What does a crop look like that doesn't need any water other than the available soil moisture at planting?
How do we produce a crop that can tolerate extreme heat without losing yields? And if diesel is still sitting at 230 cents a litre next year, how can producers harvest more with that litre.
These are some of the challenges NSW Department of Primary Industries (DPI) researchers will be looking at to help on-farm efficiency and management in 2024.
While the headlines of climate, business/economic markets and biosecurity topped the news for 2023, DPI director general Scott Hansen said they would still remain a feature of 2024.
"The headlines don't change much, it's what the focus areas are and how we manage it that does," Mr Hansen said.
Mr Hansen said this year producers saw how quickly the environment changed in the field.
"The state went from bright green across the countryside to 63 per cent drought impacted (at the time of print)," he said.
"That change for a lot of areas happened quickly, it was like the rain turned off and the heat and winds turned up."
He said then the Bureau of Meteorology forecast and then called an El Nino event, which then switched into management mode especially with the 2018 drought still fresh in people's minds.
"People have done a good job in getting crops in and getting crops off and managing livestock," he said.
"And when you think about 63pc of the state drought impacted or affected ... producers need to be applauded for how they managed this season."
Despite the many challenges, Mr Hansen said there were many highs for primary industries with NSW exports hitting a record $13.1 billion - up 15 per cent from the previous year.
"How quickly the industry has been able to bounce back from really adverse conditions and get back on top of what they can produce but keep markets open and keep customers purchasing," he said.
"They have done this in an environment, in which had real disruption with some of our markets closing for a period or impacted by factors such as the war between Ukraine and Russia."
In addition to that he said producers had seen their input costs goes through the roof as lamb prices fell 55 per cent from its peak in 2021 and the Eastern Young Cattle Indicator dropped 65pc from highs of 2022.
And that's not even scratching the surface of the challenges producers faced, we haven't even got to biosecurity yet, he said.
Mr Hansen said every year of the DPI's 130 year history had been spent by researchers taking what they had learned and building on it - a key ingredient in the fight against ongoing biosecurity threats.
While Varroa mite, white spot in prawns and red imported fire ants were the main onshore threats, he said there were 2373 animal disease investigations, as well as 1002 plants disease and pest investigations conducted this year.
"One of the key lessons for us with Varroa was if someone said to me that we would get a Varroa detection in June 2022, and I had two years in which to get ready for that, the thing we would have jumped on was to work with industry to get their traceability and record keeping up to speed," he said.
He said that information at the time of detection and throughout the response was vital to "stay ahead of the curb".
"That was a weakness in our capacity to respond that we would focus in on," he said.
He said they would have also focused more time with the community to explain why biosecurity actions were important and capitalise on their increased awareness of biosecurity and traceability due to the COVID pandemic.
Fast forward to 2024, he said it was vital for all levels of government, industry and community to get on top of the surveillance and preparation for the next threats like Varroa.
"It starts with the Commonwealth, they need to ensure they are stopping these things from getting into Australia in the first place, then industry and state governments need the right level of surveillance and preparation to catch and eradicate the risk if it does breach the border," Mr Hansen said.
"You have seen how hard it is once it gets in."