Lessons from NZ for Elders agronomists

Six of Elders’ top agronomists in Australia were treated to a five day tour of New Zealand agriculture as guests of Dow AgroSciences last month. Taking part from Elders were Jeremy Adams and Peter Baird from Mildura, Joe Delaney from Dalwallinu, Jason Blackwood from Gatton, Darren Pech from Jamestown and Adam Hancock from Naracoorte. Their hosts from Dow AgroSciences were Greg Wells, Principal Biologist – Southern Region, and Chris Brown, Sales Specialist based in Adelaide.

Graham Page, National Agronomy and Technical Services Manager at Elders, said the six agronomists were chosen from Elders’ 200 member agronomy team to recognise their growth achievements and reward them with additional training to share with their farmer clients and work colleagues.

It was also part of a new initiative aligned to Elders’ Eight Point Plan objective for business improvement in farm supplies and fertilisers. The study tour gave the agronomists an overview of NZ’s approach to producing crops such as cereals, seed crops, wine grapes and other produce for niche markets domestically and abroad. They also met with key people from the NZ head office of Dow AgroSciences at New Plymouth and gained valuable insights into the company’s manufacturing, formulation and R&D capabilities.

After more than 20 years in crop protection, Darren Pech, senior agronomist with Elders Jamestown, found his first visit to the Dow AgroSciences production facility fascinating. The New Plymouth facility supplies many of the Dow AgroSciences products sold in Australia, such as the new herbicide, Paradigm Arylex, which was launched this season for controlling broadleaf weeds in winter cereals. “We all enjoyed visiting the Waireka Research Station, the centre of Dow AgroSciences’ research network in the southern hemisphere, where we inspected a number of trials and met with their researchers,” Mr Pech said. The research station plays a key role in the company’s $500 million annual commitment to finding and developing new and innovative solutions to weed, insect and fungal diseases in crops and pastures.

Jason Blackwood from Elders Gatton was also impressed by the company’s R&D investment and the promising developments in the pipeline. “It was good to see how Dow AgroSciences and the farmers we met are handling issues like resistance, threats like Zebra pest in potatoes that we have yet to see in Australia, and their cropping, rotation irrigation systems,” he said. “We could learn from NZ’s focus on supporting farmers to develop niche overseas markets too.”

Joe Delaney hails from Ireland, where he studied agriculture in Dublin before heading to Australia in the search for adventure and a job along the way. His search led him to working on farms around WA before he joined Elders Dalwallinu as an agronomist two and a half years ago. “Talking to farmers around the Canterbury Plains like Andy Innes and Steve Beerman, who left the Netherlands a decade ago to set up a more profitable farm enterprise in the southern hemisphere, were real highlights of the study tour for me,” Mr Delaney said. “For example, Andy is growing irrigated wheat yielding 12 t/ha, while Steve produces high value seed crops on farmland fetching up to $50,000/hectare.” Mr Delaney said the NZ trip has started him thinking about ways to add value to the produce his clients grow.“Even though Dalwallinu receives only 350 mm of annual rainfall, the NZ experience has got me started on exploring new value adding opportunities for our farmer clients and encouraging them to spread their risks,” he said.

For Mildura agronomist and viticulturist, Jeremy Adams, spending the week with Elders agronomists working in other crop segments like broadacre, pasture and vegetables was a real eye opener. “While it may sound odd, I found it interesting to hear how they tackle issues and come up with strategies to help their clients, since my days are spent with growers of table grapes and wine grapes,” Mr Adams said. Visiting Ada Winery, one of NZ’s largest and most advanced vineyards and wineries, was another highlight for Mr Adams. The privately owned operation focuses on cool climate varieties like sauvignon blanc, pinot gris and rose, which are all grown under an impressive irrigation system delivering water at up to 6,000 L/second. Mr Adams said he was impressed with the high density vineyards, planted at 4,000 vines/ha at one metre row spacing compared with 1,200 vines/ha for table grapes in the Sunraysia. “We could learn from the way the New Zealanders have adapted their machinery for high density planting and their work on canopy manipulation and its effects on the drinking qualities of wine grapes like pinot gris, pinot noir and sauvignon blanc,” he said.