Online weather pages upgrade to boost farm management decisions
The Department of Primary Industries and Regional Development’s popular online weather pages have a new look, with improved functionality, enhanced data and analysis tools.
Accessing weather data from the site across mobile devices and personal computers is now more consistent, allowing for easier data analysis to make more informed farm management decisions.
The department has used the latest technology to add value to the webpages as part of its eConnected project making the resource more intuitive and easier to navigate.
A dramatic addition has been the option to use ‘dark mode’, which creates a dark background instead of the traditional lighter version.
There has been increasing consumer interest in the use of dark mode, which uses less blue light, has reduced flickering and increases the contrast ratio on the screen making it more accessible.
This results in reduced eye strain and fatigue, improves readability and can be less prone to triggering photophobia or sensitivity to light.
Dark mode has also been shown to save small amounts of electricity, helping to prolong the battery in mobile devices.
At the end of the first week after the introduction of the dark mode on the weather pages, more than 77% of visitors to the site selected the option.
Those that prefer to use the standard theme can still choose to do so.
Weather data analysis
The ‘dashboard’ feature is another recent enhancement, which enables users to more easily and clearly monitor, analyse and compare selected data for each of the department’s 176 weather stations.
The previous text based weather data and summary information for individual weather stations has been replaced by a new, easy-to-read dashboard that presents the information more clearly as graphs and graphics.
The dashboard also provides additional, value-added information, such as the time of minimum and maximum temperature and humidity observations.
From the dashboard, the user can also access charts and tables of historical weather information based on minute, hourly, daily, monthly or yearly data.
Users can also select a range of dates to graph, compare and analyse data.
The data from the tables can also be exported as a CSV file, such as Excel, to other locations, platforms or for printing.
The dashboard is a useful tool to support paddock management decisions, such as time of sowing, fertiliser treatments and the timing of spray treatments.
Value added information
Many of the features on the weather pages have been upgraded to include value added information.
Site users can now select four map layers from the standard map box, including Google hybrid, satellite, streets and terrain, to provide a different perspective according to users’ needs.
Current observations presented on the site’s map of WA weather stations have also been enhanced, with coloured dots showing variability more clearly across the State, particularly for the grainbelt.
Users can view current data for each weather station by clicking on the ‘show values’ button at the base of the selection list on the right hand side of the screen.
The spraying condition data for each weather station has also been improved to include an explanation of how it is determined, using the Delta T system.
A traffic light system has been introduced to clearly show whether current conditions are suitable for spraying, with a green bar indicating preferred spraying conditions, orange showing marginal conditions where suitability is in transition and red suggesting unsuitable conditions.
Another new function allows the user to filter weather stations according to the temperature range. This will be particularly useful when assessing the risk of frost or heat damage, while emergency services will be able to monitor wind conditions using the application during the bushfire season.
Users can overlay the weather station map with real time Doppler radar rainfall information by clicking on one of the five services, including Perth, Newdegate, Watheroo, South Doodlakine and Kalgoorlie.
Additional services at Geraldton, Albany and Esperance will be included in 2019, as the coastal Doppler radar upgrade is completed.
The department will continue to make improvements to its online weather pages in response to stakeholders’ demands.
Users are invited to contribute feedback by clicking on the icon in the top right hand of the screen.
The first of several short videos has been produced to inform users about new features and functionality.
There are also links to other useful climate, land and water decision making aids, including seasonal climate information and the Soil Water, Rainfall to Date and Extreme Weather event tools available from the dashboard.
To get the most out of the enhanced weather pages, the department suggests using the current versions of internet browsers.
The department’s weather pages can easily be accessed from its homepage via the ‘quick links’ to ‘weather stations and radar’ on the right hand side, or by clicking here.
For more information contact Tim Maling, work stream leader, South Perth, +61 (0)8 9368 3987.
First results of National Traceability project now available
Stage one of the National Traceability project, investigating the development of a national approach to Australia’s agricultural traceability systems, has now been completed.
An agreement in 2017 between the Commonwealth, State and Territory Agriculture Ministers led to the formation of a National Traceability Working Group (NTWG) with representatives from each jurisdiction supported by the Department of Agriculture and Water Resources (DAWR).
The NTWG was tasked to:
- review the current regulatory approach to agricultural traceability
- explore the likely future requirements including provenance and authenticity of Australian production and products
- identify improvements to our systems to meet anticipated future requirements from trading partners and markets.
The Department of Primary Industries and Regional Development representative on the NTWG was Director Livestock Biosecurity Peter Gray.
Mr Gray said the project report found our current traceability systems meet our domestic needs and those of our trading partners.
