Mingenew Irwin Group

Trial description

Maximizing stored soil moisture is a key management tool for crop growth and development. Rainfall is not always reliable and grain growers need the knowledge and skill to use other tools to increase their cropping returns. MIG would like to work with the Morawa College of Agriculture to develop the skills of students moving towards a career in agriculture and give them exposure to advanced technologies in Agricultural research and development. The effects of Climate Change mean that knowledge of how to work with less rainfall and the use of technology will be a fundamental skill in the Agricultural industry. 

The objective of this trial is to increase risk management and hence cropping sustainability in a low rainfall environment, through a better understanding of soil water measurement and management. The use of fallow in the cropping rotation is becoming more common for growers in the lower rainfall environments. Previous work has shown increased cropping returns on some soil types with the use of fallow in the rotation. Other work has also demonstrated no advantage with the use of fallow on low water holding capacity (PAWC) soil types.

There is a need for a greater understanding of soil water measurement and management to provide a greater understanding of where and when a practice such as fallow will provide an economic benefit in the cropping system. The way a fallow is managed will also influence the amount of soil water that is stored under a fallow system, by being able to measure the soil water under different management practices a greater understanding of where, when and how to utilize fallow in the system can be made. The trial aims to give growers a greater understanding of soil moisture measurement and management. It will also investigate how and where to use fallow in a low rainfall environment as a tool for minimizing risk as well as managing and maximizing their returns from rainfall received. Through the implementation and utilization of the latest technology, real time soil moisture monitoring can demonstrate the effects of different practices throughout the season.

The second aim of this trial is to expose students of the Western Australia College of Agriculture in Morawa to cutting edge technology under current development and the execution of scientific trial work and data management.

Conducting this trial over consecutive years will allow us to assign a monetary figure to stored soil moisture. The hypothesis is that moisture levels and cropping returns on red loam soils are increased through the appropriate use of chemical fallow compared to the traditional spray topping. Due to the increasing levels of herbicide resistance there is also a greater interest in implementing a mechanical weed control into the rotation. The use of a mechanical weed control in the fallow rotation will reduce pressure of herbicides and hence buildup of resistance. What is the effect on soil moisture accumulation if a mechanical fallow is utilized?

This is a long term project and will look at the correlation between Yield, Grain Quality and profitability due to different fallow management practices in the Morawa region. The first year will be focused on understanding the impact of fallow management on seasonal moisture fluctuation and availability.

Following on in the second year, it is expected that a better understanding of the impact of different levels of fallow management on crop returns will be achieved and a monetary value assigned to stored soil moisture.

MIG is currently working on a COGGO project looking at increasing crop yields through the use of chemical fallow. The research trial at Morawa will increase the significance of this current project and further test the results. MIG is also developing a technological package for real-time data management involving the use of drone technology, image recognition and remote sensing to assist the farmer, farm manager or consultant in the decision making process. The students at Morawa will be involved in data collection, analysis and scientific research, and will be exposed to developing technologies. MIG is a highly regarded research body with a strong skill set within staff to manage, implement and extend research from this work.

This trial will be implemented in conjunction with the Western Australian College of Agriculture in Morawa and Agrarian Management and communicated to the wider agricultural industry through field walks, newsletters and updates. Grower feedback is very important in the development and progress of this research. MIG has a large membership and frequently visited website that many grain growers look to for updates on new technology and developments in Agriculture. Agrarian Management has involvement with a large number of farm businesses across the northern wheatbelt and through Craig Topham has been involved with the research, development and extension of the use of Yield Prophet and soil moisture probes as tools to assist farmers to measure and manage soil moisture.

A large scale demonstration with three replications will be used to research this topic. Adjoining trials will investigate the effects of alternating fallow followed by wheat and/or wheat followed by fallow.

Four cropping strategies will be investigated as follows:

Continuous Cropping:                     
Wheat on wheat cropping

Poor fallow management:               
Late control of summer weeds combined with a late growing season fallow spray with weeds sprayed at flowering to prevent set

High level fallow management:      
100% control of all weed growth (both winter and summer weeds) to maximize the accumulation of stored soil moisture. Weeds  be sprayed at regular intervals always maintaining very low weed populations

Mechanical fallow:                          
Mid-season mechanical fallow to control winter weed growth without the use of herbicides.

 A remote sensing data point consisting of 1 meter soil moisture measurements and soil temperature probe with six sensors, a temperature logger, tipping rain gauge, time lapse camera, solar powered in field communication device, solar power for measurement devices, GPRS communication for transmitting data and Data Interface to Crop Manager Software will be installed.

Soil moisture measurements will be taken on a regular basis by students to determine the gravimetric soil moisture content and correlate those results with the data obtained from the soil moisture probe. Regular drone images will be acquired, processed and uploaded to a software platform for further interpretation by students, researchers and crop consultants.

MIG will be providing the installation, maintenance and data uploading from all remote sensing devises including regular drone flights, 2 workshops and will expose the students to research techniques. Agrarian will also support this trial by supervising the fallow management and student’s soil moisture measurements.

This will be a combined effort that will include researchers, crop consultants, local growers and students and involve the use of cutting edge technologies.

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