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Australian researcher to discuss dryland wheat farming

Australian wheat researcher James Hunt is intrigued by farmers raising wheat in the Horse Heaven Hills, one of the driest regions in the world for wheat production.
Matthew Weaver

Capital Press

Published on October 12, 2017 8:51AM

Agronomist James Hunt, center, and farmers Geoff Hunt, left, and Leigh Bryan, right, inspect a commercial planting of the first winter wheat adapted to low-rainfall regions of southern Australia. Hunt will tour the dryland wheat-producing region of Eastern Washington and give a free seminar to farmers Oct. 18 in Lind.

Courtesy of Matt Witney

Agronomist James Hunt, center, and farmers Geoff Hunt, left, and Leigh Bryan, right, inspect a commercial planting of the first winter wheat adapted to low-rainfall regions of southern Australia. Hunt will tour the dryland wheat-producing region of Eastern Washington and give a free seminar to farmers Oct. 18 in Lind.

Wheat grows on state land in the Horse Heaven Hills region of Benton County, Wash. An Australian researcher will meet Oct. 18 with Washington growers and researchers to discuss dryland wheat farming.

Washington Department of Natural Resources

Wheat grows on state land in the Horse Heaven Hills region of Benton County, Wash. An Australian researcher will meet Oct. 18 with Washington growers and researchers to discuss dryland wheat farming.


Eastern Washington wheat farmers are raising their crop in some of the driest parts of the world, and an Australian researcher wants to see it first-hand.

James Hunt, an agronomist, crop physiologist and senior lecturer at La Trobe University in Melbourne, Australia, will speak at a free seminar on Australian wheat-based cropping systems at 4 p.m. Oct. 18 at Washington State University’s dryland research station in Lind, Wash.

Hunt told the Capital Press by email that a lot of Australia’s wheat is produced in low-rainfall environments, typically using spring wheats. Less autumn rainfall in recent decades has made it difficult to establish cultivars on time, and the number of killing frosts has increased, causing a lot of damage.

“We are looking at using winter wheats more, and trying to establish them on stored soil water earlier in autumn, as is done with furrow planting in the Pacific Northwest,” Hunt said. “I hope to learn how growers manage winter wheats in low-rainfall environments in the PNW and what sorts of traits breeders select for.”

Hunt contacted WSU, said Bill Schillinger, director of the research station. He’ll be in the U.S. for an American Society of Agronomy meeting in Tampa, Fla., and wanted to meet growers and researchers.

“He is fascinated how those farmers, especially in the western portion of the Horse Heaven Hills, can possibly make a living growing wheat in such a dry environment,” Schillinger said. “The Horse Heaven Hills region is the world’s driest for wheat production.”

For his seminar, Hunt will talk about big yield increases in southern Australia when genetic and management technologies were combined to make a “coherent” farming system. He also believes PNW farmers will be interested in the role pulse crops such as lentils and chickpeas have played in Australia’s low-rainfall farming systems.

Hunt has a good reputation for conveying information to farmers, said Drew Lyon, WSU weed scientist.

Hunt will also meet with WSU researchers in Pullman.

Schillinger said Hunt’s seminar is an opportunity for farmers to learn about advances in Australia’s dryland wheat farming.

“Everything’s turned around down there — their winter is our summer and vice versa, but stored precipitation in the soil is very important for them, as it is for us,” Schillinger said.

“He hopefully will learn something from us, and my guess is we’ll learn something from him,” Lyon said.



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