Differences were found in the sophistication of various industry systems, mostly due to the traditional reasons for traceability. For example, the National Livestock Identification System (NLIS) for cattle is well established and has received significant resources from government and the cattle industry during implementation over many years.
Trading partners and consumers increasingly want to know more about the products they import and buy. This includes information about food safety, animal and plant pest and disease status and, more recently, information regarding provenance, authenticity and social matters such as sustainability and animal welfare.
International and domestic consumers also want claims relating to food to be supported by fast and efficient traceability systems.
Enhancing our traceability systems will ensure WA is prepared for any future changes in requirements, and provide exporters with a competitive advantage.
The second stage of the project is underway and involves the working group consulting with industry to develop a National Traceability Framework and action plan that will:
- provide the flexibility to meet the future needs of industry, government, trading partners and consumers
- consider existing arrangements and available technology to develop a framework and action plan that are as cost effective as possible
- consider the level of traceability applicable to each category of agricultural products and the timing of any changes to traceability systems
- be implemented in a way that minimises trade disruption and strengthens the confidence domestic consumers have in our food supply chains.
A summary report is available on the project page on the department’s website.
You can now provide feedback on the principles which will shape the National Traceability Framework. Submissions close 23 January 2019.
2018 in review: From the Minister for Regional Development; and Agriculture and Food
This year has been a rollercoaster of expectations for growers: full of promise and some disappointments.
Early predictions of a bumper crop were scaled back due to frost and a poor September – then followed by good October rain, then late storms and hail.
There have been challenges for the sheep industry and we remain absolutely committed to working with producers to build resilience right across the supply chain. Prices for wool and meat remain strong, which should give growers confidence that this industry has a bright future.
Two McGowan Government initiatives in the past few weeks should add some Christmas cheer for our hard-at-work farmers:
- Changes to transfer duty laws have been introduced to Parliament, which will provide exemptions for the progressive transfer of a farm from one family member to another – allowing better succession planning
- We’ve given farmers the right of veto over fracking production on their land.
And there is a lot more to celebrate, with our government working hard this year to deliver for farmers.
We’ve taken the first steps towards rebuilding the research and development capacity of the Department.
Our Budget included a new $24 million investment in grains R&D, to help keep our agricultural sector at the cutting edge of the global market.
In May, we opened the new $11.5 million Northam Grains Research Facility, a state-of-the-art facility for grains R&D.
We saw the benefits of long-term investment in government R&D earlier this year, with the launch of the new pasture Lanza tedera.
Tedera is underpinned by more than a decade of agronomic and livestock grazing research by the Department of Primary Industries and Regional Development, and can provide WA sheep producers with an edge to maintain stock during low rainfall years, as well as target out of season market opportunities.
We’ve started the rollout of digital infrastructure to help farmers access 21st century technologies: our $5 million Digital Farm program is bringing enterprise-grade broadband to more than 1400 farmers from the Kimberley to the Great Southern. Our Grainbelt Digital Enhancement project – which will provide more than $15 million for backhaul in the grainbelt – has been out for Expressions of Interest. More to come in 2019.
We’re investing in our high-value horticulture: our government secured Federal funding for the Myalup-Wellington project, reducing salinity in the Wellington Dam and securing the future for horticulture growers in the region. We’ve also committed $5 million to the Myalup Primary Industries Reserve, to develop 500ha of new horticultural land in Myalup.
Our record investment in wild dog action is taking shape: work is underway on cell fences in the Murchison and we’ve completed 88km of repairs and maintenance on the State Barrier Fence, with more to come over the next few months.
Last month the EPA recommended approvals of the SBF Esperance extension. Some appeals have been lodged and we will need to wait for the Appeals Convenor to review these, but we are working hard to get this project underway in the new year.
Our government this year opened a pathway for pastoralists to earn Federal dollars for carbon farming project, which had never been possible in this State.
Fifteen projects were successful in the Clean Energy Regulator June 2018 auction, equating to around $47 million of funds flowing to pastoral projects in the southern rangelands. We’re confident of a similar level of uptake in the November auction, and are aiming for final consent determinations by April 2019.
Our $5.9 million Transforming Agriculture in the Pilbara project is well underway: soil and water research is continuing, and earlier this month, we launched a trial of high-value horticulture in Newman.
This year marked an important step for modernising animal welfare in this State. We amended the Animal Welfare Act to bring national standards on animal welfare into regulation, putting WA in line with other states and territories. We look forward to consulting with industry and a credible compliance regime in 2019.
Our very best Christmas wishes for you and your family – we look forward to working with you all in 2019.
