so far, we found that some vegetable growers are under-irrigating in summer and others over-irrigating in winter, while orchardists often under-irrigate in spring and autumn, but over-irrigate in summer,” Mr Westrup said. “Applying excess water means that nutrients are flushed below plant roots, wasting fertiliser. “Not applying sufficient water will mean less growth or suffering quality penalties in pastures and crops.” Mr Westrup said where full assessments had been completed, potential savings of 10-50 per cent were possible. “This can be achieved through improved scheduling, system upgrades and maintenance or installing more suitable pumps,” he said. “A third of these improvements would be relatively cheap and easy for growers to apply, but the remainder require significant investment in infrastructure or practice change.

“In one case we found potential gains for a carrot grower of at least $200,000 for investment of $60,000, which would be repaid in the first year.” The vast majority of growers interviewed rated improving water use efficiency very highly but many were not using soil moisture monitoring technology to assess their progress. “This is the key to efficient scheduling – balancing run times with evaporation, the soil water-holding capacity, rooting depth and the crop growth stage,” Mr Westrup said. “And even if water supplies seem unlimited, running a system more than you need means wasted fuel and power, as well as lost fertiliser.” The department is also working in partnership with each industry to develop water-use efficiency decision support tools available via the internet. Eight demonstration sites are being established in various irrigation areas to encourage more rapid adoption of better irrigation management practices and equipment. There has been great a great response from industry to More Dollar Per Drop, with growing interest in the assessments. Satisfied customers include the Potato Marketing Corporation, which has encouraged its growers to sign up for an assessment. For more information about the More Dollars Per Drop project visit the department’s website Contact James Dee Project Manager, More Dollars For Drop P. 9780 6285 E.


Spring 2013


Understanding protein key to increasing export grain value An initiative of the Australian Export Grains Innovation Centre (AEGIC) and Murdoch University, the Grain Protein Chemistry Capacity Building program is the first program of its kind in Australia.

The Grain Protein Chemistry Capacity Building (GPCCB) program establishes a research centre and academic agenda focussing on the functional proteins of Australian export wheat for key end products. Leading the initiative is Australia’s first Professor of Grain Protein Chemistry. Under the guidance of the Professor of Grain Protein Chemistry the program will nurture the development of graduate and post-graduate students with expertise in grain protein structure, function and genetics. Research Focus Focus will be particularly on baking quality but will expand to include noodle quality, barley for malting and other grain foods with health or high value end-uses. The initiative will increase Australia’s grain-protein scientific capacity and capability and provide the vital link between research and industry.

Translating research to industry Understanding the impact of protein on the functionality of Australian grains is essential to increasing the international competitiveness of our export grains. The end-uses for grains are changing in many of Australia’s main export markets including in China, South East Asia and the Middle East. Dietary preferences are switching from rice and noodle-based diets to baked goods such as breads, sweet buns, cakes and pastas. To facilitate these products new processing techniques are being deployed. The protein content of Australian grains is one of one of the major determinants of how our grains function in these new processing techniques such. The GPCCB program will bolster our scientific capability to better understand and enhance our grains suitability for a range of processing technologies. The goal is to ensure Australia’s export grains remain the product of choice with for existing and emerging export markets.

Processing scientific capability to match changing international needs The GPCCB program’s key objective is to enhance the protein quality of our key export grains. To achieve this, the main outputs of the program will include: • Strategies for quality improvement suitable for adoption by breeders and industry, including germplasm. • Capacity building for high technology scientific applications to grains industry. • Mass spectroscopic study of grain protein, 14


defining biomarkers that can be readily used to track specific export quality attributes (functional proteins of wheat for baking and noodle production) in plant breeding. • Association of molecular markers which can contribute to breaking the nexus between grain quality and yield. • Molecular markers for determining dough formation and a strategy devised for deployment (IP protection/trade secret).

