Students test agronomy skills

AgXtra Crop Competition engages students.


Participants in the AgXtra Crop Competition gain a valuable insight into what it takes to grow a top crop.


In its eleventh year, the AgXtra Crop Competition has become highly-regarded by University of Adelaide and high school agriculture students alike.

The program requires competing teams to select a variety of wheat, map out its nutrition and crop protection program, then run it as a replicated trial to be judged on gross margin at the end of harvest.

At the recent AgXtra field day, students were given the opportunity to walk through their plots and discuss their choices and selections with the AgXtra agronomy team.

Elders' agronomist Michael Brougham was on-site to help answer competitors' questions.

AgXtra managing director Richard Porter said the field day was a way to start a conversation about careers in agriculture.

"We looked at things like crop identification, being able to grow different crops, some of the agronomy you apply to different crops, and the use of break crops in rotation where you can do continuous cropping," Mr Porter said.

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Students get constant updates through social media channels where they can login and monitor crop growth, change their decisions or their management plan.

Balaklava High School agriculture teacher Sue Pratt says the SAGIT-funded crop competition immediately piques students' interest.

"The experience builds on the foundational knowledge from the classroom," she said.

"When you put the students on the spot of making a decision, they actually start to take notice."

Pest resistance, growth stages and crop rotation - often glossed over in student learning - become important factors through the crop competition, requiring students to take note if they want to be competitive.

"All of a sudden they have to make a business decision, which makes it a much more meaningful process for the students," Ms Pratt said.

"The crop competition experience is reinforcing what they would be talking about at home and what we are learning at school."

Balaklava High School year 11 student Kayleigh Parker is thoroughly enjoying the crop competition experience and thinks the field day was the most engaging part.

"It's a really good competition because we get to see how the different varieties grow as well as how the fertiliser we applied affects the growth of the crop," she said.

"I think we are doing really well, although we are a little bit concerned about our money because we put a lot of fertiliser on."

Ms Parker said Mr Brougham mentioned that because of the amount of fertiliser they used, they should be able to get ahead.

"I would 100 per cent recommend the competition because it's a whole different learning experience," she said.

"I live on a farm but I don't go out there and (compete against) other people in growing a crop and I don't really go out on the tractor with Dad as often as I should."

Ms Parker found it interesting to learn how the AgXtra crop trials were set up.

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University of Adelaide student and competitor James Easter wanted to ensure his team created the best agronomic recommendation they could for the provided plot.

"We're growing Hammer Clearfield wheat because the information they gave us prior to the start of the season was indicating a high amount of volunteer barley was present," he said.

"We figured that we could use a Clearfield wheat variety to combat the volunteer barley and hopefully get an edge on the other competitors."

Mr Easter said his prior studies had aided his knowledge on pest control and crop growth, but students could use the lecturers and experts provided to answer questions.

"We definitely use concepts learnt in uni practicals, but it is nothing like getting out in the field as a hands-on experience, seeing what the plots and weeds are doing," he said.

"You can't get the same thing from lectures.

"It is really good to get out in the field and have that competitiveness against another group to try and get the best result.

"We are happy with the fertiliser that we have put on."

Adelaide Uni students are analysing what herbicide option will provide them with the best gross margin.

"We are deciding if we spray Intervix and deciding what rate of urea we apply, because if we go too high it'll impact our gross margin, if we go too low, it'll impact our yield," he said.

"As with dryland farming, it's all dependent on the rainfall as to what the season brings."

Mr Easter says those considering entering the crop competition should give it a crack.

"You will learn heaps, it won't take too much of your time, and you never know who you will meet along the way and what little interests you will find," he said.

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