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Useful guides to boost crop potential

A suite of guides are available from the GRDC website to assist growers in making informed cropping decisions in light of variable climatic conditions and sowing circumstances.
Photo: Emma Leonard

GRDC has invested in several guides to assist growers in making informed decisions to maximise crop potential under changing climatic situations.

These guides are a mix of the latest research results and include grower case studies. They also provide guidelines for implementing the research lessons under certain circumstances. Selected tips are presented in the following booklet summaries.

20 tips for profitable canola

Canola is Australia’s third-largest grain crop and is known for its value as a profitable break crop for weed and disease management if managed well. Despite these accepted benefits, growers and advisers across the country were concerned about managing the risks and high relative costs of growing canola under more-variable seasonal conditions.

In 2014, GRDC co-invested in a project – ‘Optimised canola profitability’ – a five-year research program across eastern Australia that aimed to equip growers with tactical canola agronomy strategies, underpinned by world-leading crop physiology research. The research team comprised CSIRO, New South Wales Department of Primary Industries and collaborators in three eastern mainland states (northern, central and southern NSW, Victoria and South Australia) using 60 field experiments and detailed physiological studies across nine regions. The team focused on gaining a thorough understanding of factors driving crop growth, development, flowering time, yield formation and response to stress to provide tips and tactics to improve canola profit and reduce risk.

The comprehensive guide - 20 tips for profitable canola - released in 2019, can be accessed for each region:

Selected tips

  • Manage fallows thoroughly to conserve moisture for canola production.
  • Select paddocks carefully with particular focus on nitrogen and stored soil water status.
  • Carefully select the variety type according to phenology, breeding type (open-pollinated or hybrid) and herbicide tolerance package.
  • Sow winter canola late summer to early autumn.
  • Sow slow spring canola late March to mid April.

Ten tips for early sown wheat

Timely operations are key to maximising farm profit, and sowing is one of the most time-critical operations. The yield penalty is often associated with delayed sowing in most regions and is due to only a short period in spring (approximately 10 days) during which crops can flower to maximise yields. This is referred to as the optimal flowering period and its timing and length varies with location and climate.

During the optimal flowering period, the combined yield loss from drought, heat, frost and insufficient radiation are, on average, minimised and yields are maximised in the long term.

In any individual year, these abiotic stresses can still damage crops even when the crop flowers during the optimal period. Achieving optimal flowering can make a big difference to yield and profit and costs very little to achieve. However, there are some challenges with sowing wheat early and this guide provides useful insights.

The booklet was released in February 2020.

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Selected tips

  • Consider your location as optimal flowering time will differ with location.
  • Select paddocks with few weeds and low levels of root disease.
  • Use the right winter cultivar for the right environment.
  • Use the right variety for the right sowing date.
  • Consider seedbed and stored soil moisture levels.

Seeding systems – case studies of growers in WA

At their August 2017 meeting, Kwinana West port zone grower network members noted that with a tricky start to the season, some growers had managed to successfully establish crops evenly and uniformly across paddocks, which translated into increased yield at the other end of the season.

So, what was the difference? One way to find out was to identify some of these growers and then ask them what seeding system they were using and why it worked for them. As a result of these interviews, a collection of grower case studies in the western region documented real data and experiences.

Twenty-five growers were interviewed, and their experiences have been summarised in this booklet, which was published in February 2019.

View the Seeding systems - Case studies of growers in WA publication.

Captured in the guide are many of the tips and tricks growers are using to help improve crop establishment on their properties and how they have modified seeding systems for their circumstances. Using this shared knowledge growers can determine the risks and rewards for making changes on their own properties.

Maximising sowing opportunities under dry soil conditions in the high-rainfall zone

In the high-rainfall zone, dry sowing is a risk management strategy that can be used to increase the chance of establishing crops before soils become too wet to sow and too cold for vigorous early crop growth. Dry sowing capitalises on sowing opportunities before the break of the season, allowing crops to begin germinating immediately following break-of-season rainfall.

As a consequence, dry-sown crops can be days, or sometimes weeks, ahead of those sown after the seasonal break, especially in large cropping programs and/or operations where there is limited seeding capacity. Dry-sown crops germinate when the ground is likely to be warmer, promoting early vigour and reducing the likelihood of crops becoming waterlogged. Earlier establishment also provides a longer growing season, ultimately enabling crops to set higher yield potential. With the general reliability of winter and spring rainfall in the high-rainfall zone and the ability to adjust in-crop management to the unfolding season, higher yield potential is usually translated into increased yields and greater profit potential.

View the Maximising sowing opportunities under dry soil conditions in the high-rainfall zone publication.

An initiative of the GRDC’s southern region high-rainfall zone grower network, the guide was released in February 2021. It covers the risks and rewards of dry sowing, provides consolidated research information on agronomic aspects to consider when dry sowing, and includes a few grower case studies illustrating their success with this practice.

Maximising crop potential in a drying environment

Growers have pooled their experience to assist others in their decision-making to maximise crop potential in drying environments through an initiative of the Grower Networks in the Geraldton and Kwinana East port zones of Western Australia.

Changing weather patterns in these zones, where the seeding window often experiences warmer and drier conditions than in the past, mean that growers are frequently attempting to sow and establish crops in less-than-favourable and potentially risky conditions. However, these changing climatic conditions are seeing more frequent summer rainfall events, often providing a reasonable level of subsoil moisture. This subsoil moisture provides more confidence in earlier seeding and many growers seed deeper to reach this moisture. Deep sowing to chase moisture can be critical in some seasons to getting crops established early.

Completed in 2019, the GRDC-invested project, managed by CussonsMedia, has drawn upon the regional experience of 17 growers in sowing in drying conditions and delivered a booklet that combined relevant research to the topic. Growers featured in the booklet outlined the risks associated with sowing in challenging conditions and outlined their experiences with a range of tactics.

View the Maximising crop potential in a drying environment publication.

Selected tactics

  • Analyse how deep the seed can be placed.
  • Select cultivars with appropriate traits, for example, varieties with long coleoptiles, larger seeds and longer seasons.
  • Consider practices that allow for accumulation of soil moisture at seeding, for example, furrow sowing, application of soil wetter and stubble retention on row sowing.
  • Consider practices to improve establishment on water-repellent soils, for example, mouldboard ploughing or spading.
  • Assess which equipment provides the best establishment.
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