Spring 2013

Professor of Grain Protein Chemistry

Professor Wujun Ma

During August 2013 AEGIC and Murdoch University appointed Professor Wujun Ma as the acting Professor of Grain Protein Chemistry. Professor Ma holds a Masters in Science from the Chinese Academy of Agricultural Sciences and a PhD from the University of Southern Queensland. Professor Ma has held roles the University of Arizona, CSIRO Plant Industries and Department of Agriculture and Food, WA. In addition to the role of Professor of Grain Protein Chemistry Professor Ma is the codirector of Australia-China Centre for Wheat Improvement also located at Murdoch University. For more information P. 9368 3785 E. or Professor Wujun Ma, Acting Professor of Grain Protein Chemistry on P. 9360 6836 E.

Yield and seasonal forecasts The Australian Export Grains Innovation Centre (AEGIC)’s grain yield ranking maps, soil moisture maps and seasonal outlooks assist Australian grain producers, international customers, traders and all members of the export grains supply chain to make more informed business decisions.

AEGIC’s vision is to increase the international competitiveness and value of Australia’s export grains. AEGIC’s national seasonal forecasts, yield rankings and soil moisture maps are a key part of achieving this vision. These products deliver Australian grain producers with timely, accurate information on which to base their sowing, fertiliser, marketing and other farm operation decisions. For international customers of Australian grain, season, yield and soil moisture data provide indicators of production and allows for the better planning of grain sourcing decisions. Grain handlers require accurate forecasts of grain volumes to optimise their storage and transport logistics. Traders use the information for more accurate and timely estimates of projected

harvest volumes and grain quality to make better marketing decisions. Forecasting and yield predictions assist to guide transport and storage agencies in their scheduling and infrastructure investment decisions. Team of experts AEGIC’s agro-meteorological team is led by pioneer forecast modeller Dr David Stephens. Dr Stephens has more than 25 years experience in crop yield forecasting and has worked on a number of nationallevel projects calculating crop yield trends and water use efficiencies across the Australian grain belt. Dr Stephens and his team are experts in the assessment of the latest seasonal indicators, crop yield forecasts and the output of state-of-the-art ground-truthed satellite images.

National wheat yield forecasts

Key products 1. National wheat yield forecasts (below left) Review predicted wheat yields by shire for the current season and compare yields of previous years. 2. Soil moisture maps Review the amount of plant-available moisture in the top one metre of soil and compare soil moisture levels of previous years. 3. Seasonal outlook maps Review three-month seasonal outlooks generated by state-of-the-art El Niño Southern Oscillation forecasting system. 4. ‘Greening up’ satellite maps Review a snapshot of plant health over a pre-determined two-week period captured using satellite imagery technology.

Coming soon – grain volume & quality forecasts AEGIC’s agro-meteorological team is working with other agencies to generate improved predictions of grain volume and also, for the first time, grain quality. This will be achieved by the application of biophysical modelling which draws on new remote sensing and weather monitoring networks to provide even more accurate forecasts. For more information P. 9463 3785 E. W.

The national wheat yield forecasts review predicted wheat yields by shire for the current season and compare yields of previous years.


Spring 2013


Don’t get wild about radish – get nasty

The latest research has come up with an unexpected win against wild radish in which a well-timed double spray can knock over even previously resistant weeds before they get going

At a glance


If small weeds – the size of the top of a beer can – were sprayed twice with good coverage, some very herbicide-resistant wild radish could be killed using a range of herbicide combinations

Using herbicides with different modes of action ensured enough effective chemistry was available to not have to over-rely on any one herbicide group

Growers can move the whole spraying window forward, avoiding late herbicide sprays that could result in chemical residues in grain


Researchers looking for a “magic brew” to stem the rampant tide of wild radish in Western Australia ended up going back to the future. According to Planfarm’s Peter Newman the magic brew dream was replaced by “a few old brews”. The research was initiated through the Grains Research and Development Corporation (GRDC) Geraldton port zone Regional Cropping Solutions Network (RCSN), after it identified the weed as a major priority for local growers. Coordinated by agricultural consultancy Planfarm and the Department of Agriculture and Food (DAFWA), the research was conducted at trial sites containing the worst, hardest-to-kill wild radish populations. “We actually ended up with a bit of a

