National Paddock Project aims to close yield gap for grain farmers

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Grain farm near Mulawa, NSW: in the National Paddock Survey, researchers from the Birchip Cropping Group and CSIRO will enlist the help of farmers to collect data to help work out how to bridge the gap between actual and potential grain yields.
Grain farm near Mulawa, NSW: in the National Paddock Survey, researchers from the Birchip Cropping Group and CSIRO will enlist the help of farmers to collect data to help work out how to bridge the gap between actual and potential grain yields.
NSW Farmers

Funded by the Grains Research and Development Corporation (GRDC), the National Paddock Survey is part of a joint project helmed by the Birchip Cropping Group (BCG) with CSIRO researchers, farming systems groups and agronomic consultants in the Western, Northern and Southern GRDC regions.

As part of the NPS, crop performance data will be collected from 250 paddocks across grain production zones nationally by researchers and participating grain farmers.

The performance data, collected throughout the cropping cycle from pre-sowing to harvest, will be correlated with plant water use and used to identify the main constraints to production in different Australian grain-growing regions with a variety of soil types.

“The farmer is helping by recording all his management operations, like sowing time and fertiliser,” Grains Research and Development Corporation northern region panellist Neil Fettell told ABC Rural.

“[Meantime] the other co-operators, the groups, are doing soil, water and nitrogen measurements to get a starting point and also check for disease, and then using the harvester's yield mapping capability to record the yield.”

Fettell told ABC Rural that the data would let researchers know how paddocks in different regions with varying patterns of rainfall were performing and, more importantly, what was restricting crop performance.

“It will be a tremendous data set and will really show us, is this yield gap real and if so, give us some pointers as to what the constraints are and what we might be able to do about it,” he said.

Grain crop, Queensland: the National Paddock Survey (NPS) is part of an initiative to close the documented gap between potential and actual grain yields on farms across Australia.
Grain crop, Queensland: the National Paddock Survey (NPS) is part of an initiative to close the documented gap between potential and actual grain yields on farms across Australia.
Certified su, Flickr CC

What is the yield gap?

Part of the reason for the National Paddock Survey is to amass the data required to prove that a significant yield gap exists.

Right now, the yield gap is a statistical guesstimate based on the amount of grain a given paddock should be able to produce given the amount of rainfall the region typically receives.

The guesstimated yield gap of Australian grain production is not insignificant – frequently, it’s up to a tonne per hectare and sometimes more, especially in higher rainfall areas, where it can be 1.2 tonnes, said Fettell.

"[Farmers] trying to meet that yield potential … need to have a benchmark … and the potential yield is that benchmark,” he said.

“Then we can look at the paddocks in different soil types and in different regions and say how close are they to the potential, what's holding them back, what do we need to do or learn to get closer to the potential yield.”

Project resources

The research will continue until disseminated to growers when 2018, but preliminary results will be disseminated to participating growers as they become available via the National Paddock Survey website.

“Farmers who are contributing to this will get the data as quickly as we have it,” Fettell told ABC Rural. "For everybody else, as soon as we can get it, the first year's data will be out. We won't be holding back until we have all the user data.”

The NPS site also has materials for those wishing to participate in the survey, including the:

For more information about the project, contact Harm van Rees on 0419 325 252 or harm@cropfacts.com.au.

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