Lanza tedera seed to be released for 2019 season
After much anticipation, seed for the new pasture legume species tedera will be available for the 2019 season.
The department has spent the past decade developing a new variety of the hardy perennial from the Canary Islands, which is suited to Western Australian conditions.
The result is Lanza tedera, named after the Spanish island of Lanzarote, where the original seed was sourced 12 years ago.
Extensive agronomic and livestock grazing trials have confirmed Lanza tedera’s value as a drought and heat tolerant, highly nutritious feed alternative, with nitrogen fixing qualities.
Feed gap alternative
Lanza tedera will provide sheep producers, in particular, with a high value feed option that fills the summer-autumn feed gap.
Producers may use it to feed finishing lambs from October to December and/or as a substitute for maintenance feeding from March to May.
Tedera is most productive in medium to high rainfall environments, although it has also shown potential in lower rainfall areas.
The pasture grows year round and can easily be adapted to continuous or rotational grazing requirements.
It has shown it can maintain performance in below average rainfall seasons, providing growers with greater flexibility to optimise stock management.
This includes maintaining stock in dry years, reducing or delaying the need to provide supplementary feeding.
Producers can also use the pasture to assist livestock to maintain or gain weight to target out-of-season markets and the opportunity for premium prices.
Department testing has shown Lanza tedera has a high nutritional value, especially for sheep, while further testing is required for cattle.
- digestible organic matter – 73%
- crude protein – 17%
- metabolisable energy – 11.8 megajoules per kilogram of dry matter.
No animal health issues have been observed in any department grazing experiments.
Grazing can usually commence in late summer/early autumn the year after establishment.
Animals usually take a few days to start grazing Lanza tedera when first introduced, after which the pasture becomes thoroughly grazed, with no known palatability or acceptability issues.
Lanza is best suited to a range of well drained soils with a soil pH equal to or greater than 4.8, but tolerates short periods of transient waterlogging.
The variety can be susceptible to frost in low landscapes, but generally recovers quickly.
Tedera can be used as a continuous pasture or in phase pastures of three to five years, as part of a cropping rotation.
The new variety can be susceptible to some pasture pests, which can be controlled effectively using registered treatments.
The plant has some susceptibility to leaf spots (Phoma herbarum) and multiple miniature leaves (Phytoplasma), as well as root knot nematodes that are mostly found in horticultural areas.
It is imperative to ensure paddocks are weed free and that the weed seed bank is minimised before sowing to ensure good establishment.
As Lanza tedera is likely to be grown on soils that do not contain suitable rhizobia, seed must be inoculated with a special strain of the tedera Rhizobium available from local seed merchants.
Fungicide and insecticide have proven effective when applied to seed crops and in research experiments.
The pasture can be established with conventional seeding equipment, at a rate of 10 kilograms per hectare at a depth of two centimetres.
In most regions tedera can be sown into moist soil during autumn, early winter or spring, however, in regions with cold winters, spring sowing is recommended.
Fertiliser applications are similar to subclover, while herbicides registered for clover based pastures can be used to control weeds.
For more detailed information on Lanza tedera agronomy, grazing and bio-economic modelling visit the department’s website.
Lanza tedera was developed as part of a pasture species breeding program with the Plant Based Solutions for Dryland Salinity Cooperative Research Centre, which later became the future Farm Industries CRC.
Meat & Livestock Australia also supplied supporting funding to develop the animal production and agronomic package.
Seed will be available from Landmark stores and wholesale distribution outlets.
For more information contact Dr Daniel Real, senior research officer, South Perth, +61 (0)8 9368 3879.
Water requirements for livestock
Water for livestock will become an increasingly important constraint for producers located in agricultural regions that only received decile 1-3 winter rainfall (1 April to 31 October, 2018).
Producers need to know how much water is stored in farm dams and complete a water budget.
Knowing the expected daily water consumption of sheep and cattle in summer and autumn is required when reviewing the water supplies for livestock.
Water for livestock needs to:
- be palatable
- be accessible to all animals
- have no adverse effects.
Palatability is dependent on salinity content (total dissolved salts) and testing a water sample can provide some answers.
If water quality is poor, livestock may drink less than they need or, rarely, may stop drinking altogether.
When animals drink less, they will eat less of the already poor quality dry pasture and lose condition.
Access to water by all animals
In mobs of more than 600 sheep, the tail of the mob may not drink enough water before the sheep move away.
To allow all animals access, the volume of water in the dam is critical so that all sheep in the mob are able to obtain their individual daily water consumption.
The flow rate in troughs needs to be sufficient to keep water in the trough while all sheep drink.