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shift in focus, and found the best results we could get had more to do with timing, application and using different herbicide groups,” Peter said. “They are just as, if not more, important than product choice for control of the problem weed wild radish. SMALL MEANS SUCCESS “We found that if small weeds – the size of the top of a beer can – were sprayed twice with good coverage, what had been some very herbicide resistant wild radish could be killed using a range of herbicide combinations,” he said. “Only 10 years ago you could spend around $5 per hectare on radish the size of dinner plates and kill nearly all of them. “That was 10 years ago, now if you don’t get them quickly enough you can’t touch

Weed control

“Some products can be sprayed from as early as the two leaf stage of wheat while others are safe from the three leaf stage onwards.” “A lot of people have been saying they’ve got resistance so they are turning straight to the new products and just using them,” Peter said. “Which is simply the fast track to more resistance.” TWO IS BEST

Double whammy: Collaborative research has found timing, application and using different herbicide groups are more important than product choice for control of wild radish. Photo: DAFWA

them.” Peter said another key to successful control was using herbicides with different modes of action, which ensured enough effective chemistry was available to not have to over-rely on any one herbicide group. Researchers aimed to find new tank mixes as an alternative to using herbicides such as Velocity (bromoxynil and pyrasulfotole) twice in a growing season. Over-reliance on these newer herbicides could heighten the risk of wild radish developing resistance to them.

Peter, now the communications leader at the Australian Herbicide Resistance Initiative (AHRI) based at Planfarm, said there were many two-spray strategies providing 100% control of wild radish, but only one, one-spray strategy which delivered this level of control. “Given growers need a diverse range of herbicide options for wild radish control, two sprays are therefore best,” he said. Peter said there were a number of effective combinations in the trials which used older herbicides as part of the twospray strategy, and would pave the way for farmers to reduce reliance on newer chemistries. “One of the implications of the research is growers can move the whole spraying window forward, avoiding late herbicide sprays which could result in chemical residues in grain,” he said. “Some products can be sprayed from as early as the two leaf stage of wheat while others are safe from the three leaf stage onwards. “In the past we have ensured that late sprays are applied no later than flag leaf emergence of wheat, however some of the new products must be sprayed no later than first node of the wheat. “Although some of the new chemicals will give you until the first node stage. “With the ‘new’ strategies which have come out of this research – which has been funded to go again this year – grain growers can do their first spray towards the end of May and then have a second go in June/July. “At the moment that is the best control we have to offer. The thing is the bigger the plant the bigger the problem, and once they get too big they are probably beyond control that year.” LONG HISTORY Peter has been working on radish for the past 20 years and said the current research

“We found that if small weeds – the size of the top of a beer can – were sprayed twice with good coverage, what had been some very herbicide resistant wild radish could be killed using a range of herbicide combinations,”

was the culmination of several trials. He said radish was a big problem in the north of Western Australia but is spreading south. He said it was also starting to make appearances in the eastern states. It thrives in sandy, acid soils which are prevalent in the Western Australian Wheatbelt. Planfarm consultant and agronomist Andrew Sandison said the results also highlighted the importance of using full label water rates and boosting spray capacity, where possible, with existing or new machinery. “Boosting spray capacity can result in more effective weed control,” he said. “To increase the efficiency of existing machinery, the key is to have chemical onhand early, potentially employ extra staff and use nurse tanks to speed the application process.” COMBINED APPROACH Peter and Andrew stressed chemical control methods should be used in combination with non-herbicide weed control practices. The GRDC RCSN initiative aims to help growers get the information they need, when they need it, so they can make good decisions about farming practices. As well as initiating smaller projects, RCSNs feed issues into the standard GRDC investment process which leads to bigger projects. More information about the RCSNs can be found at, or by contacting RCSN coordinators Julianne Hill (Kwinana west, Kwinana east, Albany and Esperance port zones) on 0447 261 607; or Cameron Weeks (Geraldton port zone) on 0427 006 944. To find out more about Australian research programs targeting herbicide resistance and resistance management to encourage sustainable cropping systems, visit the AHRI website at www.ahri.uwa. For information on herbicide sustainability and harvest weed seed control practices, visit the WeedSmart information hub at Contact: Peter Newman Planfarm/AHRI. P. 9964 1170 or 0427 984 010 E. or Andrew Sandison, Planfarm P. 9964 1170 E.


