Every year, hundreds of Australian growers take more than a passing interest in the National Variety Trials (NVT).
Many of them are the hosts providing sites on their farms for NVT plots to assess the merits of a range of varieties across 10 different crop types.
NVT manager Dr Trevor Garnett says growers have always been an integral part of variety trials, allowing plant breeders and researchers to test and compare the performance of emerging, new and mainstream varieties across a range of environments.
In some cases, the collaborations date back decades – to the days when agriculture departments in each state ran their own variety trials – well before GRDC began supporting and managing the NVT in 2005.
“Some of the growers that we’ve got have been hosting trials for 35 years, 40 years or more,” he says.
“I was speaking to one collaborator the other day, and I think he came up with about 45 years that their family has been hosting variety trials on their property. Those collaborators are vital to the NVT program, because we need to be able to put the NVT trials where the varieties are going to be used.”
Dr Garnett says it is a matter of pride for many of the hosts providing sites at more than 300 locations for the 650-plus trials that operate each year.
“There’s also a bit of prestige having the trials there,” he says.
“To be able to take your agronomist down to the trial and look at the different varieties – I hear lots of them are doing that – so it’s pretty handy to be able to see all the new varieties coming through on your property.
“But a lot of them will just do it for the greater good. They want a trial in the area, and if they’re the one that has to do it, then they’re happy to do it, because they recognise its importance.
“Growers are a bit shy of marketing... but they do trust the NVT because it provides independent results, and that trust is really important to us as well.”
NVT hosts include people like South Australian growers Cade Drummond and Peter Klopp.
Cade’s mixed farm, on the Eyre Highway 30 kilometres north-west of Ceduna, is some of the most northerly and westerly cropping land in the state, and he’s one of the newer NVT hosts, signing on in 2020.
First-generation growera, Cade and his wife Abby leased their farm on the far west coast of South Australia before buying it in 2017.
Despite its proximity to the Great Victoria Desert, which is less than 40km to the north, average annual rainfall is about 300 millimetres, but highly variable from year to year.
Another difference for growers growing crops in the area is the more calcareous soils.
“It’s a tougher soil type for growing wheat, so there’s a few more tricks to it,” Cade says. “It can be quite marginal.”
The rotation is typically two years of wheat followed by a year of medic pasture, which may be followed by oats.
Last year the Drummonds grew 1200 hectares of wheat and 200ha of oats for hay, grain and grazing by their flock of about 500 Merino ewes, which produce wool and first-cross lambs.
Cade says being involved with local farming groups, attending meetings of the Goode branch of the Agricultural Bureau of South Australia, and reviewing NVT results have been important resources during his 12 years on the land.
“My family weren’t grain farmers,” he says. “I bought into farming from the outside and try and drop in and have a look at the NVT when I can.”
Cade says it is not just the NVT results that have been helpful, but related events such as ‘sticky beak’ days, when local grower groups get together, everyone walks through the NVT trial site, and “we all go and have a look at other people’s crops”.
“You can take notes and compare what has and hasn’t worked and everyone is pretty open here about showing their failures, as well as what they’re doing right – which is good,” he says.
“The trials are a good opportunity to open some real discussion about different varieties and different cropping techniques without it applying to one person’s crop, so it doesn’t feel like it’s on them.
“I’ve taken a lot out of it just in terms of coming into farming and learning on the go about different methods and different varieties. It has definitely helped me.”
The Drummonds have been growing mostly Scepter (PBR) wheat, but they bought some Calibre (PBR) to plant this year.
Cade says trial results, especially those on his farm – which hosts the Penong NVT trial assessing 28 main season wheat varieties, but no other crop types – have encouraged him to think about transitioning to Calibre (PBR) and RockStar (PBR).
He also plans to start growing Commodus CL (PBR) barley, which NVT site managers SARDI Minnipa Agricultural Centre included in separate trials adjacent to the NVT trial to compare grain yield and quality in six wheat and six barley varieties in 2021 and 2022.
“It was a toss-up between Commodus CL (PBR) and Maximus CL (PBR) barley, but watching what’s happened in the trial has pretty much made up my mind as to which one suits our situation the best,” Cade says.
The nearest NVT site 109km away at Nunjikompita hosts wheat and oats. Otherwise, it is a 155km trip to Piednippie to see wheat and barley trials, or 215km to Minnipa, which hosts wheat, barley, canola and field pea trials.
Despite the distance, Dr Garnett says analysis of NVT trial results over time show barley variety performance in Penong can be predicted using data from Piednippie and Minnipa.
