Farm Management

Soak up grower knowledge on soil moisture

Growers in Western Australia’s eastern grain belt are implementing practical methods to conserve precious soil moisture in response to increasingly fluctuating rainfall and variable soil types.

A new Grains Research and Development Corporation (GRDC) Regional Cropping Solutions Network publication Managing Soil Moisture outlines how a number of growers in this region are optimising production and reducing risks in the face of these challenges.

The case study booklet was initiated by the Kwinana East port zone RCSN group whose primary role is identifying the top locally-specific grains issues to improve grower profitability.

GRDC RCSN coordinator Julianne Hill said that since its inception in 2011, the group’s members had consistently identified soil moisture management as one of the top two priorities in this region, along with business management.

“GRDC has significant investments in soils, water use efficiency, and soil moisture conservation, and the Kwinana East RCSN was interested in identifying and extending information about practical methods that could be employed to address these issues under local conditions and on local soil types,” she said.

“The group initiated the production of the soil moisture case study booklet as a way of highlighting what growers in lower rainfall areas are doing differently to utilise available soil moisture and boost crop productivity and profits.

Managing Soil Moisture includes information about a range of techniques being used by 10 growers profiled in case studies that explore how they are optimising production and reducing risks in their lower rainfall area.

“It identifies and explains practical and zone-specific measures being used successfully by growers or being tested by advisers and researchers to improve water use efficiency and boost resulting crop production.”

Ms Hill said the tactics being used by the case study growers included: spraying summer weeds straight away, even at harvest if need be; measuring and monitoring soil moisture content; paddock preparation and agronomic management to increase the soil water ‘bucket’ size; and tactical spray fallows.

“Across the Kwinana East region, there has also been increasing interest in trialling new technologies such as soil moisture probes, with some growers feeding the data into crop modelling and prediction tools such as Yield Prophet®, and looking at alternative summer weed control options. This booklet explores some of these developments,” she said.

Ms Hill said many of the growers featured in the booklet had experienced consecutive years of drought or low growing season rainfall.

“In the Merredin area, for example, five of the lowest rainfall years in the past century occurred in the decade to 2015,” she said.

Managing Soil Moisture, which includes links to useful resources, is available at https://grdc.com.au/RCSN-ManagingSoilMoisture and http://www.rcsn.net.au/publications.

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