Allow at least one metre of trough per 130 sheep.
Sheep do not like to walk too far to water
During summer, sheep do not like to travel more than 600 metres from a water source.
In large paddocks, two watering points or a moveable trough will allow better use of the entire paddock, reduce localised erosion risk and allow better animal performance.
This behavioural characteristic also becomes a potential welfare issue.
If relying on stubble in a feed budget for example, there needs to be a palatable water supply in the paddock.
If the only water supply is a dam in a neighbouring paddock, sheep will require additional supplementation to prevent excessive loss in condition.
The risk from poisoning from salt or blue-green algae will increase as the summer progresses.
Now is the right time to also make sure your rams and ewes are healthy and in good condition in the lead up to joining and prepare weaned lambs to survive their first summer.
BIG prospects for northern beef producers
An additional 20 northern beef businesses in Western Australia will benefit from extension of the Department of Primary Industries and Regional Development's successful Business Improvement Grants (BIG) program to improve the market competitiveness of pastoralists.
State Government investment of up to $575 000 in grants has been awarded to northern pastoralists as part of BIG Round Two to improve business enterprises and drive innovation.
Of the Round Two grants awarded in October, ten enterprises are located in each of the Kimberley and Pilbara regions and ten of the grant recipients are Aboriginal pastoral businesses.
The BIG program enables participants to seek expert advice for an initial business review and two subsequent annual reviews, the development of a formal business plan and to implement the priority business improvement identified in the business plan, as well as benchmark performance.
By providing business advice and mentoring support, the program increases the market competitiveness and growth and resilience of individual beef producers and delivers flow-on benefits across the WA beef supply chain.
The original $1.125 million BIG program, which supported 48 pastoral enterprises, including 12 Aboriginal businesses, commenced in 2015 with the aim of improving the performance and resilience of northern beef businesses.
Thirteen of the original participants have qualified for a further $3000 in funding to complete another two annual business reviews.
Department officers will work with BIG participants to stimulate practice change, innovation and business development.
A 2017 review of northern beef activities revealed the BIG program was valuable to industry and achieving positive change, demonstrating the enthusiasm of cattle producers to develop improved business models and achieve sustainable growth.
Annabelle Coppin, owner and manager of Yarrie Station in the Pilbara, has highlighted the business improvements undertaken on her property as part of the BIG program via a brief film, published online.
For more information contact Trevor Price, project manager, Northern Beef Development, Broome, +61 (0)8 9194 1441.
New Aquatic Animal Health Research Laboratory opens to boost aquaculture industry
A $1 million Aquatic Animal Health Research Laboratory was opened recently in Perth to boost the Department of Primary Industries and Regional Development’s (DPIRD) capacity to support and protect the State’s rapidly growing aquaculture industry.
The new state-of-the-art facility at Marmion, in Perth’s northern suburbs, will enhance the department’s scientific research and biosecurity endeavours to improve the productivity and health of Western Australian aquaculture stocks.
The State’s aquaculture industry has more than doubled over the past decade and in 2017/18 was worth $20 million.
New licencing information suggests this growth will accelerate in coming years, particularly based on the production of finfish and shellfish, such as barramundi, yellowtail kingfish, oysters and abalone.
The new laboratory will bring together aquatic animal health scientists from the department and other government organisations, university partners and industry to assist aquaculture disease investigations and responses and pursue applied research and development.
It is important to maintain a strong aquatic animal health research capability to support the continued growth of the State’s aquaculture industry and protect it from the threat of disease.
The Aquatic Animal Health Research Laboratory features four new high-spec laboratories, including examination and sampling rooms, which complement the Indian Ocean Marine Research Centre’s existing wet facilities.
The additions include a high-tech DNA laboratory and a cutting-edge cell culture laboratory, to assist scientists to identify emerging pathogens and to understand their distribution and dynamics, as well as their potential to cause disease.
High-throughput sample processing robots and other specialist equipment will help fast-track disease diagnosis and assess fish and shellfish immunity to pathogens.
With access to high quality seawater at the facility, scientists will be able to investigate the relationships between pathogens, aquatic animals and their environment in aquarium controlled conditions.
The laboratories meet the highest industry standards (PC2) required to contain pathogens and prevent their spread.
Research and development
The new Aquatic Animal Health Research Laboratory is based within the Indian Ocean Marine Research Centre at Watermans Bay in Perth’s northern suburbs.
The centre houses a collaboration of the nation’s leading Indian Ocean research organisations, including DPIRD, the Australian Institute of Marine Science, the CSIRO and the University of Western Australia's Oceans Institute.
