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Hands-free farming: SA grains industry set to face the reality

GRDC Southern Regional Panel chair Keith Pengilley says the Adelaide Grains Research Update will present information critical to informing growers’ tactical decision-making for the 2018 cropping season and into the future. Image courtesy of GRDC

Once considered a notion of futuristic fantasy, the era of hands-free farming is now well and truly on our doorstep.

Bringing that reality even closer to South Australian grain growers will be Martin Abell, a research engineer from the United Kingdom who has successfully completed the world’s first autonomous full cultivation of a crop of barley.

Mr Abell, of Precision Decisions Ltd, will headline the Grains Research and Development Corporation’s Grains Research Update in Adelaide on February 20-21 2018.

The future of automated grain growing will be explored at the Update by Mr Abell, who worked on the Hands Free Hectare Project, a one-year precision farming feasibility study based on automated broadacre agriculture and the accompanying remote agronomy required to accomplish the project’s ambition of “automated machines growing the first arable crop remotely, without operators in the driving seats or agronomists on the ground”.

Mr Abell’s achievement will be among the latest grains industry advances to be showcased at the Grains Research Update at the Adelaide Convention Centre.

Considered the State’s premier grains research, development and extension (RD&E) forum, the Update will feature a line-up of experts from throughout Australia and beyond who will deliver revealing insights and new knowledge emerging from GRDC investments in RD&E.

GRDC Southern Regional Panel chair Keith Pengilley says the Update will present information critical to informing growers’ tactical decision-making for the 2018 cropping season and into the future.

“The Update each year plays a key role in influencing practice change and uptake of new technologies by growers, to underpin continued improvements within their farming systems and opportunities for profit growth,” Mr Pengilley says.

With the theme of “strategic steps – enduring profit”, Mr Pengilley says the Update will be attended by hundreds of agronomists, consultants, researchers, growers and other grains industry personnel.

Keynote speakers include the chairman of Pulse Australia, Ron Storey, who will provide his thoughts on the status of the nation’s rapidly expanding pulse industry, a large portion of which is based in SA. Mr Storey will discuss the sustainability of demand and prices for pulses, new opportunities and key messages from recent global forums.

Another keynote speaker whose insights will be eagerly anticipated is Peter Newman, the leader of communications at the Australian Herbicide Resistance Initiative (AHRI), a GRDC investment. Mr Newman, from Western Australia, will offer the latest thinking around the most effective harvest weed seed control strategies based on a combination of methods tailored to individual situations.

The art of communicating science and maintaining peak performance will be the subjects of additional plenary sessions during the Update, presented by Jennifer Metcalfe (Econnect Communication) and former Australian Football League player and high performance coach Mark McKeon (MMA TEAM Pty Ltd) respectively.

Myth-busting data on canola harvest management will be among the relevant agronomic issues to be covered on day one, along with weed-competitive cereals, new knowledge on Russian wheat aphid, latest information from research into herbicide resistance, tips on pulse crop management, optimal performance from inoculants, and getting the best out of barley.

Other day one topics include best-practice agronomy for canola, an update on cereal foliar and root diseases, results from the National Variety Trials for wheat, in-field monitoring of crops, understanding fungicide resistance, and emerging research from PhD students.

Agronomic topics to be delved into on day two include controlled traffic farming in the low rainfall zone, practical use of agricultural machinery technology, brome grass and other emerging problem weeds, management of septoria tritici blotch and powdery mildew, improving productivity on sandy soils, and countering blackleg disease in canola.

The likely impact of mice in 2018 and new research on spring baiting and potential new actives will be another topic of considerable interest on day two, as well as control of insects such as mites and aphids, the reliability of seasonal forecasting, nitrogen dynamics in modern cropping systems, and the impact of livestock on paddock health.

Source: GRDC

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