If someone had told Dr John Kirkegaard 17 years ago that grazing canola crops was too risky – what would Australian growers have missed out on?
Enhanced flexibility and resilience of mixed farming systems and greater profits for Australian growers are some of the outputs from the methods developed for growing and grazing dual-purpose canola.
And for CSIRO’s Dr John Kirkegaard, who coordinated the research to undertake the challenge, it has delivered not only satisfaction of delivering a valuable new system to growers but scientific recognition. Most recently his team was awarded the 2021 Sir Ian McLennan Impact for Science and Engineering Medal, an internal CSIRO award that celebrates outstanding practical contributions to industry and recognises exceptional individuals or research teams that have created value through innovation.
“The Millennium drought was the inspiration for this research, as it saw canola drop out of cropping rotations due to its perceived risk,” Dr Kirkegaard says. “But growers were missing out on the disease and weed break it provided, so we started thinking about how we could de-risk canola production. Higher-rainfall areas also lacked a profitable rotation crop for the grazing winter wheats.
“Having seen wheat successfully grazed and then taken through to harvest, and given that brassicas closely related to canola (forage rape) were used in animal production systems, we conceived the idea of dual-purpose canola to provide an income source from both stock and grain for growers with mixed farming systems.”
Seventeen years on, a CSIRO case study impact assessment has determined that dual-purpose canola is now adopted on an estimated 200,000 hectares and growing across all southern states, lifting profitability, sustainability and resilience. Its estimated value since 2007 is $1 billion – growing at $200 million per annum.
Credit for this success goes to the multidisciplinary team that embedded growers and consultants with researchers from the start.
“Plus, GRDC funding over a decade allowed us to get from inspiration to impact by adapting the concept on-farm with growers as we refined the agronomy,” Dr Kirkegaard says.
Significant industry co-investment from GRDC and Meat & Livestock Australia in close collaboration with industry stakeholders (farmers, advisers and breeding companies) has supported the research since 2007, with three back-to-back GRDC- invested projects from 2007 to 2015, and since 2017 ongoing work as part of the southern farming systems project.
Risk and reward
Dual-purpose canola relies on successful early sowing opportunities, varieties being matched to the appropriate phenological window and careful grazing management to balance trade-offs between the value of forage and that of grain.
The overall business value of dual-purpose canola depends upon how it is integrated into enterprises. At the paddock level, grazing can come at no cost to seed yield, so grazing adds value by increasing the availability of autumn and winter feed in the grazing enterprise (Table 1). At the farm system level, this can provide flexibility, profitability and resilience, with different exit options (graze out, hay, silage, grow on for grain) depending upon seasonal conditions.
We are seeing knock-on effects where the increase in returns from grazing canola are supporting investment in soil renovation and more inputs to support improved pastures. This is important for long-term sustainability where the value of land is increasing. As we experience climate change, system resilience is going to be particularly important.
Grazing achieved (Dry Sheep Equivalent days/ha)
Grain yield (t/ha)
Paddock $GM increase above grain only
1600 – 2700
4.5 – 6.5
+$600 – $1000
400 – 800
3.0 – 5.0
+$300 – $500
750 – 2500
2.0 – 4.0
+$600 – $1000
300 – 700
1.5 – 2.5
+$300 – $500
More information: Dr John Kirkegaard, [email protected]