2010-2011 Annual Report: Agriculture
Each year Victoria’s agriculture sector produces goods valued at around $10 billion or 27 per cent of the national total from 3 per cent of Australia’s arable land.
The dairy industry is the state’s largest agriculture industry, producing most of Australia’s milk and dairy exports (valued at $1.76 billion in 2009-10). The next largest industry is meat ($1.5 billion), followed by animal fibre ($892 million), prepared foods ($720 million), grains ($686 million) and horticulture ($427 million).
The agriculture sector occupies about 60 per cent of Victoria’s land mass, employing around 89,000 people across 33,000 farm businesses and uses about 65 per cent of the state’s water.
Despite the impact of significant floods, particularly in the north west of the state, pest outbreaks, in particular locusts, fruit fly and mice, and the high Australian dollar, 2010-11 was a good year for the agriculture sector. Farm product prices, the agriculture terms of trade and farm profitability were the highest they have been for the past five years. Output production, particularly in grains and oil seeds, returned to near record-high levels and there was only a marginal increase in the total price paid to produce agricultural products compared with previous years.
The wheat harvest totalled 4.09 million tonnes, according to Australian Bureau of Agricultural and Resource Economics (ABARE) estimates at 15 June 2011, breaking the 1983 record of 3.8 million tonnes. The state’s estimated average wheat yield was 2.77 tonnes per hectare. Barley growers produced 2.45 million tonnes of grain, exceeding the record 2004 harvest of 2.275 million tonnes. ABARE’s estimated average barley yield was 2.87 tonnes a hectare. The canola crop totalled 450,000 tonnes, delivering an estimated average yield of 1.71 tonnes a hectare.
This result was helped by weather improvements – with 2010 being the wettest year in Victoria since 1974, the night-time temperature being warmer than average and the daytime temperature being close to average due to a cool spring.
DPI’s contribution to the performance of the agriculture sector included the development of policy settings that removed barriers to production while promoting effective regulatory frameworks, detecting and managing response and recovery to biosecurity incursions and natural disasters, and delivering research and practice change services aimed at improving farm business productivity and sustainability.
Australian plague locusts
The Spring Locust Preparedness and Response Project was the single-largest sustained emergency response undertaken by DPI with about 1,220 staff deployed through more than 20 rotations across 35 per cent of the state.
DPI control measures included ground and aerial spraying of public and private land and extensive aerial and ground surveillance.
Community engagement activities involved 506 community meetings attended by 10,774 people, state wide media liaison resulting in 4,095 media stories and an extensive press, radio, television and online advertising campaign.
Mobile devices, such as iPads, were successfully trialled to track locust sightings across the state and remotely transmit information directly to response planners. Using the iPads, DPI staff were able to do on-the-spot GPS mapping and provide access to real-time Google maps, enabling immediate surveillance tracing. As the iPads recorded data in a consistent format, there were no transcription errors.
DPI received claims totalling $2,108,204 under the Locust Insecticide Rebate Scheme that aims to reimburse farmers for the cost of purchasing approved insecticides to counter locusts. To 1 August 2011, DPI has met claims totalling $1,957,730 and expects to approve almost all claims.
Innovative use of the DPI website also provided real-time locust distribution reporting and online species identification resources.
DPI reformed the processes supporting the efficient deployment of emergency response resources. Key lessons captured during the response effort provided important insights to inform further improvements to DPI’s business.
Large-scale locust swarm formations occurred in northern Victoria, northern South Australia and New South Wales in April 2010. Hatching in Victoria occurred from late September to late October and fledging occurred from mid-November to early December.
The outlook to January 2011 was for a continued increase in adult densities and swarm activity in parts of Victoria, New South Wales and South Australia. However, the probability of the plague situation continuing diminished during the summer because of reductions in the locust population. This was due to a combination of control measures and high mortality rates in the later generations resulting from parasitism, loss of swarms offshore and factors such as overcrowding in dense vegetation, which prevented many insects from basking in the sun – behaviour necessary for locusts to regulate their body temperature and provide good egg laying sites.
By May 2011, the outbreak was declining rapidly with only three small egg beds in the southern Wimmera remaining active.
Queensland fruit fly
Victoria faced one of the worst seasons on record for Queensland fruit fly (QFF) with outbreaks in most of the state’s key fruit-producing regions.
Ninety-seven Ministerial orders were issued declaring 15-kilometre suspension zones surrounding the outbreaks in northern Victoria. Twelve outbreaks were declared in nearby production districts across the border in New South Wales.
DPI undertook an extensive eradication program to manage the outbreaks and ensure that affected fruit industries could market their produce under treatment arrangements.
Major eradication programs were implemented in and around Mildura, Robinvale, Swan Hill and Shepparton.
At Cobram on the Murray River, DPI had 30 tonnes of backyard fruit removed and destroyed to control fruit fly in the town.
More than 400 businesses in the Goulburn Valley and north east Victoria were accredited to treat and consign fruit to QFF-sensitive markets.
Forty DPI staff and 140 contractors were engaged in the eradication response with thousands of properties visited and more than 60,000 baits laid. The eradication program will extend into spring 2011.
