Solar bliss

29 Feb 2012

You can have enough of kookabarras. To be fair, when this iconic bird 'laughs' at 30 minutes after sunset it’s great. But, it can be wearing after several mornings of being woken up 30 minutes before sunrise by the same cry.

I’ve visited a few farms and given a few talks during my visit to Australia so far. When it seems appropriate, I’ve asked ‘what’s the one major introduction that has influenced farming systems in Southern Australia?’.

Initially it was wire fencing to keep in the sheep, and then over time it was corrugated iron, treated fence posts (against termites), hydraulics, bulk handling of grain and the plastic water pipe.

The current generation of arable farmers mostly say ‘Roundup’; it enables summer weed control to help ensure that as much soil moisture as possible is retained for the crops sown in the autumn and avoids the need for cultivations over the summer that could lead to horrific wind and sometimes water erosion.Corrugated Iron

It also enabled the current one-pass establishment techniques. Typically this is a knife point system, but some have adopted direct drilling with disc drills. The most recent farm I visited sows 10,000 acres in 15 days with a 60 foot wide 'drill'.

Perhaps this reliance on glyphosate has resulted in farmers not being totally enthusiastic about the adoption of GM glyphosate tolerant canola (rape). There was already glyphosate resistance in two weeds before the introduction of GM rape a couple of years ago. This made the farmers more aware of the risks of relying further on this herbicide.

So the only situation where this technology is being adopted is where there tends to be a weed species that cannot be controlled by conventional selective herbicides, and the farmer feels that there is the probability of a reasonable crop. The cost of the hybrid seed is deemed to be too high for the more droughty areas so in these areas, triazine tolerant rape in conventionally bred varieties is often the preferred option.

So the rate of uptake of GM herbicide tolerant rape over the last couple of years has been slower in Australia than in other countries where it’s been introduced. In my opinion, this sensible adoption of the technology has to be applauded. GM provides options, but often not the only solution and over-reliance on any pesticide can lead to resistance issues.

I did ask the wife of a sheep station owner what introduction has influenced her life the most over the past 30 years. They farm 50,000 acres on the edge of the outback and communications are not easy. I expected her to say a satellite phone or email. She said battery-stored solar power. It meant that the family could get a good night's sleep without the fridge switching on the generator. They obviously don’t have kookaburras on the farm!