Research Report 2008/2009



Policy decisions

The annual PRF Research Report includes policy decisions that have been taken by the Board in order to function smoothly and efficiently in an ever-changing environment.

In the past year the Board once again completed an audit of available expertise versus that required to execute the various tasks undertaken by the PRF. Due to a lack of support, and in some instances a total absence of support, at both the national and provincial level, the Board took a decision to provide additional support to those Board members who are under the most pressure, but also with a view to providing continuity within the Board. It was envisaged that support would be in the form of additional appointments to Board committees and of supplementing PRF work groups with experts as required. The first such appointment was Dr Jan Dreyer, an experienced and nationally recognised agronomist with regard to summer crops, who was co-opted to the Technology committee for a period of one year. Similarly, at the end of 2008, an agreement was reached with Prof M Karaan, newly appointed Dean of the Faculty of Agricultural Sciences at the University of Stellenbosch, to increase the involvement of Prof André Agenbag, experienced and nationally recognised agronomist with regard to winter crops in the Western Cape. More on this topic will be reported in the next Research report.

The most important policy decision taken by the PRF in the period under review was to engage in an international liaison and cooperation program with countries abroad. This followed a Think Tank held during April 2008 and is the result of the declining funding for research at research insti­tutes, provincial departments and universities, as well as increasing pressure on those who remain. Very few vacant research positions are being filled and this has negatively affected many agricultural industries, resulting in increasing international isolation. Following the decision to give broader and international exposure not only to researchers but also to PRF co-workers, the decision was taken to liaise with Argentina and Brazil, mainly in the light of the dramatic progress in soybean production that has been made there in the past few years.

This decision was hastened by the temporary suspension of the soybean breeding program by the ARC-IGG as a result of a shortage of manpower. Consequently the PRF decided to suspend further funding of the soybean breeding program and to look elsewhere to assist commercial seed companies that continue to maintain breeding programs in South Africa. As a result, visits were undertaken to Brazil and Argentina where PRF missions had always in the past been received in a friendly and enthusiastic manner. A Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) was signed with EMBRAPA in Brazil in January 2009, whilst negotiations with INTA in Argentina are still underway. The initial goal is to test South American soybean cultivars and lines with specified characteristics during the 2009/2010 season, and to encourage the exchange of researchers to the advantage of both parties. Discussions will also be held continuously with local seed companies in an attempt to stay abreast of the latest developments with regard to higher yield, healthier oil, disease resistance, etc.

Locally, attention will also immediately be given to drawing up a map that identifies the area in South Africa available for soy planting as well a climatological map of regions where soybeans can be cultivated.

From the study tour to Australia it became evident that approximately 90% of all their crops are planted using a system of no-till cultivation. Similarly, almost all soybeans in Argentina are planted using the no-till system and it is deemed to be the single most important factor contri­buting to the successes that have been achieved with soybean production in that country. As a result of this and other confirmatory and supporting facts, the Board has taken a policy decision to promote this system in South Africa. Dr M Hardy and co-workers in the Western Cape have been conducting research with this system for a number of years with regard to canola production, and the Board decided that urgent attention must be given to launching a similar program for soybeans.

These aspects will all form part of a generic soybean marketing campaign that the PRF has embarked upon, and will form the core of soybean activities over the next few years. More information regarding this initiative will be covered in the press on an ongoing basis as well as in the next few research reports.