Citrus, table grape and stone fruit industries in the Greater Sunraysia Pest Free Area (PFA) provided $1.1 million through Horticulture Australia to assist DPI to maintain the area’s fruit fly-free status and to boost its potential to supply Asian markets.
A road block and signage program on key NSW and Victorian roads in and out of the PFA and a communications and awareness program are being funded under the agreement, which was extended for a further three years. The awareness program warns local and interstate travellers not to carry uncertified fruit into the PFA and urges householders to manage their backyard fruit trees.
Phylloxera exclusion zone
Grapevine phylloxera is one of the world’s most damaging grapevine pests and it poses a significant threat to the multi-million dollar local wine industry. A small aphid-like insect, phylloxera lives and feeds exclusively on the roots of grapevines and occasionally in distinctive galls on grapevine leaves, retarding and often killing affected grapevines.
DPI surveyed vineyards and amenity vines in Victoria’s central west with the aim of including Ballarat, Sunbury, Kilmore and the Macedon Ranges in the existing Western Phylloxera Exclusion Zone. The 118 vineyards surveyed totalling 587 hectares were free of phylloxera.
To qualify for inclusion in a phylloxera exclusion zone, a vineyard must be surveyed for phylloxera twice in three years, with surveys conducted in the first and third years. Grapevines growing in public places are also at risk and are included in the surveys.
Chestnut blight, an exotic plant disease with the potential to destroy Victoria’s $10 million chestnut industry, was detected in the Ovens Valley in north east Victoria in September 2010.
DPI removed and burnt 4,068 chestnut trees on nine properties in a bid to eradicate the disease and negotiated with the affected commercial growers to reimburse the cost of the trees.
DPI invited the French scientist, Dr Cecile Robin, a world-leader in the management of chestnut blight, to visit Victoria during the outbreak under the department’s Visiting Fellows program to advise Commonwealth and state specialists and give presentations to DPI researchers and chestnut industry representatives.
The Ovens Valley produces more than 80 per cent of Australia’s chestnuts. Monitoring the region over the next two years will ensure it is free of the disease.
Chestnut blight is caused by a bark-inhabiting fungus (Cryphonectria parasitica), which mostly affects the trunk and branches of its host, eventually causing the tree to die.
Growers have a legal obligation to notify DPI if they suspect their trees have chestnut blight.
Wild dog management
Improved community engagement through wild dog management groups and the increased use of ground baiting programs were among measures used to counter the menace of wild dogs in Victoria.
A report initiated by the State Government, ‘Social Benefit Costs Analysis of Wild Dog Management in Victoria’, found that wild dogs had reduced livestock productivity in Gippsland by $6 million a year.
The impact in the north east of the state, according to the report, was $5 million a year and the annual cost in the Goulburn region was $2 million.
DPI and the wild dog management groups initiated a number of new community baiting programs involving farmers baiting 133,000 hectares of private land.
This activity complemented the 1,000 kilometres of permanent bait lines maintained by DPI staff on public land. Aerial baiting is planned in autumn 2012.
The success of the coordinated baiting program influenced some landholders to return to sheep farming.
The higher-than-average rainfall resulted in a significant increase in the rabbit population in Victoria’s Mallee.
DPI inspected 33 properties at Waitchie, west of Swan Hill, and 104 properties at Sea Lake.
Direction notices were issued to 52 property owners to carry out rabbit control measures.
Public information and engagement
A DPI display of the state prohibited weeds—horsetail, alligator weed, knotweed and water hyacinth—in the Australian bush amphitheatre at Melbourne Zoo highlighted some of the invasive weeds that cost the Australian economy an estimated $4 billion a year.
Apart from the economic cost, the weeds are a significant threat to many aquatic and terrestrial plants and animals. Zoo visitors were encouraged to report any sightings to DPI.
DPI also showcased a display of state prohibited weeds that attracted 3,800 visitors at the Melbourne International Flower and Garden Show. The key message was that while the weeds looked attractive, they were highly invasive and could quickly become widespread and costly to remove.
Victoria’s network of 2,864 community weed spotters were responsible for reporting 15 of the 37 confirmed sightings of state prohibited weed sites in 2010-11.
An ongoing partnership with Victoria’s nursery and garden industry is developing a code of practice to prevent the introduction of invasive plants via the ornamental plant sector.
Karoo thorn tree
DPI committed $920,000 in 2010-11 towards the eradication of state prohibited weeds, the highest classification of noxious weeds under the Catchment and Land Protection Act 1994. These weeds either do not occur in Victoria or are present and can reasonably be expected to be eradicated. DPI eradicated state prohibited weeds from 171 sites in 2010-11.
DPI has removed the last known living Karoo thorn tree (Vachellia (Acacia) karoo) in Victoria. Since 2003, DPI has progressively removed all known Karoo thorn trees as part of a statewide eradication program. The last known tree and the surrounding topsoil containing seeds was removed from a churchyard at Williamstown in Melbourne in February 2011 and disposed of by deep burial at a landfill site.
Karoo thorn, introduced from southern Africa as an ornamental and habitat plant in botanic gardens and zoos, has been progressively eliminated since 2003.
