Charcoal rot, short season soybean varieties, herbicide resistance and marketing opportunities for niche food products are some of the hot topics idenfitied by grain growers, agronomists, farm consultants and end users in the New South Wales' northern rivers region.
These - and other - challenges and opportunities facing the grains industry were recently raised in farm sheds, paddocks and during grower breakfasts when the GRDC Northern Region Panel toured the Grafton, Casino, Pimlico and Condong areas.
The GRDC is one of the country's leading research organisations and invests on behalf of Australian growers in research, development and extension (RD&E) that delivers improvements in grain production, sustainability and profitability.
Twice a year, the organisation's regional advisory panel - which comprises growers, agronomists, researchers and GRDC staff - visits cropping areas of NSW and Queensland to hear directly from growers and others involved in the industry.
GRDC Northern Region Panel Chair John Minogue, who led the three-day fact-finding tour to the northern rivers region, says engaging with industry is critical to help the GRDC identify and prioritise future RD&E investments.
"We organise these tours so we can hear directly from growers about the issues they are dealing with on the ground," he says.
"Understanding their concerns and challenges is vital so we can ensure growers' levy-funded investments into research are comprehensive, practical and well-resourced, and deliver meaningful solutions to growers' production challenges and - importantly - improve farm profitability."
Key issues raised
Mr Minogue says the panel was impressed by the innovation of the northern rivers grains industry, as well as growers' passion for the sector and their willingness to introduce different farming rotations and agronomic practices.
"Crop protection issues, particularly charcoal rot, were a recurring concern across the region - as was the need for shorter or early season soybean varieties that could fit in a cane farming system and potentially give growers a wider planting window or the opportunity to plant two crops each summer," he says.
"Growers and researchers attending a meeting at the Grafton Primary Industries Institute also raised the issue of herbicide resistance and the implications for effective control of increasingly problematic weeds, like feather top Rhodes grass, sowthistle and fleabane.
"While a visit to Mara Global Foods offered insights into the market opportunities for crops like soybean, as well as an understanding of processor and consumer requirements."
Mr Minogue says the panel appreciated growers, farm consultants and end-users generously giving up their time to share their firs-thand knowledge of the region's issues and opportunities.
"Many of the northern panel members are growers and agronomists too and we are keenly aware of how difficult it is to find time away from the farm for meetings, so we are in debt to those people who met with us," he says.
NSW Department of Primary Industries Grafton-based research agronomist, Natalie Moore, says growers, agronomists and researchers valued the opportunity to have their concerns heard first-hand by the GRDC advisory panel.
"Like all cropping regions, we have production challenges and also see opportunities for our region that could positively impact farm profitability," Dr Moore says.
"So it was invaluable to be able to have an open and frank discussion with the GRDC about what is working for us, what we would like to see more of, and how strategic on-going investment in certain areas - like soybean breeding programs - could be 'game-changers ' for our region."
Dr Moore's sentiments were echoed by Casino growers Paul and Joe Fleming, who hosted the advisory panel on-farm.
"Crop protection issues are one of our most significant concerns, so it was good to offer the GRDC an opportunity to get into the paddock and gain a real understanding of what it is like to farm this country," Paul Fleming says.
"There are issues like waterlogging that we've been able to overcome by introducing practices like raised beds and controlled-traffic farming.
"But there are other concerns - like disease, weed control, nutrition and new varieties - that need input from research at a higher level.
"There are also other topics, such as irrigation schedules and agronomy specifically for coastal areas, that we would like more information on."