Frosts can have a significant impact on crops. For wheat alone, it is estimated that frost causes losses to the Australian grains industry of approximately $400 million per year.
The three-year co-investment between the Grains Research and Development Corporation (GRDC) and a research consortium led by Field Applied Research (FAR) Australia will trial novel in-season approaches, across varying agro-ecological zones and multiple seasons, to provide growers with confidence in adopting new management strategies to mitigate frost risk.
Working across Western Australia, South Australia, Victoria and New South Wales, the project will explore how crop phenology, the biological life of a plant and how it is impacted by seasonal and climatic conditions, can be manipulated using approaches such as plant growth regulators or mechanical defoliation. It will also examine the crop protection capacity of commercially available products for controlling ice nucleation active bacteria in the three crops.
The project will be led by FAR Australia's Kenton Porker, who said that frost was a difficult issue to solve, and any additional tools growers could use to mitigate frost risk were always well received.
"The key to this project is determining what strategies can be used in conjunction with genetics and development speed to de-risk early sowing," he said.
"We will take this research across multiple agro-ecological zones and identify where and when avoiding frost by delaying development may be a viable option for growers.
"Avoiding frost by shifting development may not be appropriate for some regions, where the risk of heat was higher, or where avoidance strategies trade off unacceptable growth and yield reductions.
"We have established a great national team, and I think with research on a complex constraint like frost we are at a point where we just need to rule some management tools in or out in good factorial experiments," he said.
"However, there are some novel aspects to the research and cryoprotectants and agents that inhibit the ice nucleation process on plants, these will be evaluated for their ability to reduce frost stress damage. If successful, this would enable growers to produce crops that flower at times of higher frost risk.
GRDC manager agronomy, soils and farming systems, west, Dr Uys Lourens said that GRDC was continuing to tackle the complex issue of frost damage on behalf of Australian grain growers by investing in research, development and extension.
"This project works towards minimising the direct impact on grain yield and on-farm profitability caused by frost damage across a significant proportion of Australia's grain growing regions," Dr Lourens said.
The project will include both field and controlled environment experiments and will be run over three seasons. Results will inform growers on the opportunity and value of adopting these additional in-season agronomic practices for frost damage avoidance.