Based on surveillance and the eradication program, DPI now considers Victoria to be free of the state prohibited weed and the risks it posed to the environment and agriculture.
Mexican feather grass
There are an estimated 2,000 undetected Mexican feather grass (Nassella tenuissima) plants in Melbourne following the illegal importation and distribution of seeds in 2007.
DPI committed $590,000 to the Mexican feather grass response to continue monitoring and treatment to prevent its spread to other parts of Victoria.
The department monitors 502 properties where the plants were grown. One-third of the properties needed treatment during the year.
Despite the extensive response from DPI, an estimated 800 sites remain undetected. As most of these sites are likely to be in Melbourne backyards, DPI has adopted a strategy of developing a robust surveillance network using utility company staff such as water meter readers and postal workers to find the remaining plants.
An Australian seed merchant illegally brought the Mexican feather grass seeds into Victoria in 2007 and sold them to wholesale plant nurseries in Victoria and interstate. The following year retail nurseries received more than 10,000 plants for sale to the public. Five companies subsequently faced prosecution for the illegal distribution of the seeds and plants.
DPI spent $650,000 countering the state prohibited weed Salvinia molesta, a floating aquatic species that poses an extreme threat to Victoria’s waterways.
A two-hectare incursion of salvinia – a significant size – was discovered in five connected dams near Dawson in West Gippsland, adjacent to the Thomson River in June 2010. The removal of 320 cubic metres of salvinia,followed by chemical treatment, succeeded in reducing the mass of the infestation in the dams. Ground, aerial and remote sensing technology surveillance of 132,000 hectares in spring and summer, when salvinia grows most actively, found no further incursions. No new salvinia plants have been detected since January 2011.
Monitoring of the dams is continuing and DPI has expanded its passive surveillance capacity by conducting weed spotter training for people working near the Thomson River.
Community-led action on serrated tussock strengthened Victoria’s containment line around the state’s most prolific and costly invasive plant.
The partnership between DPI and the Victorian Serrated Tussock Working Party delivered 26 treatment projects involving VicRoads and landholders in the Corangamite and Port Phillip catchments.
Outside the containment line, 12 regional-scale control and surveillance projects across six catchments are preventing the spread of satellite infestations on private and public land and on roadsides.
DPI enforced serrated tussock control and issued 57 notices to landholders in 2010-11 to undertake treatment works.
Murray Valley encephalitis
Serological testing of sentinel chickens at locations along the Murray River in February 2011 provided evidence of Murray Valley encephalitis virus activity.
The birds provide an early warning of the occurrence of the mosquito-borne disease, which causes severe headaches, high fever, drowsiness, tremors and seizures in humans and requires immediate medical attention.
The last case of a person contracting the diseases was in 1974 following a large outbreak throughout much of south-eastern Australia.
There are 13 flocks of chickens placed along the Murray River and in rural areas of Victoria to warn of outbreaks of the disease. The Department of Health owns and manages the flocks but DPI officials undertake some of the serosampling with laboratory testing carried out at the DPI laboratory at Attwood.
The presence and proactive monitoring of these sentinel birds enabled the Chief Health Officer to issue timely warnings to the public in order to minimise the infection and spread of this potentially lethal zoonosis (a disease that animals can pass to humans).
DPI investigated disease syndromes in horses suspected of being caused by arboviruses on more than 270 Victorian properties from January to June 2011. Biting insects such as mosquitoes and midges spread arboviruses.
Cases were initially located throughout the northern and western parts of Victoria with two apparent clusters – one in the Murray River/Goulburn Valley area and one extending south and west from Ballarat. Later in the outbreak, cases appeared around Melbourne and in some coastal regions.
Many horses in the Ballarat cluster were only mildly affected and generally recovered uneventfully – many of these cases were diagnosed as Ross River virus. Most of the other cases observed by DPI were more severe with the deaths of at least 30 horses that exhibited nervous symptoms. Most of these horses had either Murray Valley encephalitis or Kunjin virus.
DPI’s work in following the progress of these viruses – which can affect humans – supported the Department of Health in protecting Victoria.
Climate variability and natural resources
DPI enacted its new role in food supply security and continuity for the first time during the January 2011 floods that affected one third of Victoria.
This involved the coordination of the commercial food supply into Kerang, in northern Victoria, before and during the town’s isolation by floodwaters, which ensured that the supermarkets remained open and were able to supply an estimated 2,000 people who remained in the town while it was isolated.
DPI estimates that the floods cost Victorian agriculture $2 billion.
The losses, according to DPI assessments, included 51,000 hectares of pasture, 40,000 hectares of field crops such as wheat and barley, 83,000 tonnes of hay and silage, 2,000 kilometres of fencing, infrastructure such as machinery sheds and other farm equipment as well as huge stock losses.
The State Government negotiated a revised agreement with the Commonwealth to secure $500 million under the National Disaster Relief Recovery Arrangements for flood recovery efforts in Victoria.
In March 2011, it announced an $11.9 million agricultural flood support package of measures to help Victorian communities recovering from the floods.
