A MAJOR research collaboration that has kicked off in northern Australia could help open up areas of the Northern Territory as a significant grower of broadacre crops.
The $1.4 million research program will trial high-value crops such as cotton and peanuts, with potential crop rotations with sorghum, maize, rice, pulses or pasture.
The two-year project is being co-funded by the Cooperative Research Centre for Developing Northern Australia (CRCNA), along with the Grains Research and Development Corporation, the Cotton Research and Development Corporation and 14 industry partners.
Researchers from the Northern Territory Department of Primary Industry and Resources (DPIR) will lead a project team from the Queensland Department of Agriculture and Fisheries (DAF), CSIRO, universities, natural resource groups, industry associations, seed distributors and producers from across the Territory.
DPIR senior research agronomist Dr Ian Biggs said the project was focused on developing cropping systems for growers by building on earlier studies on the agricultural potential across the Katherine/Douglas Daly region, southern and central NT, and CSIRO’s Northern Australian Water Resource Assessment study for the Darwin regions.
“This means undertaking trials that target high-value broadacre crops like cotton and peanuts and developing farming systems that incorporate crop rotations like sorghum, maize, pulses or pasture,” he said.
“Our physical small-scale trials will be complemented by larger, commercial demonstration trials and supported by crop simulation tools like APSIM (Agricultural Production Systems sIMulator) and OZCOT.
“Advances in these crop simulation models provide a powerful tool which can be used to extend learnings from past and current field research, build an understanding of the short and long term risk profiles, identify key management decisions, determine irrigation water demands and incorporate producer experience while developing an overall picture of the cropping potential of a region.”
Data collected as part of the trials will be added to the APSIM, OZCOT applications, while University of Southern Queensland (USQ) associate professor Keith Pembleton said his team would contribute its cropping system modelling expertise to the project.
“We will investigate the feasibility of the proposed new systems and help provide that information back to decision makers in the form of online tools,” he said.
The USQ Centre for Sustainable Agricultural Systems assists decision-makers to identify system constraints and make informed, science-based decisions that improve the productivity, profitability and environmental sustainability of agricultural systems.”
CRCNA chief executive officer Jed Matz said this information would help producers decide which crops to grow and when and where to grow them.
“This collaboration is about gathering the brightest minds in northern Australia cropping systems and setting the starting points for the development of broadacre cropping systems by giving producers, investors and development decision-makers the information they need to realise the region’s potential and all the economic benefits that flow from realising that potential,” he said.