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Article I Lucy Moore

Delta Agribusiness has been recognised for its scientific research and delivering a package of best outcomes to farmers, having been awarded the prestigious CSIRO Sir Ian McLennan Impact from Science and Engineering Medal.

The award specifically recognises where a team’s scientific research has had significant impact on a broader scale, and according to CSIRO’s Farming Systems Researcher Dr John Kirkegaard, Delta Ag’s dual-purpose canola work fits the bill perfectly.

“What really sets Delta Ag apart is their hunger for innovation,” John says. “The team understands and appreciates the value of good research and have become an advocate for it in a way that I could never reach that many growers and have the same impact our research has without the multiplying and filtering effect enabled through Delta’s involvement.”

Delta’s award entry with dual purpose canola is testament to their long standing, positive relationship with CSIRO, and John says the award represented almost 20 years of trials and collaboration with Chris Duff and Tim Condon.

“Canola was always a great grazing crop but during the millennium drought which lasted 10 years or more, we started seeing it drop out of the rotation system because farmers saw it as quite a risky choice,” he says.

“In more medium rainfall areas west of Canberra, canola had multiple benefits of controlling disease, beating out herbicide resistant weeds and so on, however, it was difficult to grow as the rain wasn’t falling early enough to get the crop sown on time and the springs were very hot. Canola cops a big yield penalty, so I was looking for some way of making canola less risky in that area.”

Meanwhile, in the higher rainfall area east of Canberra, farmers have been traditionally producing wool with little to no cropping at all.

Gradually, long season winter wheats were planted, with sheep grazed through the colder months before the crop was locked up to go on to produce grain yield.

“I was looking to the west and seeing canola dropping out despite its benefits and looking to the east and seeing an opportunity to get a good rotation crop in there, so I had the idea of grazing canola in the same way as cereals,” he says.

“This would minimise risk in the medium rainfall zone because farmers could almost pay for their input costs through grazing the crop, and in the east we would see the same benefits from canola as a good strong rotation crop.”

John started an experiment in 2004 with trial plots at the Ginninderra Research Station, grazing sheep on canola and noticing it would regrow and yield very well.

He repeated the process the following year and invited the Delta Ag team down to show them what he described as “unbelievable results”.

“By 2007 Chris Duff had one of their growers plant a whole paddock on a commercial farm east of Harden,” John explains.

“They (Delta) saw the potential and worked with me to scale it up and what followed was a series of projects with the GRDC to get the idea into action.

“It was a combined effort. They were telling me what was working and what wasn’t and I was finessing the process - things really took off from there and now dual-purpose canola is a regular part of the farming system.”

This dual-purpose canola example is just one display of the Delta/CSIRO combination working together. The latest funded project focusing on integrating grazing wheat and canola together into the whole farm system is well underway.

“I’ve always included Delta in my work from the word go as it is the best way of filtering my ideas through a realistic, on-farm lens,” he says.

Winning the Sir Ian McLennan medal was no small feat, with Delta’s entry up against the team that produced lithium batteries and the team that developed the sewerage test for COVID-19.

There are typically 10 or more award applicants most years of which three are shortlisted to make a presentation, with the winner announced in a ceremony and gathering at the National Gallery in Canberra. The award is very significant within the CSIRO – our national science agency – and John says was well deserved after a decade’s worth of work.

Delta Ag’s Chris Duff and Tim Condon (based at Young and Harden), are proud to be recognised for the company’s commitment to research.

“We do these things as much for the advancement of the industry and of our growers, and the benefit for us is we’re getting information as it’s evolving,” Chris says.

“We’re close to the researchers so we know what they’re thinking and we’re helping progress ideas to influence on-farm practice change.”

Tim also affirmed John’s sentiments around a reciprocal relationship between Delta and CSIRO.

“They’ve (CSIRO) been the movers and shakers in this industry for a long time and their work has a very big impact. They’ve got their ears and eyes open all the time, they know what’s going on and what’s going to give incremental gains in productivity and profitability on farm – we bounce off them as much as they bounce off us.”

Mr Condon said the joint relationship had really progressed to looking together at the whole farming system to “stay ahead of the game”.

“Change is occurring at an overwhelming pace in agriculture and keeping up with it is probably one of the biggest challenges today which makes this partnership important moving forward.”


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