This was in addition to a range of other Commonwealth and State Government financial support for flood-affected individuals, primary producers, small businesses and non-profit organisations. The measures included hardship assistance for individuals, clean-up and restoration grants of up to $25,000 and natural disaster concessional loans of up to $200,000.
An additional $40 million worth of flood recovery initiatives was announced by the government in May 2011. This funding included $30 million for the Flood Recovery Community Infrastructure Fund and $10 million for the Victorian Business Flood Recovery Fund.
The Minister for Agriculture and Food Security also announced spending of $19.3 million over four years to repair flood warning networks, undertake more river flood mapping and develop an Internet-based tool – Floodzoom – to provide more accurate predictions of flood behaviour.
This would help emergency services plan their responses before a flood arrived, assist individual landholders in assessing their own flood risk and lead to more effective community warnings, response and recovery.
The money was also used to fund new flood plans for rural and urban areas.
DPI’s flood recovery effort shifted from the initial response phase to the floods to longer-term agricultural recovery.
DPI recovery services included:
- advice on re-establishing rural enterprises or alternative strategies for economic recovery
- presentations to 112 technical and community workshops and meetings throughout the flood-affected areas
- the widespread distribution of information leaflets
- the management of a single client database to ensure accurate client management from response to recovery
- implementation of a whole-of-government referral service
- delivering specific flood subsidies, recovery projects and programs for primary producers.
DPI launched an animation known as The Climatedogs to explain the key drivers that ‘round up’ Victoria’s rainfall and explain the main elements that bring about wet and dry weather. Based on Australian cattle dogs, the four cartoon characters – Enso, Indy, Sam and Ridgy – represent the key determinants of Victoria’s weather to explain the El Nino Southern Oscillation (ENSO), the Indian Ocean Dipole (IOD), the Southern Annular Mode (SAM) and the Sub-tropical Ridge (STR).
Victoria’s wet weather in 2010 was due to both ENSO and IOD sending extra tropical moisture towards the state. The last time this happened was in 1975.
The Climatedogs have sparked great interest, with the DPI climate web page receiving 25,804 unique page views in 2010-11.
Carbon farming initiative
DPI actively influenced the national climate policy agenda for agriculture, particularly in relation to offset markets and the Federal Government’s Carbon Farming Initiative (CFI). A submission to the Commonwealth Government (and a subsequent submission to a House of Representatives Standing Committee) and consultations with the Federal Department of Climate Change and Energy Efficiency led to a number of positive outcomes for Victoria, including the relaxing of criteria to enable potentially greater participation by farming businesses in the CFI.
DPI is continuing to liaise with the Commonwealth Government and State Government agencies to further develop the CFI and address remaining areas of concern.
Murray-Darling Basin Plan
DPI helped to lead and influence key elements of the Victorian Government’s response to the Guide to the Proposed Murray-Darling Basin Plan. It also helped to inform other Victorian Government agencies of the potential economic impacts across various irrigation industries and regions in northern Victoria.
Farm water program
The Farm Water Program continued to promote water savings activities to irrigators in the Goulburn- Murray Irrigation District, with more than 300 water saving plans completed.
Irrigators were urged to consider improved surface irrigation, laser grading, drainage re-use systems, automatic irrigation, improved sprinkler and sub-surface irrigation and irrigation scheduling.
Irrigators use water saving plans to aid their decision making on the amount of water savings and in matching irrigation technology to their farming system. The two key components of a water saving plan are a whole farm plan and a water savings calculator to assess water savings for the different irrigation technologies against crop and soil type.
Irrigation water use targets
DPI produced the first objective, industry-wide estimates of crop production values that underpin irrigation water use targets. The National Water Commission accepted that the DPI-developed satellite remote sensing evapotranspiration methods have a major role to play in the management and evaluation of water resource use in the Murray-Darling Basin.
The technology received widespread interest from American scientists interested in applying the Victorian findings to United States’ almond crops.
Farm-based water savings
Water savings infrastructure on 23 farms captured 2,200 megalitres of run-off in the Macalister Irrigation District (MID) – equivalent to 880 Olympic-sized swimming pools – preventing nine tonnes of phosphorous from entering the Gippsland Lakes each year. The MID covers 53,000 hectares or about 2 per cent of the catchment area of the Gippsland Lakes and contributes about 20 per cent of the nutrients entering the lakes system.
An information session on the draft Gippsland Regional Sustainable Water Strategy at Maffra in October 2010 attracted 90 participants.
Climate challenges centre
In February 2011, the Minister for Agriculture and Food Security and the Vice Chancellor of the University of Melbourne formally launched the Primary Industries Climate Challenges Centre. A significant partnership between DPI and the university, the centre aims to develop climate-resilient,
sustainable and productive agricultural systems, landscapes and communities. The minister announced that each partner had committed an initial $5 million a year to fund the centre. The new centre would bring together existing research activity and first-class scientists and programs from a range of sectors and disciplines.
Preliminary research into crop-climate simulation models for 2050 showed that wheat yields may decrease by 20 per cent in low rainfall regions such as Victoria’s Mallee. This could be offset by changing to longer-growing spring wheat cultivars and altering the sowing dates. Yields in high-rainfall areas could be higher due to CO2 stimulating crop growth.
