The following historical overview of the Wheat Industry deals with its development to the present day with computer links and references to important documented ‘turning points’ which have helped to support and transform this highly efficient industry over the years.
The Wheat Industry of South Australia has maintained a prominent role in the state’s prosperity and in many ways has made significant inputs to wheat growing in the other southern states of Australia.
For 170 years, South Australian wheat growers have maintained production despite facing drought, soil deficiencies, disease and weeds. Wheat farmers have had to adapt to years of economic depression, war and varying global supply and demand.
Wheat growing began on the Adelaide Plains in 1839. High productivity quickly enabled South Australia to become self-sufficient in wheat. Innovative farmers took early advantage of the inherent high fertility of the soils. Exports to the United Kingdom were established aided by the repeal of the Corn Laws in England and the efficient seaport handling made possible by the state’s indented coastline.
Keen farmers and helpful governments nurtured research which introduced better varieties and with the use of phosphate fertilizers production was expanded from the early higher rainfall areas to Eyre Peninsula, Yorke Peninsula and the Murray Mallee.
The stripper, (invented by Ridley in SA in 1843), introduced mechanization to the Industry. A series of mechanical innovations have enabled continued improvement in productivity. Besides the harvester, tractors, bulk handling, boom-sprays and more recently air seeders enable large areas to be sown and reaped in a more timely way avoiding many vagaries of the seasons.
Selling to reliable standards to satisfy local and overseas buyers has always been a challenge which for nearly 90 years was satisfied by the Fair Average Quality system. This was replaced in 1974 by the benchmark “Australian Standard White”, a quality assurance measure to ensure buyers receive grain of certain protein, moisture and other determinates. These are vital determinates of flour characteristics required for bread, biscuit or pasta manufacture.
In recent years, alternate crops, such as oil seeds and pulse crops, have been introduced into the farm rotations. These have provided breaks against disease and weeds. New minimum tillage technology before seeding has further improved production efficiency.
Today the South Australian wheat industry has evolved into an independent, capital intensive, knowledge based business. A business challenged by increasing fuel and chemical cost and climate change, increasing soil salinity and herbicide resistant weeds. To manage wheat farming sustainably in the future will require a continuing high degree of adaptiveness by well-educated farmers with business skills.
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