A career working in the space between growers seeking practical solutions and scientists seeking breakthrough science has CSIRO Agriculture and Food chief research scientist Dr John Kirkegaard convinced of the value in science and agriculture learning together.
Citing GRDC’s National Water Use Efficiency Initiative and Dual-Purpose Cropping Initiative as examples of science and agriculture learning together, Dr Kirkegaard says agricultural science needs the context and integration provided by agronomists, growers and their consultants in the journey from inspiration to impact.
- High rainfall zone growers grapple with fluctuating soil water levels
- Checking-off the value of precision agriculture technologies
- Strategies unveiled to help control fires at harvest time
“Step changes in productivity have come only when combinations of technologies, often a mix of old and new, synergise within a system,” he says.
“When applied on an individual basis, new varieties, crop rotations, summer weed control, no-till farming and sowing early provide only small increases in wheat yield.
“However, when each of these practices were combined within the farming system, we saw average potential wheat yields rise from 1.8 to 4 tonnes per hectare.”
Dr Kirkegaard says there are several examples where common beliefs held by growers based on reasonable expectations and principles have been somewhat debunked when challenged by the rigours of sound science.
Step changes in productivity have come only when combinations of technologies, often a mix of old and new, synergise within a system
“For example, in the area of conservation agriculture, grazing sheep were not damaging no-till soil with their hooves; stubble-retained systems were not building soil carbon; allelopathy was not the cause of poor canola growth in retained-wheat residue; and a single cultivation of long-term no-till soil did not do irreparable damage,” he says.
However, this also works the other way, Dr Kirkegaard says.
“Science that proceeds without being connected to that context, no matter its quality, is unlikely to lead to significant impact and practice change,” he says.
“In my own case, very detailed work to explain the mechanisms of recovery of grazed crops to suggest better variety choice and manage residual biomass proceeded in ignorance of the practicalities of moving sheep flocks on mixed farms.
“In the end, the level of detail required for significant impact was better communicated as rules-of-thumb.”
Dr Kirkegaard was a presenter at a Making Science Useful for Agriculture workshop,held in November 2018, which saw more than 20 scientists from across the world converge on Adelaide over three days.
Note, the Making Science Useful to Agriculture workshop was sponsored by the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD), GRDC, the South Australian Grain Industry Trust, the South Australian Research and Development Institute (a division of Primary Industries and Regions SA) and the University of Adelaide.