Dairy research centre opens
The $128 million Dairy Futures Cooperative Research Centre (CRC) at Bundoora in Melbourne was officially opened in August 2010.
It brings together a range of existing and new investment in the areas of designer forages, animal improvements and farm, factory and community benefits.
The centre comprises participants from the dairy industry, education and research sectors and government.
Accounting for nutrients
The Accounting for Nutrients research project led by DPI revealed results that could save the national dairy industry $70 million. The research found that the average nitrogen use efficiency on Australian dairy farms was 28 per cent. A 3 per cent increase in the use of nitrogen could be worth an estimated $24,000 saving to the average dairy farmer.
DPI scientists developed the world’s first fully validated methods for ‘target’ metabolite analysis and metabolite ‘profiling’ in fresh milk. Metabolic efficiency relates to how the cow uses energy to maintain itself and also produce milk. Some cows are able to use less energy than others to maintain their bodies while producing the same amount of milk.
The findings highlighted the major advantage of this technique – greater sensitivity and selectivity –over liquid chromatography with traditional detectors (e.g. ultraviolet and fluorescence) for difficult analyses.
DPI scientists will be able to apply the technique in other projects, including ‘Premium fruit’, ‘Feeding systems for high value milk’ and ‘Defining grape and wine tannin specifications’.
Supplements and milk yield
DPI research has found that by feeding cows partial mixed rations, daily milk output could increase by as much as two litres at key times of the year compared to cows fed a more traditional diet of grain in the bail at milking time.
The use of purchased supplements has been growing in Australian dairying and now represents up to half the average cow’s diet.
Extended lactation milk
DPI research found that extended-lactation milk has higher concentrations of protein and, to a lesser degree, fat than milk from traditional 300-day lactations. The data was the first to show that pasture-based dairy industries could embrace the use of extended lactations without compromising the core business of producing high-quality dairy products.
Feed conversion efficiency
Blood testing calves to work out their feed conversion efficiency may become common practice for dairy farmers, following DPI research.
The research investigated the genetic and psychological traits that are common in more feed-efficient dairy heifers.
After testing more than 900 calves over the past 18 months, the 60 most efficient and 60 least efficient feed converters will be the subject of further research. These calves will enter the commercial milk herd at DPI Ellinbank in spring 2011, with DPI scientists seeking to validate whether the genetic markers for food conversion efficiency observed as calves hold true for lactating animals under different feeding regimes.
Methane emissions research
DPI researchers compared the effects on methane emissions of feeding different fat supplements to dairy cows. The result was a reduction of 3.5 per cent for every 1 per cent increase in dietary fat concentration.
They concluded that feeding fatty by-products such as whole cottonseed, brewers’ grains, hominy meal or cold-pressed canola meal can significantly reduce methane emissions and increase the productivity of dairy cows provided the total concentration of fat in the diet is less than 6 per cent.
Dairy science symposium
Dairy specialists from Ireland, New Zealand and the United States joined more than 100 Australian dairy research, development and engineering practitioners at the ‘DPI Science in Action’ symposium at Ellinbank. DPI scientists presented findings from their cutting edge research into genomics, animal welfare, feeding systems and nitrogen use efficiency. Presentations by international collaborators provided insights into techniques that could be applied to improve the Victorian dairy industry, such as New Zealand’s success in recent feed conversion efficiency trials, Ireland’s development of new technologies for sustainable systems and the US’s breakthrough on systems biology relevant to lactating animals.
First Australian germplasm deposit
The first Australian germplasm deposit in Norway occurred in January 2011 when crop seeds were stored in a seed bank on the Norwegian island of Svalbard in the Arctic Circle.
The Svalbard Global Seed Vault holds duplicate samples of seeds kept in genebanks across the world to protect them in the event of a future disease and climate crisis.
The seeds were packaged for transportation at DPI’s seed bank at Horsham in western Victoria.
The Australian genebank for oilseed and grain legume crops is held by DPI as part of the AustralianTemperate Field Crops Collection, which includes more than 34,000 ancient and traditional varieties from across the world, including China, the Indian subcontinent, the Middle East and Europe.
The first consignment of seeds to Svalbard consisted of a batch of field peas (Pisum sativum) collected on a trip to China by DPI scientists as well as some lines from the Chinese Academy of Agricultural Science. It also contained some very rare chickpea (Cicer arietinum) lines recovered from an old Australian breeding collection.
The contents will remain under DPI’s control in storage.
Boost to grains research
In July 2011, the Victorian Government and the Grains Research and Development Corporation announced a $20 million investment over five years into grains research.
The aim is to expand southern Australia’s pulse-growing region and breed new pulse varieties, including peas, lentils, chickpeas and faba beans. Five new lentil varieties, including a herbicide tolerant lentil and two new types of peas, are expected to be released in coming seasons.
DPI scientists at Horsham will lead the research. The department leads the national grains breeding program for field peas and lentils, coordinating experiments at 20 sites across Australia.
About $3 million will be used to assess new varieties so that when released for commercial use, growers will have information about how to best to grow them.