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Pest control


RLEM is a fixture in Australian agriculture but like so many of our agricultural problems – from vermin to exotic plants and insects – it is an introduced species which has been waging a long-term war against farmers

Know your enemy: (from left) the predatory snout mite (Bdellidae), the redlegged earth mite (Penthaleidae) and the Balaustium mite (Erythraeidae). Photo: Pia Scanlon, Department of Agriculture and Food WA

Resistant RLEM means growers should test their control programs If it did nothing else, the run up to the 2013-14 harvest has shown Western Australian grain growers redlegged earth mite (RLEM) is not going away. Department of Agriculture and Food (DAFWA) entomologist Svetlana Micic said once crops are out of the ground they start out-growing RLEM damage. But if the problem is severe nothing can undo the disastrous extent of mites. Which is why Dr Micic is urging all growers in affected areas to start planning their management strategies now. And the first step, she says, if for farmers with RLEM surviving insecticide treatments to arrange to get the mites tested for resistance. Dr Micic, who conducts RLEM research supported by the Grains Research and Development Corporation (GRDC), said

mites had hatched in areas of the Wheatbelt belt which had received rainfall and then experienced at least seven days of temperatures below 20C. She encouraged growers to contact their local DAFWA office if they had difficulty controlling the mites, which could indicate resistance to synthetic pyrethroid (SP) chemicals including bifenthrin and alphacypermethrin. ROTATION RISK “The risk of RLEM damage to crops like canola does depend on the property’s cropping rotation” Dr Micic said. “For example, canola grown after a cereal crop has less RLEM pest pressures than canola grown after a pasture. This is because the preferred host plants of RLEM are clovers and other broad-leaved weeds

“Canola grown after a cereal crop has less RLEM pest pressures than canola grown after a pasture. This is because the preferred host plants of RLEM are clovers and other broad-leaved weeds found in pastures rather than grasses.” 18


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found in pastures rather than grasses. Canola grown after a cereal crop will usually outgrow any RLEM damage especially if the previous cereal crop was weed free. However, if RLEM pressures are high at crop emergence and the RLEM are SP resistant, control options are limited. Bare earth sprays of bifenthrin straight after seeding are ineffective and the only other chemistry registered for use against RLEM in canola, organophosphates (OPs) need green plant material to be effective. It is difficult to get coverage for canola that is at emergence. In the worst cases entire paddocks have had to be re-seeded due to the damage caused by resistant RLEM. However, prior to this occurring many farmers noticed small patches of RLEM causing damage to canola that was stressed due to abiotic conditions eg non-wetting sands. SAFETY NET “If you thought your treatment should have worked, but it didn’t, you should contact us and we will test because the

Under attack: A close-up of a canola crop under attack by redlegged earth mite in Western Australia.

problem is not always resistance, it could be an issue with your spraying, such as the pH of the water in your spray mix not effective. “What can happen is early in the season it looks as though the control has worked and then you will find patches which have survived and now is the time to review that,” Dr Micic said from 148 Western Australian properties tested from 2006 to

2012, 29 had been confirmed with RLEM populations resistant to all SPs. However, she said the incidence of RLEM resistance to SP insecticides in Western Australia could be more widespread than these figures suggest. “Each year we find more properties with resistant redlegged earth mites,” she said. “Research by the University of Melbourne has shown that SP-resistant

RLEM are up to 240,000 times more tolerant to SP insecticides than susceptible RLEM and this resistance is genetic – surviving through several generations. “Fortunately, tests have shown Western Australia’s SP-resistant RLEM populations do not have cross resistance to other insecticide groups, such as organophosphates (OPs) and can be controlled with these products.”

