How do we know if our research is useful to the grower?
By trying our darned hardest to stay connected with what a grower needs to grow a crop.
This is what CCDM deputy director Josh Mylne has just done – he’s taken 12 days out of the lab to learn how to carry out a seeding program with Marvel Loch grower Clint Della Bosca.
As a scientist who works on agrochemicals, Josh said the idea of the trip was to better appreciate their role in production by working with an agrochemicals end user – that’s Clint.
“The experience taught me a lot of things, but mostly, it taught me how I can better connect my work with growers,” Josh said.
“I’m currently working on a project that looks at how plants cope with fungicides, which could help growers decide whether to spray or not to spray, and from my experience with Clint, I can see this research could definitely be useful.”
Read more to find out Josh’s top five insights from 12 days on the farm, and his new fungicide project on fungicide dynamics.
Josh’s top five insights from 12 days of seeding – as written by Josh himself:
- It amazed me how much growers need to know about the chemicals they use and how they are mixed together. The water you use, how you treat it, how you add and mix the chemicals, the temperature at the time and what order you add them is crucial. Get it wrong and you might end up with a sprayer tank full of 6 tonnes of jelly that costs you thousands of dollars and a full day to clean up.
- Farming is a risky and costly business. As a (mostly) no till enterprise with $80 to $120 spent per hectare just on chemicals and 6,500 hectares to be sown for this farm, it was two-thirds of one million dollars just on chemicals. With fertiliser, seed, fuel, labour, leases, interest on loans, machinery maintenance and capital depreciation each season is a huge financial gamble.
- Rain is manna from heaven and moisture is everything. Out on the eastern wheatbelt of WA farms typically get less than 200 mm rain in a season. In the middle of my trip, we had a 16mm gentle rainfall event, which was very, very welcome and Clint said provided we get another fall or two it more or less guaranteed a harvest now for the canola that’d just come through and begun to establish.
- There’s a serious and real labour shortage out there now. Every day was a 11-13 hour day with no weekend and Clint would sometimes go back out to seed late into the night. Seeding and harvest are both intense times as there’s a window in which the work has to be done. Driving home each night I saw headlights of at least half a dozen tractors in the district working late into the night. Clint wanted the seeder running close to 24 hours a day, but with just him and his Dad most of the time that was not possible. Seeding takes them about 10 weeks.
- A grower has to be everything including a mechanic. There’s no time to drop your seeder into the shop on your way to work. Day 6 was pocked with mechanical problems and two flat batteries. Unfortunately (or fortunately if you consider what could have happened had we missed it), we spotted a crack in the liquid fertiliser cart A-frame. We couldn’t start with it like that so had to go get the portable welder to seal and reinforce the A-frame. Seeding didn’t start until mid-morning that day. Parts are in short supply and delivery is taking weeks (or months to arrive). You can’t rely on anyone else to fix your mechanical issues for you.
In summary, as researchers we hear about the size, costs and challenges of crop establishment and production. But to gain first hand lived-experience is an honour that I won’t forget and I hope to repeat during other parts of the season. I certainly feel a much stronger connection between my research and the end-user and encourage other researchers to also get out there and give it go too.
CCDM’s new project – How does a plant cope with fungicides?
When Josh joined our team back in 2021, he started putting plans together for a project that could understand the longevity and efficacy of fungicides once they’ve entered the plant, with potential to answer questions such as “has that fungicide spray actually protected my crop?”
“When we take paracetamol, enzymes in our body change it into related compounds that no longer relieve pain,” Josh said.
“The same thing happens when we apply fungicides to crops, the plants convert them into related compounds. Some of these might still protect them while some will not. What a fungicides becomes, whether they still protect and what factors accelerate this breakdown are not well understood.
“If disease symptoms appear it’s usually too late to spray a fungicide so growers spend significant sums of money on crop protection without knowing for sure whether a treatment was needed or not, a strategy nick-named “spray and pray”.”
Josh said by knowing more about what the plant transforms the fungicide into and how fast it happens, there will be a greater understanding of how effective a fungicide spray can be at protecting a crop.
“More specifically, this project will give us the ability to quantify the amount of a fungicide and related compounds in the plant, and can therefore help growers answer questions such as did that spray actually work? Or, after time, is there any fungicide still in my crop? Or is this the wrong fungicide for this paddock, this crop or these conditions?”
The project has already begun and will be broken down in three stages:
- The discovery of the fungicide metabolites within plant tissue
- Ensuring the ability to quantify the amount fungicide metabolites within plant tissue; and
- The application of this new knowledge on fungicide metabolites to understand how much fungicide is needed to be protective and what conditions might compromise crop protection.
Stay tuned to the Spotlight for the results!