Wheat and canola yields
DPI research indicates that there is potential to double the yields of wheat and canola in the traditional pastoral areas of south west Victoria through the development of better-adapted varieties and management practices.
A recent discovery found that winter-type canola cultivars from Europe have higher yields than the best cultivars developed in Australia. Breeding companies are now introducing new germplasm to Australia for this cropping region.
Finger on the pulse
DPI led the national field pea and lentil breeding programs and was a major contributor to the chickpea breeding program. Recent varieties and agronomic packages released by Pulse Breeding Australia (PBA) include Gunah and Twighlight field pea, Blitz lentil and Jumbo lentil. PBA is an unincorporated joint venture that includes DPI.
Smoke taint research
A $4 million research centre, based at DPI Irymple near Mildura, will investigate the impact of smoke taint on wine.
Smoke taint from wildfires poses a serious threat to Victoria’s grape and wine industries. Wines made from grapes exposed to smoke are usually unpalatable and unfit for purpose, resulting in financial losses for the industry. DPI aims to explore any potential impacts on wine grapes from localised fuel reduction burns and to develop an internet-based risk assessment tool to help growers determine the potential threat of smoke taint.
Chinese market breakthrough
The Australian table grape industry achieved a historic breakthrough, exporting the first container of Sunraysia crimson seedless grapes to China six years after trying to break into the world’s largest market. The grapes were sold in May 2011 in Shenzhen in China’s Guangdong Province, which borders Hong Kong.
DPI provided technical advice to the Australian Table Grape Association and the Commonwealth Government and facilitated visiting Chinese delegations to secure access to the market.
Marketing Victorian summer fruit in Thailand
DPI facilitated a successful demonstration project in Thailand with the summer fruit industry, Austrade, Horticulture Australia Ltd (HAL) and a Thai retailer to capitalise on the promising market segments for Australian summer fruit exports to Malaysia, Thailand and Vietnam. Summer fruit is the commodity group representing fresh apricot, nectarine, peach and plum producers.
The project resulted in Australia becoming the Thai retailer’s leading summer fruit supplier. DPI has produced marketing videos to inform summer fruit growers about trends in South-East Asian markets and the requirements of these markets.
Sound waves are being used to determine when fruit is ready to harvest so that it reaches the market looking and tasting its best.
Initial research has focused on newer variety plums, which look, taste and yield differently to those traditionally grown in Victoria.
Industry guidelines on when and how to pick the different varieties, the optimum storage time and the potential ripening levels after harvest will result in improved yields and improved fruit quality. This could result in an extra 1,840 tonnes of premium grade fruit worth $14 million being available on the Victorian market by 2012-13.
Following the launch of Booster BroccoliTM in 2009, which contains over 40 per cent more active antioxidants than regular broccoli varieties, DPI has continued to develop other products for the Australian and New Zealand markets.
Three lines of purple potatoes have been analysed for health attributes and a carrot with potential
high carotene content are in field trials. Small scale mini cabbage and orange cauliflower trials to determine optimum growing and management practices are on track.
In the United States and Mexico, three marketing partners are field testing the Vital Vegetables under a commercial arrangement.
Horticulture water requirements
DPI research into the water requirements of perennial horticulture crops focused on providing producers with information to enable them to manage fruit production in times of decreased water availability.
Reducing the irrigation of peach and pear crops after harvest in field experiments resulted in substantial water savings.
(Deficit irrigation is an optimisation strategy in which irrigation is applied during drought-sensitive growth stages of a crop. Outside these periods, irrigation is limited or even unnecessary if rainfall provides a minimum supply of water.)
A mid-term evaluation found the Horticulture Industry Network – a partnership between DPI and the horticulture industry – was achieving its objectives though improvements could be made in terms of governance, knowledge and information management.
More than 200 meetings, workshops, seminars and education and training events were held by the network across the state during the year. An internet-based industry portal developed by the networks received wide support from horticulturists.
DPI licensed Apple and Pear Australia Ltd to commercially evaluate the first two pear varieties from the pear breeding program at Tatura, near Shepparton. The company is the global manager of Australia’s Pink Lady® apple.
Meat and wool
EverGraze research identifies benefits
Increases in stocking rates, livestock weights, wool production and reduced supplementary feed costs were some of the benefits identified at the conclusion of five years of EverGraze research into various perennial pasture systems.
Specific EverGraze experimental work ended in June 2010. However, the analyses of results and their further interpretation and write-up continued into 2011. There is to be further modelling and interpretation of results for different areas, including extension packages.
The results at DPI’s EverGraze proof site at Hamilton in western Victoria showed that perennial pastures could be profitable and productive and enhance environmental management.
The research found that both the perennial rye grass system based on early, mid and late maturing rye grass-based pastures and the triple system (lucerne, perennial rye grass and tall fescue) could increase productivity and profitability of systems by 50 per cent or more compared to the current best practice benchmarks of the top 20 per cent of producers in the South West Farm Monitor Project. The triple system also reduced the need for supplementary feeding during poor seasons.
