Mr Martin Harries: Research Agronomist, Western Australian Department of Agriculture and Food. Specialises in dryland agronomy of legume and oilseed crops, management of herbicide resistant weeds and dryland farming systems design. Commenced work with the Western Australian Department of Agriculture in 1998. Has been involved in several aspects of agronomic research including testing and implementing a range of novel integrated weed management practices to combat weeds resistant to herbicides; Agronomy of legume crops addressing the major production issues of broad leaf weed control and management of foliar diseases such as ascochyta and sclerotinia; Agronomic research and industry development of canola and Farming systems design as project leader of a $14mAUD 5 year paddock survey project quantifying biological constraints within contemporary crop and pasture sequences. Bachelor of Agricultural Science (Hons) University of Tasmania 1997. Graduate Diploma Natural Environmental Management University of Tasmania 2008.
Production of canola in Western Australia has expanded from less than 400,000 tonnes p.a. to over 1,300,000 tonnes p.a. in the past decade. A range of factors have driven this rapid growth including advances in plant adaptation through breeding of phenotypes better suited to the environment and advances in agronomy. A major change has been the adoption of hybrid plant types, with approximately 25% of the canola crop now hybrid. Farmers have access to both hybrid and open pollinated (OP) cultivars that are genetically modified to be tolerant of glyphosate, or have been bred by traditional methods to be tolerant of triazine herbicides. Through extensive field testing we have refined production packages for new varieties and we examine the pros and cons of each plant type at a range of levels; agronomic, economic and industry.
Agronomically there are several differences between the hybrid and OP cultivars. We report differences in, yield plant density required to achieve maximum site yield, plant growth rates as measured by NDVI and destructive sampling and rates of field emergence. There are also farming systems aspects to be considered. For example adoption of the glyphosate resistant hybrids has been geographically specific with this technology used in ~60% of fields the northern cropping region. This is in response to difficulty controlling weeds that are resistant to other herbicide groups.
Economically cost of seed and technology fees for hybrids is around $30.00AUD/kg, whereas farmers can retain farm produced OP seed to sow the next crop for a tenth of this cost. Additionally there is a discount of approximately $40AUD per tonne for genetically modified canola against non-GM. The relative profitability of hybrid and OP depended on the yield potential of the site. When yield was lower than 1.2 t/ha it was more profitable to use an OP variety whereas in higher productivity situations/regions the improved yield of the hybrid compensated for additional seed cost and discounted sale price.
At an industry level there is strong support for farmers to have access to both OP and Hybrid varieties. This enables farmers to choose a low input risk minimisation strategy using OP seed or a higher risk profit maximisation strategy using hybrids in more productive regions. Security of seed supply is also an issue, as highlighted in 2017, when poor production of hybrid seed meant only 60% of the hybrid seed ordered could be supplied and OP seed was required to cover this shortage.
In summary there is a good case for the use of both hybrid and open pollinated plant types within the Western Australian environment and it is critical that farmers continue to have access to well adapted cultivars of both.