NT Farmers recently renewed its collaboration with Hort Innovation and the AUSVEG-facilitated National Vegetable Extension Program (VegNET) to support local vegetable growers grow a sustainable crop and profitable business. In this article, NT Farmers Association provides an update on the early stages of the project and recent interactions with Top End growers.

In October 2021, AUSVEG launched the third iteration of the VegNET project (VegNET 3.0 ) aimed to boost productivity and deliver the latest research and development on-farm between 2021- 2026. The nationally-coordinated project is delivered locally by regional organisations to ensure growers from all regions benefit from local advice and support to help grow a sustainable crop and profitable business.

In the Northern Territory, VegNET is delivered by the NT Farmers Association (NT Farmers), which provides on-the-ground extension to vegetable growers in the Greater Darwin, Katherine and Central Australia growing regions.

In February, vegetable growers and other industry stakeholders were invited to the first VegNET 3.0 pre-season meeting in Marrakai. It was a great opportunity for everyone to strengthen their local network and to discuss opportunities available through the VegNET 3.0 project.

More resources for NT growers

NT Farmers first delivered a short presentation about the VegNET 3.0 project’s focus areas identified for the vegetable industry: Integrated Pest Management (IPM), soil health, water efficiency, biosecurity, and crop diversification and protected cropping.

The team also highlighted different services available to growers and introduced key industry stakeholders including NT Farmers staff, government extensionists and entomologists, local agronomists, suppliers and more.

NT Farmers has led this opportunity to bring all key stakeholders into one room to provide extension synergy. Collaboration in this arena will benefit all and drive a legacy for industry development, servicing growers and encouraging grower adoption and practice change.

After the presentation, growers were encouraged to mix with scientists to learn more about the recently detected fall armyworm (FAW) and American serpentine leafminer (ASLM). Entomologists from the NT Government provided specimens for different pests and discussed current surveillance tools and activities in the region.

It was great to see more than 36 growers and industry stakeholders – including young farmers from the NT Vietnamese Growers Association – attending and engaging.

Another meeting is planned for April in Lambells Lagoon to give growers in that area an opportunity to meet with the team. The rollout of these grower and industry stakeholder meetings will continue across the NT in the coming months as the 2022 season ramps up.

IPM focus

This year’s main activity for VegNET – Northern Territory is the undertaking of IPM demonstration plots at the NT Government Coastal Plains Research Station in Middle Point, 65km south-east of Darwin.

Insect pests are an ongoing challenge as they can reduce fruit yield and quality, ultimately leading to severe economic losses for growers.

IPM combines the use of biological, cultural, and chemical control methods to manage insect pests in agricultural production. It also incorporates the use of natural predators or parasites and selective pesticides to minimise negative impacts for farmers and the environment. An IPM approach consists of regular monitoring of insect pests to determine the need for spraying, preferably using soft chemicals, where necessary.

Following on from successful IPM trials on okra and snake beans in 2017-18, this year’s trials aim to further understand the effect of FAW and ASLM on common vegetable crops grown in the Top End, namely from the Cucurbitaceae (e.g., Asian melons, cucumbers) and Solaneceae (e.g., chillies, eggplants) families.

The field trials will evaluate the vegetable-pest-disease interactions to improve the knowledge of beneficial insects and IPM practices to maximise productivity and profitability of NT vegetable farms.

While the entomologists are excited to start monitoring insects, the preparation of field sites is well underway, and the next few months will be busy with the preparation of seedlings, laying of beds, trellises, and planting.

The team looks forward to undertaking these trials under the wise eyes of local vegetable grower experts! The results from this year’s trials will be used to continue the development of the suite of resource tools for the ‘IPM Wheeling On’ project.

This suite is building on from the work completed under the previous VegNET project (VG18003).

Find out more

Please contact VegNET – Northern Territory Regional Development Officer Mariah Maughan on 0417 618 468 or email ido@ntfarmers.org.au.

VegNET 3.0 is a strategic levy investment under the Hort Innovation Vegetable Fund.

This project has been funded by Hort Innovation using the vegetable research and development levy and contributions from the Australian Government.

Project Number: VG21000

Cover image: The Northern Territory’s first VegNET 3.0 pre-season meeting in Marrakai was attended by Top End vegetable growers and industry stakeholders.