Both systems experienced high winter growth rates (40 to 50 kilograms of dry matter per hectare per day) through the warm, dry winters and one to two tonnes of dry matter per hectare from the summer active pastures in response to summer and autumn rains. This led to the achievement of stocking rates of 14 to 6 ewes per hectare in both systems. The use of perennial grass hedgerows to provide shelter in specially designed lambing paddocks increased lamb survival at average birth weight from 69 per cent to 90 per cent. Weaning percentages for both systems were between 92 per cent and 106 per cent.
DPI’s information nucleus flock operations at Hamilton in the Western District and Rutherglen in north-eastern Victoria continued to be on track during 2010-11 with 3,716 animals involved in trial work.
The artificial insemination of 885 ewes in the summer and autumn of 2011 will produce over 1,000 lambs in the spring of 2011.
More than 1,000 progeny born in 2007, 2008, 2009 and 2010 have been assessed for various traits including growth rate, meat quality and production, conformation and wool quality and production.
Reproduction traits have also been measured for all ewes retained from the merino and maternal components of the trial.
This information is being utilised for genetic analyses producing new Australian Sheep Breeding Values (ASBVs) for new sheep production traits to allow increased genetic gain within the sheep industry. The extensive genetic program is also allowing research into genomic selection for hard-to measure traits and to enhance prediction of ASBVs earlier in the life progeny.
Lifetime Ewe Management
The Lifetime Ewe Management training program (LTEM), which is based on the results of the original DPI-led Lifetime Wool project, continued to have a proven impact on the sheep meat and wool industries. The LTEM course is delivered nationally under the Farm Ready program and Victorian training funding by the Sheep Cooperative Research Centre (Sheep CRC) in collaboration with Rural Industries Skill Training (RIST).
As the lead agency for the Lifetime Wool project, DPI has a collaborative agreement with the Sheep CRC and RIST that allows the use of Lifetime Wool materials in the LTEM training course.
A total of 78 groups with 390 participants are enrolled in the LTEM program in either their first or second year. Of these groups, 31 are in Victoria.
Improvements on participating farms could lead to an extra 200,000 lambs being produced annually as result of the program. Producers who implement lifetime wool principles gain an average increase in profit of $2 per ewe, worth an estimated $20 million a year to Victorian producers. LTEM participants in Victoria have increased their whole-farm stocking rates by 14 per cent and lamb marking percentages by 11 to 13 per cent, depending on enterprise type. The LTEM training has also resulted in a reduction of 43 per cent in ewe mortality.
‘Best’ program success
The BestWool/BestLamb extension program continued to expand with nine new groups formed across the state to take the total to 46. The extension program delivers economic, environmental and social benefits to sheep producers and hones their practical and management skills.
Feed efficiency research
Genetics, as well as management, can impact on how efficiently lambs convert feed into meat, according to DPI research.
The research has shown that the most efficient lambs can put on one kilogram of live weight for every 2.5 kilograms of feed consumed and cost approximately $10 in feed to finish. This is compared to the least efficient animals that required 14 kilograms of feed for the same weight gain costing an additional $50 per lamb.
Research into feed efficiency started in 2007, with the efficiency of various groups of second cross lambs tested in each subsequent summer (testing of lambs traditionally spans from mid-December through to early June). The assessment of the first merino lambs for feed efficiency took place in the summer of 2011 in collaboration with the Sheep CRC.
Using a special animal house equipped with state-of-the-art automatic feeders, DPI researchers at Rutherglen were able to measure individual feed intakes in group housed lambs. DPI staff were responsible for all elements of the efficiency testing including project design, animal ethics approvals and daily animal management. Throughout the course of the research DPI worked in partnership with Murdoch University in Western Australia, the Animal Genetics and Breeding Unit at the University of New England in New South Wales and Meat and Livestock Australia.
Research and development
National Research, Development and Extension Framework
DPI took a leader role in 2010-11 in the development and promotion of the National Primary Industries Research, Development and Extension Framework to ensure that Australia’s capabilities align with future industry needs.
The aim of the initiative is to strengthen collaboration that enhances Australia’s position in international markets in order to ensure that research, development and extension delivery is more efficient and has the required critical mass. The framework spans 14 primary industry sectors and seven cross-industry sectors. Partners in the initiative include state and territory governments, rural research and development corporations, the Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organisation (CSIRO) and the university sector through the Council of Deans of Agriculture. DPI holds the chair and secretariat roles on the Research, Development and Extension Subcommittee of the Primary Industries Standing Committee, which oversees the national framework.
State agriculture ministers endorsed the Animal Welfare Strategy, which DPI coordinated, in November 2010. In December 2010, there was a major update of the Dairy Strategy, which the ministers had endorsed the previous year. DPI is also working on several projects that address elements of the ongoing operation of the framework, including extension, investment data, knowledge management, evaluation, intellectual property and communication.
Construction of the $288 million centre for agricultural biosciences research on the La Trobe University campus at Bundoora in Melbourne was on schedule to achieve commercial acceptance by 30 November 2011.
Known as AgriBio, Centre for AgriBioscience, the project – a joint initiative of DPI and La Trobe University – is Australia’s first agricultural systems biology research centre. Up to 400 staff will work at the centre, which will officially open early in 2012.
