Celebrating almost 60 years since its formation, Compass Agricultural Alliance (CAA) - formerly the Darkan Farm Advisory Service - has survived and thrived on the evolution of farming in this southern wheatbelt district and now proudly represents third-generation farming members.
As one of Australia's oldest grower groups, CAA began life as part of a push by The University of Western Australia academic Dr Henry Schapper to form advisory groups throughout WA's agricultural region. CAA is now one of the only remaining groups from that era.
According to one of the group's early consultants, Bob Hall AM, these advisory groups were the genesis of the farm consultancy service throughout the state.
Responding to member needs
Mr Hall, who continues to work with the grower group, believes the success of CAA over such a long period has been its ability to respond to the needs of its member base.
"Prior to the collapse of the wool price in the early 1990s, only around 20 per cent of this country was cropped," Mr Hall says.
"After that time, to make the budget work, many people would sell an aged group of wethers for cash flow, and they would substitute the wethers for crop."
Mr Hall says at the time of the group's formation, there wasn't a crop spraying machine owned by anyone in the shire.
These days it is a very different story and the group has recently run a series of GRDC-invested sprayer calibration workshops to help growers maximise sprayer efficiency on broadacre crops.
CAA president Steven Hulse says the group's priorities no longer lie with livestock profitability alone and almost half of the group's resources are allocated to increasing grower productivity in the grains sector.
"Looking at the data from our most recent survey in 2019, almost 50 per cent of land use in this West Arthur Shire is now used for grain production," Steven says.
"But it is likely that this will not increase further, given that some of our paddocks are unsuitable for cropping."
Almost 50 per cent of land use in this West Arthur Shire is now used for grain production.
Soil type limits production potential
Based in a region dominated by forest gravel soils, this area in WA's southern wheatbelt regularly receives more than 500 millimetres in annual rainfall, yet crop production potential has been limited by this challenging soil type.
Steven says growers are now looking to match rainfall with yield potential. But understanding the limitations of plant available nutrients, water repellency and compaction in these soils has been a challenge for many.
With the move into increased grain production in this very specific and difficult soil type, researchers are also very interested in helping growers achieve the most from these gravel soils.
A GRDC-invested research project managed by the University of WA's Soils West group is hoping to understand how ironstone gravel particles change plant available water and act as a buffer for phosphorus supply.
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GRDC Research Code UWA1906-008RTX