RESEARCH has highlighted opportunities to boost the Australian wheat crop yield.
But the findings have yet to be reflected in wheat fields at Elmore, with growers developing their own strategies to respond to changed conditions.
It largely hinges on rainfall.
For more than a century, La Trobe University researcher Dr James Hunt said Australian growers had been sowing spring wheats after autumn rains.
That meant the crops flowered at the optimal time - not so quickly that they suffered from frost, and not so late that they experienced heat stress.
But Dr Hunt said the rainfall needed to establish crops had declined, meaning the traditional approach was no longer reliable.
"Growers have been able to increase yields by pushing sowing into a narrow window in early May, but this is getting harder to achieve," Dr Hunt said.
“A combination of less reliable season opening rains and hot and dry springs has led to a stagnation in national wheat crop yields."
The research team has been investigating alternatives to sowing spring wheats in May.
After seven years of study, it has found a way to increase the window of opportunity for sowing.
The researchers found sowing winter wheats from March maximised any water stored in the soil from summer rains.
Summer rains had not declined - in some areas, they had increased.
"We needed to find a genotype of wheat in which development is slowed so that sowing could be moved earlier but flowering still occur during the optimal window,” Dr Hunt said.
A wheat line uncommon in Australia was found to have a 'fast' winter development pattern.
“Winter wheats are mostly grown in high latitude environments with very cold winters such as northern Europe and are too slow for Australian conditions,” Dr Hunt said.
But researchers found in the Mediterranean environments of the southern and western wheat belt, where most of the wheat in Australia was grown, sowing the fast winter line up to 40 days ahead of traditional sowing times could yield as well as or better than the fast spring sown at its optimal time.
“And in the temperate regions of south eastern Australia, a mid-winter line sown up to 40 days earlier yielded as well as the fast spring sown at its optimal time," Dr Hunt said.
The researchers found national yields could increase by 0.54 tonnes per hectare, equal to about 20 per cent of the current national yield.
“This would produce an additional 7.1 million tonnes of wheat worth up to $1.8 billion to the national economy," Dr Hunt said.
“If appropriate winter cultivars can be bred for Australian growers, farm yields will be increased with little additional investment by growers required."
Commercial breeding companies have developed a number of cultivars as a result of the research.
The new cultivars are being evaluated in trials in lower rainfall areas of Victoria, South Australia and New South Wales.
If successful, Landmark Elmore agronomist Greg Toomey said the developments were likely to be widely implemented.
But it hadn't reached that stage in the fields at Elmore - yet.
"The science is sound, as you would expect from James, and the logic is there but it will take a while for change to occur," Mr Toomey said.
He said barriers to the implementation of the research included growers being reluctant to have too many varieties of seed stored in their silos and a wait for seasonal conditions to be right to give it a go.
Mr Toomey said more and more growers were sowing by the calendar rather than by rainfall.
Come April 10, he said growers would start sowing in the dust and just keep at it.
The theory was that a seed already in the ground when it rained would benefit from exposure to a warmer soil temperature and grow quicker than seeds sowed after rain, when the soil temperature was lower.
"Dry sowing has become an enormously important part of a cropper's tactics now," Mr Toomey said.
The La Trobe University and CSIRO research was made possible with investment from both the Grains Research and Development Corporation and CSIRO.
It was published in the scientific journal Nature Climate Change.
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