On average, around 26.0 million hectares of Crops are sown in Australia each year.
Grain crops includes: cereal crops (wheat, barley, oats, millet and rye), pulses and legumes (peas, faba/broad beans, lentils, lupins, vetch, chickpeas and soybeans) and oilseeds (canola, sunflower, safflower and linseed).
The gross value of these Australian crops is about $25 billion per year.
The largest crop grown throughout Australia is wheat - Australian farmers grow almost 28 million tonnes each year. Of this, 20% is used nationally to make breads, cereals, pasta, noodles, cakes and biscuits and as stockfeed and around 80% is exported to more than 40 countries.
The second largest crop grown in Australia is barley. Australian growers produce around 2.5 million tonnes of malting barley and 4.5 million tonnes of feed barley each year!
Australia makes up over 30% of the world's malting barley trade and approximately 20% of the world's feed barley trade.
World markets demand Australian grain, due to its high quality, cleanliness and milling/production performance.
To grow great grains, farmers must protect and manage their land. Growers use many innovative approaches to ensure sustainable land management. For example, many use a no-till cropping system. No-till means that growers do not disturb the soil by ploughing, also called tillage. This is particularly important in countries like Australia where large areas of land used to grow grain have a soil structure that can be damaged by tillage. A no-till system can retain the rows of stubble from last year’s crop and plants the new season’s crop in-between the rows using tractors with autosteer. They are extremely accurate and can plant rows within 2cm of the previous year’s crop. Retaining stubble prevents soil erosion and the new seeds are planted in a furrow which increases the amount of water which filters down to the grain. The stubble eventually rots and returns organic matter in the soil.
Precision agriculture is a great way to improve on farm sustainability. ‘Autosteer’ is a nifty technology which effectively uses a series of satellites to automatically steer, or guide, the tractor up and down the paddock, creating rows which are perfectly spaced and in perfectly straight lines. This minimises overlapping rows where more seed and fertiliser are sown unnecessarily, reducing waste. This adds up because farms can be 1000’s of acres in size! Precise steering also allows grain farmers to sow this year’s crops in the row between last year’s stubble – providing a ‘shelterbelt’ for the new seedlings. Autosteer can also be used on headers at harvest to remove any overlap when grain is harvested, saving on fuel and reducing operator fatigue. The autosteer also taps into satellites and can pinpoint the yields in exact locations in a paddock. This means growers know which parts of the paddock has the highest and lowest yields and he can make a yield map. Yield maps consider topography and soil types and allow growers to farm their land according to its productivity potential. Essentially, precision ag makes it possible for farmers to better manage their applications of expensive inputs like fertiliser and seed. In fact, inputs can be matched to the productive capability of each square metre!
The agricultural sector is a great adopters of research. Through adoption of new technologies and farm management practices, the sector has stayed a step ahead of our international competitors – returning average productivity growth of 2.8 percent-a-year over the 30-year period from 1974-75 to 2003-04. A key component of this productivity has been through improved management practices, and structural changes that have seen increased farm size and shifts in enterprise mixes (Australian Government Productivity Commission, Trends in Australian Agriculture 2005)
On average, each person in Australian’s eat around 50kg of bread each year!
Durum wheat (Triticum turgidum) is different to bread wheat (Triticum aestivum). It has specific characteristics such as grain hardness, protein, yellow colour and a ‘nutty’ flavour which make it perfect for pasta production.
A 500g packet of pasta requires approximately 17,400 grains of durum wheat!
Did you know there are around 16,800 kernels of wheat in one standard loaf of bread!
Barley malt is an important ingredient in many foods (including treats such as Mars Bars and Milo and even beer!). It provides a great texture and flavour. To make malt the barley grains are soaked in water until they germinate. Then... at a specific point the process is halted by ‘kilning’ the grain or drying it with hot air. Malting allows the development of enzymes that are required to modify the grain starches into sugars (such as glucose, fructose and sucrose).
Porridge is made from oats – a nutritious cereal crop. Oats are high in beta glucan, an important dietary fibre, which can help lower cholesterol.
Chickpeas are a legume (along with beans, lentils and peas). Most legumes are low in fat, high in protein, and are a good source of vitamins and minerals including iron, zinc
and calcium. Chickpeas make great hommus and felafels - a nutritious and tasty meal!
While training, Gladiators of the Roman Empire ate barley due to its nutritional reputation for building strength. Barley was so important to the Gladiators that they were known as ‘hordearii’ or ‘barley-men’.
Look closely at a chickpea grain ... its name comes from the small peak that resembles a chicken’s beak!
Peas are a legume (pulse) crop. They have the unique ability to improve the amount of nitrogen in the soil. Nitrogen is essential for plant growth and development. Growing pulse crops is a great way to naturally increase soil nitrogen levels!
Rolled oats are oat grains that have been rolled flat and steam treated so they are softer and easier to eat and digest.
Wheat was brought to Australia in 1788 by first fleet colonists and was first planted in experimental plots at the Sydney Botanic Gardens. These varieties performed poorly because they were not adapted to the harsh Australian growing conditions and so the young colony nearly starved.
Crop rotations are an important part of any farming system. Pulse crops are a great break crop to use, for example a rotation of wheat on year then beans the next. Pulses help to break the cycle of cereal root diseases while increasing soil nitrogen levels. Pulses actually 'fix' nitrogen when growing, meaning the soil and plants have access to this important nutrient reducing the need for fertiliser. Research suggests that when pulse crops are grown in rotation with cereal and oilseed crops yields can be increased by 0.5 to 1 tonne per hectare!
Plant breeders in Australia work to develop cereal crops with increased tolerance to disease and weather conditions such as drought, frost and low rainfall. They also work to ensure crops are higher yielding and have improved quality.