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Pest control

“Growers looking to control RLEM should control weeds right throughout the season so there are fewer breeding opportunities for mites to carry over to the following year. Unsprayed and undergrazed pastures in spring are also known to be favourable to RLEM.” ONGOING TESTING As part of a GRDC-funded project, DAFWA researchers will continue to test properties across the State where RLEM are found to survive insecticide treatments. “Under this project I am also researching the extent and geographical spread of RLEM resistance to help develop integrated management strategies to deal with this pest,” Dr Micic said. She said to prolong the efficacy of all insecticide groups, it was vital to rotate products within and between seasons to minimise the risk of resistance developing and to limit ‘insurance’ or prophylactic spraying unless there was a genuine risk of pest problems. “Every time an SP is used to control pests such as weevils, caterpillars and aphids, RLEM also receive a dose of this insecticide, despite not necessarily being the primary target,” she added. She said research has also shown weedy habitats – including in-crop weeds and weeds along fence lines – could host residual populations of RLEM that could re-infest surrounding paddocks. “Growers looking to control RLEM should control weeds right throughout the season so there are fewer breeding opportunities for mites to carry over to the following year,” she said. “Unsprayed and under-grazed pastures in spring are also known to be favourable to RLEM.” More information about RLEM resistance is available from the DAFWA Farmnote Prevent redlegged earth mite resistance at PC_94450.html or the GRDC Insecticide Resistance Management and Invertebrate Pest Identification Fact Sheet at Contact: Svetlana Micic Entomologist, DAFWA. P. 9892 8591 E.



The accidental – and destructive – tourist The redlegged earth mite (RLEM) – Halotydeus destructor – is a major pest of pastures, crops and vegetables in regions of Australia with cool wet winters and hot dry summers. The RLEM was accidentally introduced into Australia from the Cape region of South Africa in the early 1900s. These mites are commonly controlled using pesticides, however, non-chemical options are becoming increasingly important due to evidence of resistance and concern about long-term sustainability. Adult RLEM are 1 mm in length and 0.6 mm wide (the size of a pin head) with 8 red-orange legs and a completely black velvety body. Newly hatched mites are pinkish-orange with 6 legs, are only 0.2 mm long and are not generally visible to the untrained eye. The larval stage is followed by three nymphal stages in which the mites have 8 legs and resemble the adult mite, but are smaller and sexually undeveloped. PEST CONFUSION Other mite pests, in particular blue oat mites and the balaustium mite, are sometimes confused with RLEM in the field. Blue oat mites can be distinguished from RLEM by an oval orange/reddish mark on their back, while the balaustium mite has short hairs covering its body and can grow to twice the adult size of RLEM. Unlike other species which tend to feed singularly, RLEM generally feed in large groups of up to 30 individuals. The RLEM is widespread throughout most agricultural regions of southern Australia, being found in southern NSW, on the east coast of Tasmania, the south-east of South Australia, the south-west of Western Australia and throughout Victoria. Genetic studies have found high levels of gene flow and migration within Australia. Although individual adult RLEM only move short distances between plants in winter, recent surveys have shown an expansion of the range of RLEM in Australia during the past 30 years. Long-range dispersal is thought to occur via the movement of eggs in soil adhering to livestock and farm