He explains that trial locations are chosen after extensive consultation with stakeholder groups.
“It’s important for us to work with growers to locate trials to ensure the locations represent the different growing environments in a region and the prevalent crops,” he says.
“We also want to avoid clustering, duplication and obsolete trials. This means not all crop types are included at every site, but relevant results can be found at representative sites for all growers and locations.”
Cade also notes the value of growers being actively involved in the NVT.
“It’s important for everyone to keep an eye on what is available and what’s changing, and for everyone to be able to have input into how it’s done,” he says.
“We had a bit of trouble a few years ago with our trial being the last one to be put in, quite often because we’re the furthest away. Then it was often failing, and we were recognising that our crops were better than those, knowing the reason was because of the timeliness of planting.”
Cade says growers worked through it with the trial managers, who rearranged their sowing schedule to address that issue.
Yorke Peninsula farmer Peter Klopp has hosted NVT for the past six years, at the home farm south-east of Maitland and another farm leased near Brentwood. They also crop land near Ardrossan and Curramulka.
“We’re spread out all over the shop on big leases,” he says. “When I came home to the farm, we were pretty small, and it was get big or go shearing; my back wasn’t up to shearing.”
Peter, who farms with his wife Kelsey and parents Ken and Kay, says the climate on the peninsula offers extremely reliable rainfall, unlike many other parts of South Australia.
“Because we’re so close to the coast and we’ve got water on each side, we don’t get really extreme spring heat,” he says.
“We don’t get that harsh finish the mid-north can get; we still get them but not as often and they’re usually not as brutal. It’s a very, very reliable area.”
But significant variation in soils across the region means it is impossible to base decisions on results from a single site, and it can be difficult to find sites that are suitable for NVT.
“Down at Brentwood it’s a little bit trickier because you’ve got some reefier country, stony country,” Peter says.
“You try and avoid those areas, anywhere with high weed burdens, any sort of variability. You want a location with enough similar soil types that results don’t get skewed. You want them nice and even to get good consistent data.”
Peter says he’s learned a lot from the NVT since he finished university and returned to the farm in 2011.
“When I first started farming, I used to love going to visit NVT, especially with a good speaker like Rob Wheeler,” he says.
“I could listen to him talk about varieties for days on end. Hopefully, other young farmers in the community are getting that experience and learning heaps.”
These days, Peter’s decisions about which wheat, barley, canola and lentil varieties to grow are more likely to be guided by long-term results in the NVT – the Long Term Yield Reporter – and he takes results from individual years with “a grain of salt”.
“You’d have to say 2022 is going to be an outlier, because those high-potential lines have done extremely well, and then the mainstream lines have been left behind a little bit,” he says.
“But then 2023, hopefully it’s not the case, but it probably will be back to an average year. Hopefully, it is a nice solid average, and that the Scepters (PBR) and the Calibres (PBR) will rise to the top and those really high potential wheats will go back to where they normally are.
“You have to also look at where you want to grow those wheats. We do a very variable program. It’s all nice country, but we’ve got some inland country and we’ve got some coastal country, so you have to pick varieties accordingly. You don’t put a long-season wheat in a lower-rainfall area – that sort of stuff.”
Still harvesting in January for the first time since 2016, Peter says 2022’s 4200ha of crops were big, the equivalent of “one-and-a-half harvests in one”.
“Which is good because we spent an astronomical amount on it, but the tonnes are here so it’s going to be quite rewarding,” he says.
The Maitland site 2022 yields averaged 5.95t/ha for main-season wheat, 5.71t/ha for durum wheat, 6.18t/ha for main season barley and main season faba beans produced 4.66t/ha.
It was a similar story at Brentwood, where the average yield for wheat was 6.02t/ha and main season barley 6.01t/ha.
More information: Dr Trevor Garnett, 08 8198 8400, [email protected]
- NVT is the world’s biggest independent coordinated trial network.
- GRDC supports and manages NVT, which are carried out by contracted service providers.
- If a trial is assigned to an area, the service provider can locate trials within a 25km radius of the nearest town on a site that is representative of the area.
- Service providers work with growers to select a site and then sow, manage according to local practice and harvest the trials in line with NVT protocols.
- Each year more than 650 trials are sown at more than 300 sites for 10 crop types: barley, canola, chickpeas, faba beans, field peas, lentils, lupins, oats, sorghum and wheat.
- In October 2022, GRDC launched an email notification service, alerting growers to new results as soon as they are published online.