Boorowa unlocks digitally-enabled farming future
A suite of digital technologies will help CSIRO drive the future of agriculture at its state-of-the-art Boorowa research station, officially opened in November.
Farmers, scientists, agronomists and the Boorowa community came together to celebrate the launch of Boorowa Agriculture Research Station, with an official opening ceremony, site tours, barbecue and activities for children, on November 9.
At CSIRO’s Boorowa Agricultural Research Station, drones, remote monitoring and advanced data analytics will provide scientists with unprecedented ways to precisely study crops and farming systems. The farm is equipped with 100 temperature and humidity probes, 72 soil moisture probes, and six weather stations to monitor experiments in crop science, agronomy and farming systems across its 290 hectares.
While we can marvel at some of the tech now available, this is also an opportunity to reflect on how far we’ve come. As Australia’s national science agency, CSIRO has been leading the way in agricultural research in the national capital region for almost 100 years.
Our first agricultural research site in Canberra was a 40-hectare site at Duntroon Farm which was leased in 1926 to study the nutrient value of different stock feeds. This site became Canberra Airport in the 1930s.
Then the Dickson Experiment Station became the hub of CSIRO’s agricultural research operating from 1940 to 1962 before the area was reclaimed for the modern day suburb of Dickson. Our agricultural research moved to Ginninderra Experiment Station from 1958 and has continued there for around 60 years.
It was at Ginninderra that we field-tested a range of high yielding and disease resistant wheat varieties such as Lawson, Paterson, Gordon, Tennant, Brennan and Dennis. We also refined our high-fibre BARLEYmax and ultra-low gluten Kebari® barley, among many other research breakthroughs and discoveries.
Now the mantle is being passed to Boorowa.
“With this new state-of-the-art facility, it’s exciting to imagine what we can achieve,” said Director of CSIRO Agriculture and Food, Dr Michiel van Lookeren Campagne.
“Our agriculture industries are facing major challenges, especially with the current drought,” he said. “It’s more important than ever to advance innovative science to build resilient agriculture systems and increase food production.”
At the Boorowa farm, CSIRO will be trialling new varieties of wheat, canola, legumes and pastures that can withstand warmer and drier conditions, such as those predicted for the future.
“We’ll also continue to research the best farming practices to manage our fragile soils and get the most from every drop of water.”
“The better we can understand how plants grow and produce in a real farming environment – not just the lab – the more we can help Australian agriculture meet its $100 billion target.”
The Boorowa research station is an $11.5 million infrastructure investment the future of Australian farming. It took four years to design and build and was developed with support from the Grains Research and Development Corporation and the Science and Industry Endowment Fund .
Crop trials at Boorowa Agriculture Research Station
Dr Michiel van Lookeren Campagne at the opening.
Farmers, scientists, local community and agricultural industry took part.
Boorowa station includes state-of the art technology and infrastructure.
Drone in flight at Boorowa.
Project update – August – October
In line with most of the Canberra region, CSIRO Ginninderra experienced one of the driest winters on record with just 51.2 mm of rainfall recorded between June and August at the CSIRO Ginninderra weather station.
Winter rainfall hasn’t been so low at Ginninderra since we established automated records from the site in 1993-1994. Average winter rainfall at Ginninderra in the years since 1994 has been 174 mm while in one standout year – 1998 – a massive 544 mm fell across the three winter months.
Despite the dry winter, a range of crop trials are proceeding and we’re pleased to report that the shrubs from the community tree plantings of 2017 and 2018 are predominantly alive and growing well. The wattles have been in bloom adding a golden tinge to areas of the site.
Across the Bureau of Meteorology’s (BOM) ACT stations, rainfall totals for winter 2019 on the plains were mostly below 50 mm, at some sites the driest winter since 1982 or the driest winter on record.
The recorded rainfall for 2019 and recent years is consistent with a trend, reported by CSIRO and the BOM in the State of the Climate 2018. The report found a decline of around 11 per cent in April–October rainfall in the southeast of Australia since the late 1990s.
With further decreases in rainfall, and more hot days and heat waves predicted under climate change, CSIRO is investing research effort into making our cities and urban landscapes more resilient.
At Ginninderra we’ve been working with the Ginninderra Catchment Group and community volunteers to restore a shrub layer into the Box Gum Woodlands. Apart from strengthening these endangered communities and bringing back native birdlife, this is providing shade and heat buffering for nearby urban developments.
We were delighted to be able to host members of the Catchment Group onto CSIRO Ginninderra in September and visit various points of ecological and archaeological interest as well as the sites of projects that we are working on together.
In this update we are pleased to report on another exciting project – a collaboration with the ACT Government to bolster Blakely’s Red Gums and help our city and the Box Gum Woodlands adapt to the changing climate. CSIRO Ginninderra is one of several sites for trials to study how these Red Gums, sourced from different locations, will grow and mature under a changing climate and resist dieback.
Red Gum trials to boost ACT Woodlands
A collaborative effort to bolster the future of Blakely’s Red Gum in the endangered Box-Gum Woodlands has seen around 1000 seedlings planted at CSIRO Ginninderra.
Seven thousand Blakely’s Red Gum (Eucalyptus blakelyi) seedlings, sourced from different regions, are being planted across the ACT to improve endangered Box-Gum Woodland habitat, and to better understand how native species can adapt to climate change.
Although in the right conditions Blakely’s Red Gum can produce numerous new young trees, those new trees are limited in their genetic diversity as they are produced only from seed from their surrounding parent trees.
Also you may have noticed across the region during this Spring (see photo below from CSIRO Ginninderra) many of the Blakely’s leaves are red. This is the result of insect damage from a native sap sucking insect called psyllids, and these insect attacks place ‘dieback induced stress’ often leading to decline in the tree condition.
This collaboration between the ACT Government, CSIRO, Greening Australia and ACT rural landholders, will trial seed collected from Blakely’s Red Gums in the ACT, NSW, Queensland and Victoria and aim to understand the genetic make-up that may provide resistance to dieback and resilience in a changing climate.
Blakely’s Red Gums are a key component of woodlands that are spread throughout the ACT, and provide important habitat for native wildlife.
In addition to around 1,000 seedlings that have been planted at Ginninderra, up to 3,500 seedlings are being planted in Kowen Forest; 1,500 on rural land at Tidbinbilla Station; and 850 will be planted on rural land in the Naas Valley.
Information will be collected on the survival, growth and condition of these new seedlings in upcoming years and will also help us understand in the longer term if new and possibly better climate adjusted provenances will contribute to improving the condition of our woodlands over the longer term.
Blakely’s Red Gum at Ginninderra this spring with red leaves on some of the juvenile trees showing evidence of psyllid attack.
Site prepared for Blakely’s Red Gum trials at CSIRO Ginninderra (above and below)