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machinery or through the transportation of plant material. Movement also occurs during summer when over-summering eggs are transported by wind. LIFE-CYCLE AND BIOLOGY Earth mites are active in the cool, wet part of the year, usually between April and November. During this winter-spring period, RLEM may pass through three (sometimes only two) generations, with each generation surviving six to eight weeks. RLEM eggs hatch in autumn following exposure to cooler temperatures and adequate rainfall. It takes approximately two weeks of exposure to favourable conditions for over-summering eggs to hatch. This releases swarms of mites, which attack delicate crop seedlings and emerging pasture plants. RLEM eggs laid during the winter-spring period are orange in colour and about 0.1 mm in length. They are laid singly on the underside of leaves, the bases of host plants (particularly stems) and on nearby debris. They are often found in large numbers clustered together. Female RLEM can produce up to 100 winter eggs, which usually hatch in eight to ten days, depending on conditions. Towards the end of spring, physiological changes in the plant, the hot dry weather and changes in light conditions combine to induce the production of over-summering or ‘diapause eggs’. STRESS-RESISTANT EGGS These are stress resistant eggs retained in the dead female bodies. Diapause eggs can successfully withstand the heat and desiccation of summer and give rise to the autumn generation the following year. RLEM reproduce sexually, with a female-biased adult sex ratio. Reproduction occurs when the male RLEM (which is smaller than the female) produces webbing, usually on the surface of the soil. It then deposits spermatophores on the threads of this webbing, which the female mite picks up to fertilise her eggs. Contact: Paul Umina Centre for Environmental Stress and Adaptation Research, University of Melbourne. P. (03) 8344 6502 E.

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Disease control

Hidden problem: Barley crop roots affected by root lesion nematodes, left, compared with those of a healthy plant.

Nematodes – the nemesis of WA grain growers It’s not bad enough having nematodes attack your crops, it’s knowing which species is launching the attack and how many you have in your paddocks

At a glance:

Three major root lesion nematode species cause crop damage in Western Australia (Pratylenchus neglectus, P. teres and P. penetrans)

Research aims to characterise differences between crop varieties in their resistance and tolerance to each species, which would allow growers to select appropriate cultivars to minimise yield losses

Growers who used a testing service and confirmed that a particular RLN species was present in their paddocks could manage the pest in following seasons with well managed rotations, using resistant or non-host break crops and pastures

(RLN) they are now giving growers the chance to control future damage. Growers who suspect their crops are being damaged by root lesion nematodes (RLN) can confirm which species and population levels are present in problem areas by using in-season testing services this growing season.

Feeding on crop roots, RLN typically cause cereal yield losses of between 10 and 30 per cent, although losses as high as 40 to 75 per cent have been recorded As RLN management methods are based on crop rotations and plant tolerance and resistance, information gained from testing will help adjust rotations for following years and aid research into the microscopic soil pest. THREE SPECIES

There is a hidden killer stalking Western Australian paddocks – and when it strikes its kill rate can be as high as a whopping 75 per cent. And while researchers with the Department of Agriculture and Food Western Australia (DAFWA) don’t have the silver bullet for root lesion nematodes 22


appropriate cultivars to minimise yield losses. Resistance refers to the effect of the plant inhibiting nematode reproduction, while tolerance is the plant’s ability to limit yield loss despite the presence of nematodes within the soil. DAFWA researcher Sarah Collins said

Three major RLN species cause crop damage in Western Australia – (Pratylenchus neglectus, P. teres and P. penetrans). DAFWA research aims to characterise differences between crop varieties in their resistance and tolerance to each species, which would allow growers to select

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surveys had revealed 5.3 million hectares of the state’s cropping zone was affected by the pest and yield-limiting levels of RLN were present in at least 40 per cent of Western Australian crop paddocks. “Feeding on crop roots, RLN typically cause cereal yield losses of between 10 and 30 per cent, although losses as high as 40 to 75 per cent have been recorded,” she said. “P. Teres, which is unique to the west and the Wheatbelt’s second most common RLN species appears to be particularly damaging and our research aims to fill in knowledge gaps about this species in particular.”

TELLTALE SIGNS Dr Collins said telltale signs of nematode problems included patchy or uneven crop growth, yellowing and decreased tillering during the growing season. “To determine nematode species and levels, growers should use in-season testing services such as AGWEST Plant Laboratories, and information about this service is available under Our Services on the DAFWA website www.agric.wa.,” she said. “When collecting plant samples from problem areas to send to AGWEST Plant Laboratories, it is important to send the whole plants, including intact root systems and soil, as well as unaffected plants for comparison.” Dr Collins said higher nematode populations could be present in areas which received a lot of summer rain and where there had been a ‘green bridge’ of plant material between cropping seasons. “However, if crops receive adequate rainfall and are not under nutrient stress during the growing season, they may be better able to withstand root damage from nematodes,” she said.