Research currently underway includes:
- North West Shoals to Shore Research program – studying the effects of seismic energy on pearl oysters
- pearl oyster health and productivity improvement –supporting the iconic pearling industry
- increasing production and value of yellow tail kingfish aquaculture through feed and disease resistance improvements
- developing new detection tools for potential parasites of abalone.
Supporting industry growth
These new facilities enable the department to extend its applied aquatic animal health research capacity, complementing existing disease diagnostic and aquaculture services provided by the government and industry.
Ensuring high quality aquatic animal health is imperative to assist and protect the sustainable growth of WA’s burgeoning aquaculture industry.
While the State has enviable environmental credentials that underpin finfish and shellfish production, it is important to ensure the department has the capacity to diagnose diseases and carry out research projects in order to manage and overcome any aquatic animal health challenges that may arise in the future.
For more information contact Dr Cecile Dang, principal research scientist, Waterman, +61 (0)8 9203 0379.
Featured staff member, Christine Zaicou-Kunesch
With a career brimming with achievements, including completing five research projects that have benefitted Western Australia’s grains industry, Christine Zaicou-Kunesch has worked at the Geraldton office for nearly 30 years.
Starting with the department in 1990 as a researcher in the Weed Science discipline, Christine has held many roles over the years.
Her initial role was researching brome grass ecology and control, with a focus on developing an integrated weed control system for brome grass in the lupin-wheat rotation.
Following this, she focused on wheat industry communications as a development officer for five years.
She formally began developing her skills and experience in project management in 2000 when she managed the Statewide canola industry development project.
An opportunity for Christine to move back into research arose in 2003, in wheat agronomy. It was in this role that Christine was able to work with a team of researchers and computer IT specialists to develop Flower Power.
Flower Power is an online tool that predicts wheat flowering times of up to three different varieties at the same time and the risk of frost or heat stress depending on your location.
This information supports decisions on variety choice and the most appropriate sowing date.
This has proved a popular tool, with more than 1800 growers and consultants using Flower Power annually to support decisions.
Christine was also the co-editor and contributor to the wheat variety guide, an annual publication distributed to more than 4500 growers in WA.
It is a one-stop shop of information to support growers with decisions on whether to implement a new variety into their farming system.
As this decision can be costly, it is important to determine whether the change will provide an advantage.
Currently, Christine leads the Tactical wheat agronomy for the West project.
This project focuses on industry development through profitable and sustainable production of wheat in WA.
By 1 March 2019, WA wheat growers and advisors will have updated decision support information that illustrates the effect of key agronomic management practices on wheat varieties that are commercially available or near to release.
This will lead to improved farm profitability by improving paddock wheat yield and decreasing the production risks of grain.
A key component of this Statewide project is the excellent team of researchers and technical officers based in Geraldton, Northam, Merredin, Katanning, Esperance and Perth.
This team connects with grower groups, other research projects and industry representatives to allow it to maintain relevance.
Christine was recently a participant in WA’s Rising Leadership Program, which equips professionals with the tools to become authentic and effective leaders in the workplace.
Despite all these great achievements, Christine maintains her success is due to the great team of people she has had the pleasure to work with over many years.
She is thankful the grains industry is so supportive of her work and that the activities and research outcomes her projects have generated have supported and benefited the development of the WA grains industry.
Events, grants and scholarships
DPIRD supported events
Sheep supply chain training program, 20-25 January 2019, Perth and Great Southern
The Sheep Supply Chain Training Program is a comprehensive five day training course for individuals who wish to pursue a career in agrifood. Applications are now open for the program.
Regional grains research update - Geraldton zone, 22 February 2019, Mullewa
Hosted by Mullewa Dryland Farmers Initiative (MDFI) and the Mingenew Irwin Group (MIG) this day will focus on local grains research and development.
2019 Grains research updates, 25-26 February 2019, Perth
A two day program showcasing the latest research, technology, market development and management innovations to improve the productivity and profitability of the WA grains industry.
Regional grains research update - Albany zone, 28 February 2019, Porongurup
Hosted by Stirlings to Coast this day will focus on local grains research and development.
Grants - new this edition
National landcare program: Smart farms small grants, close 11 Jan 2019
Applications have opened for the second round of the National Landcare Program Smart Farms Small Grants. The $55 million competitive small grants program aims to support the adoption of best practices that improves the management and quality of our natural resources and increases on-farm productivity. Grant are from $5000 to maximum of $200 000 (GST exclusive).
Pioneer Seeds Australia scholarship, applications due 31 January 2019.
Up to $5000 scholarship including 2 weeks paid placement over 2 years is available for Australian students studying agriculture related degrees.