The building qualified for an official five-star green energy rating in mid-2011.
DPI and university staff will work collaboratively on developing innovative biotechnology outcomes to increase productivity and protection for the Victorian and national agricultural sectors. DPI research and development staff at Frankston, Knoxfield and Attwood will start moving into AgriBio from December 2011.
DPI scientist honoured
The Australian Academy of Science recognised the scientific achievements and leadership of DPI scientist, Professor Mike Goddard.
He was among 17 leading Australian scientists elected as Fellows of the academy.
Election to the academy recognises scientific careers that have significantly advanced, and continue to advance, the world’s scientific knowledge.
Professor Goddard is a principal scientist in the computational biology group in the Biosciences Research Division and a Professorial Fellow in Animal Genetics at the University of Melbourne. With other DPI scientists, he developed a breeding selection technology, known as ‘genomic selection’, to identify the best breeding stock, which is having an impact in Australia, Europe and the United States.
Professor Goddard is also a national and international leader of research aimed at utilising findings in molecular genetics for practical breeding purposes.
DPI science awards
The annual DPI science awards recognise excellence and innovation in agriculture.
In 2010, the Hugh McKay Future Farming award recognised the work of Yarra Valley apple orchardist Kevin Sanders, whose approach to apple production enables trees to fruit within eight months of planting – a vast improvement over the five-year waiting period using traditional methods.
The Nancy Millis postgraduate award went to La Trobe University’s Cassie Scoble of Woori Yallock. The award will fund three years of PhD study, focusing on the effects of integrated pest management techniques on soil with special emphasis on the effects of the microbial population.
The Daniel McAlpine award recognised the Abalone Virus Research Project Team – a joint DPI and CSIRO effort – for the development of a diagnostic test used in response to abalone virus outbreaks in Victoria and Tasmania.
The Helping Dairy Farmers Secure Their Water Future Project received the Samuel Wadham practice change award.
Japanese water saving agreement
DPI and the Kaiteki Institute in Japan signed DPI and the Kaiteki Institute in Japan signed a memorandum of understanding to formalise research arrangements into vegetable production using water saving technologies.
As the initial research outcome was promising, the institute wanted to expand the research programin 2011.
Support for farmers
The Victorian Government allocated $1 million in the State Budget over the next four years to the Victorian Young Farmers organisation to provide secretariat support to strengthen the organisation and deliver activities that generally support young people in agriculture across the state, such as assisting young farmers who want to expand their agriculture knowledge overseas.
The government also allocated $1.2 million to continue the First Farm Grant Program until June 2012. Rural Finance will administer the program, which provides access to business planning and development advice to young people contemplating or committed to a career in farming. By the end of December 2010, more than 220 applications for grants had been received. The program aims to enhance the productivity and sustainability of farm businesses managed by young farmers.
The Minister for Agriculture and Food Security presented three Victorian students with Macpherson Smith Rural Future Leaders scholarships.
The scholarships will give the year 12 students – Roy Hammond-Thomas, of Trafalgar, in West Gippsland, Rachel Tharratt, of Lurg, in north eastern Victoria and Courtney Boyd, of Ouyen in the Mallee – an opportunity to study at university. The scholarship program, which is in its first year, aimsto develop future rural leaders by providing scholarships to country students disadvantaged by their geographical location.
Farm families program
The Sustainable Farm Families Program (SFF) continued to improve the physical and mental health of food and fibre producing families across Victoria with 25 farmer workshops across the state.
Specifically designed for food and fibre producers, the workshops have attracted 2,400 farmers across Australia. Ninety-eight per cent of participants said they would recommend it to other farmers.
An external evaluation found that the program had ‘substantially influenced farmers’ knowledge, attitudes and health behaviours’. The impact of the SFF program on farmer health and wellbeing and farm management practices indicates that SFF has built farmer capacity to deal with challenging circumstances.
SFF is an initiative of the Western District Health Service at Hamilton, delivered in partnership with DPI and with the assistance of local health agencies.
Banks and other creditors will be required to offer mediation to Victorian food and fibre producers before initiating debt recovery proceedings on farm mortgages under new legislation.
The legislation will ensure that farmers can access mediation services provided through the Office of the Small Business Commissioner with the aim of achieving a better outcome and potentially avoiding costly legal proceedings.
The Farm Debt Mediation Scheme will give farmers the opportunity to discuss farm debt disputes equitably with the assistance of an impartial mediator.
Dangerous dog legislation
The State Government announced tough new dog laws that double the penalties for dogs that are a danger to the public.
The new laws give council officers the authority to seize and destroy unregistered or unidentifiable dogs found in public places if they reasonably believe the dog is a danger to public safety.
The maximum penalty for a dog owner whose dog attacks or bites a person or animal and causes serious injury is now $4,886.
Responsible pet ownership
DPI delivered a responsible pet ownership program to 1,380 preschools and 812 primary schools.
The New South Wales Government has funded implementation of the program in its schools over the next three years.
The Victorian-developed, ‘Who’s for Cats’ program, has been funded by the Commonwealth Government through the Australian Animal Welfare Strategy and will be adopted nationally.