Nematode nemesis: DAFWA researcher Sarah Collins says GRDC-supported research aims to characterise differences between crop varieties in their resistance and tolerance to root lesion nematode species, which would allow growers to select appropriate rotations and cultivars to minimise yield losses.


available relating to differences in the resistance levels of different crop types and varieties to RLN species P. neglectus. “However, much less is known about resistance and tolerance to P. teres, which is of particular concern in WA. “Having access to this information would allow growers to incorporate specific cultivars into rotations that limit the populations of and damage caused by nematodes.”

Dr Collins said growers who used a testing service and confirmed that a particular RLN species was present in their paddocks could manage the pest in following seasons with well managed rotations, using resistant or non-host break crops and pastures. “Our research – involving field testing and glasshouse trials in Western Australia – will improve the accuracy of these rotational recommendations by characterising cultivar and crop type resistance and tolerance levels to different RLN species,” she said. “Currently, recommendations are

Contact: Sarah Collins Researcher, DAFWA. P. 9368 3612 or 0404 488 113 E.

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Biosecurity Farmer of the Year

Safe is always better than sorry

Kondinin Group-ABC Rural Australian Biosecurity (plant) Farmer of the Year Ron Creagh got his first taste of the need for tight controls when he saw firsthand an outbreak of foot and mouth disease in the UK.

At a glance

If there is such a thing as a typical year Ron crops 10,000ha of his country – 8000ha of wheat and the rest with canola, barley and lupins – and runs 4000 Merino breeding ewes.

A simple biosecurity practice such as having a farm biosecurity sign is something all growers can do to help manage people movement on their farm.

While he sees savings in farmer-tofarmer trading of seed to upgrade varieties Ron maintained you should not source seed requirements from outside the farm – except through certified sellers.

RON CREAGH, his wife Robyn and their son Kim farm 13,000ha at Nungarin, out in the low-rainfall zone of the Wheatbelt. And they must be good at it because the Creaghs have been working the same land, give or take a hectare, for 104 years. 24


If there is such a thing as a typical year in this marginal country then Ron crops 10,000ha of his country – 8000ha of wheat and the rest with canola, barley and lupins – and also runs 4000 Merino breeding ewes and shears about 8000 sheep in lambs and a replacement flock. The flock has also incorporated Dohne bloodlines to lift its prime lamb potential. As a grain grower Ron sees biosecurity is both a good business and farming practice. He said it was an imperative to the overall success of his farm and a practice beginning at the farm-gate and playing a major part in his cropping program. “The management of people and product onto the property has a high priority,” Ron said. “This in part comes from a time when I was a registered seed grower and was astounded how many growers came to collect seed with only a few asking for seed certification notices,” he said. “But it was an even earlier experience however, which has been a key driver. “It goes back to the late 1960s while I was on a study tour of the UK and there was an outbreak of foot and mouth disease – it horrified me. “It also brought home to me the

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importance of good farm biosecurity practice, the need for surveillance and disease control. “I guess my interest in biosecurity grew from there.” MOBILITY A CONCERN Ron said just the mobility of people now in the farming industry is a cause for concern. The employment of seasonal labour into every district sees visitors and workers coming in from all over the world. He said a simple biosecurity practice such as having a farm biosecurity sign is something all growers can do to help manage people movement on their farm. “I was one of the first growers to put up a biosecurity sign in my area and from there have worked hard to increase the profile of signage throughout the state,” Ron said. “In the 1990s while a member of the WA Agriculture Protection Board (APB) I helped foster an alliance with the then Australian Wheat Board (AWB) to financially assist growers to get signs on their front gates. “Now I am planning to upgrade my signage to include a mobile number. It is important as we have a number of


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properties away from the main farm.” From a product management perspective, Ron will only purchase seed from a certified seller and when buying in a new variety will ensure he gets seed certificates. He has been involved in quality assurance (QA) schemes when they were in place a few years ago. This helped to further bring home the need to have good biosecurity practices. While he sees there can be savings in farmer-to-farmer trading of seed to upgrade varieties Ron maintained you should not source your seed requirements from outside the farm – except through certified sellers.

his farm workers undertake in their everyday work. “I believe this has served us well and given we are in an area where skeleton weed is a problem this practice will be of future value,” Ron said. “Containment of weed incursions onto the property is an expensive, but necessary practice,” he said. “Having to pay a bit more attention to

instrumental in drawing up the Industry Biosecurity Plans for the state’s grain crops,” Ron added. “At this stage my key pest concerns centre around those which will cause market access issues for Australia’s grain exports – pests such as Khapra beetle and karnal bunt come to mind,” he said. “When the APB was wound up around 2008 with the establishment of the

I would rather take an extra year in the bulking up phase with a smaller amount of seed from a certified source than take the risk of getting larger quantities over the fence

FALSE SAVINGS “So there is no farmer-to-farmer trading anymore,” Ron declared. “I would rather take an extra year in the bulking up phase with a smaller amount of seed from a certified source than take the risk of getting larger quantities over the fence,” he said. “The same rules apply to livestock coming onto the property. “I will only purchase livestock from a reputable supplier or breeder. The newlyacquired livestock then undergo a time of isolation as a form of farm-based quarantine before being introduced onto the farm properly.” Biosecurity is a principle adopted across the board by the Creagh family, their farm workers and farm visitors. Ron maintained by having a farm biosecurity sign at the front gate of his property it has also helped instil a degree of discipline for everyone coming on the property. It is mandatory all visitors come to the house or sheds and then they travel around his property in his farm vehicles. Surveillance is another practice Ron and 26


control a weed such as saffron thistle by spraying out sections of a paddock will pay off in the long term. “All weed issues are noted and recorded on a daily basis. Nip these in the bud before they spread.” INDUSTRY COMMITMENTS Ron has had a long history of biosecurity involvement in the Western Australian grain industry. He was involved with representation on the Agriculture Protection Board from about 1994. After the outbreak of the anthracnose disease in lupin in 1996 he came in on the formation of the GrainGuard program and was GrainGuard chairman for eight years and chair of Plant Health, Western Region for two. Ron has been instrumental in the development of the management plans for farms in the event of pest incursions and from this has developed the Industry Funding Schemes (IFS) which are now in place in Western Australia. “From my involvement in the early days of GrainGuard I was part of a team

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Biosecurity and Agricultural Management (BAM) Act in Western Australia I became a member of the state’s Biosecurity Council for four years. “I was also a member of the Grains Industry Association of WA (GIWA) in April 2011 and have now come back onto the GrainGuard Committee this year.” Ron said his most cost-effective tips for on-farm biosecurity are adopting good farm management practices – which he is handing on to his son Kim. He said controlling who and what comes onto your farm is his key message. “You also need to practice what you preach,” he said. “Never leave the property to go onto another area of the property without first cleaning down all your machinery thoroughly. “Investing in a good quality air compressor and cleaning systems pays off in the long run.” Contact: Ron Creagh P. 9046 5014 E.

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Start looking at things differently for bushfire season. The bushfire season is fast approaching. Seemingly innocent material around your property is becoming a threat to your family and your livelihood. Bushfires aren’t preventable but clearing gutters, storing flammable liquids away from buildings and clearing a fuel break around your house, can greatly lessen property damage. For more fire safety tips, take a closer look at your insurance policy or call your local WFI Area Manager.

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AGIF - Spring 2013  

Like its sister publication, Ag in Focus WA publishes the latest research from the Western Australian Department of Agriculture and Food. Th...