Rob O'Connor, an experienced Irrigation Officer with DEDJTR works with Accelerating Change on all things irrigation, including scheduling. Rob shares with us, below, lessons learnt from the project about soil moisture monitoring and the use of moisture probes, and the value of using ET data to schedule irrigations.
Lessons learnt about soil moisture monitoring
Soil moisture probes have been used on the partner farms under different forages in 2015-16 and through the recent winter-spring period. The probes have provided useful information largely for irrigation scheduling, particularly when the moisture probe information was regularly revised and used in conjunction with other scheduling methods already used on farm.
Getting the most out of probes
It was evident from probe data that a shallower depth of moisture extraction was occurring under pasture compared to lucerne. Moisture uptake was typically occurring to a depth of 50-70cm under pasture and 100-120cm for lucerne. (Refer to figures...
Accelerating Change has been busy over the winter months setting up technical extension activities and continuing measurement and monitoring activities on our Partner Farms where possible, incorporating winter feeds into the mix. Difficult wet conditions for our farmers have also limited how much pasture accumulation and nutritive data we could collect so, like everyone, we are looking forward to seeing some drier paddocks in spring.
Our monitoring and measurement strategy will soon kick off again as the irrigation season starts up. We will be continuing our look at the performance of perennial pasture and lucerne on farm, as well as alternative summer forage types such as sorghum, their contribution to the feed budget, and their respective costs and benefits. We will also look at the performance of different aged lucerne to assess its value over the long term and continue with our trial of different irrigation strategies.
Many of the learnings to come from the presentations were directly applicable to dairy farms in our region. Faced with uncertain and varied climatic conditions, water availability and market volatility, grain farmers are chasing efficiency and looking to lower costs of production where it is sustainable and profitable to do so. Coupled with best management practice to get the basics right, farmers were encouraged to use a range of information tools available to them to identify where those extra 1-2% gains could be made.
Technology to drive efficiency: Moisture probes, drones and satellites.
A focus on lifting water productivity came through in technical presentations on irrigation scheduling and soil moisture monit...
Accelerating Change held two Open Days in May, one on each of the project partner farms – the Humphris’ in Tongala and the Stewart-Matthews’ in Yarrawalla – where data around the quality and yield of different forage types, and the impact of different irrigation strategies, had been collected over the spring and summer. Each of the partner farms worked closely with their respective consultants to conduct a financial analysis of their business with the benefit of comprehensive project data indicating how they performed across the season.
The Open Days provided an opportunity for all dairy farmers and industry professionals in the region to review the data as well as to hear from the partner farmers about what they learnt from the results and the decisions they have made going in to next season. Guest speakers at the Open Days included Seasonal Risk and Grains agronomist, Dale Grey of The Very Fast Break, Soil agronomist, Dale Boyd, and Farm Monitoring Solutions (FMS) technician, Adrian O...
We've been sharing some snapshots from Accelerating Change on social media. follow @Murray_Dairy and the tag #acceleratingchange to hear what project staff Amy Fay and Harriet Bawden and our farmers are discussing.
At the Stewart PIT meeting in December, the group reviewed the pasture accumulation data and nutritive values for the season so far. The group was put to the test to see if they could judge by eye the pasture mass and quality characteristics Accelerating Change has been collecting. One of our twitter followers guessed in first go! What do you reckon?
Match the nutritive results with the pasture species on the left:
At their meeting the Stewart PIT also discussed initial data from the 5 Observant capacitance probes installed on the Stewart farm. Throughout the project the PIT farmers have had numerous discussions on the value of moisture probes and how to use them most effectively.
Soil moisture probe take home messages
Look for the decline in daily water use and ground truth what the cause is. Is it moisture stress or another factor?
Set your own refill and full point management lines. Probe software might give you indicative positions but you have to tailor it to your farm, your soil, your crop and your water infrastructure. If it takes a few days to order or apply water give yourself a bigger buffer between timing of irrigation and the point of water stress, in case things go wrong.
Check it regularly! Read the soil moisture probe graph every couple of days and more frequently if you are nearing irrigation or there is a big change in weather-either rain or heat wave.
Recently both PITs have had technical sessions on the value of moisture probes. Rob O’Connor and Dale Board, both from DEDJTR, have been talking to PIT farmers about the benefits and challenges of using soil moisture monitoring tools. A summary of Dale’s previous research into these tools in the region can be found here: http://irec.org.au/farmer_f/pdf_186/Soil-moisture-monitoring.pdf
Soil moisture monitoring provides a tool that enables irrigators to make more informed decisions regarding water requirements of various crops, which can result in on-farm water efficiency gains and increased productivity.
Some key lessons discussed for moisture probe sessions:
Moisture probes allows you to refine your irrigation schedule to increase water efficiency and productivity
You get the best value from moisture probes when you aim maximise production rather than to minimise absolute water use
Moisture probes allow you to maximise return on investment in farm layout and deli...
The Stewart PIT spoke at length about the data that could be collected on the farm to inform some key management strategies for the group. In the first couple of meetings the watering strategy utilised on the farm, in particular the longer irrigation intervals that Kelvin and Don use, were of particular interest to the other farms in the group. Some felt that the longer intervals might be causing a yield penalty where others were keen to know if they could implement a longer irrigation interval to save on water use without compromising on pasture accumulation. The PIT team discussed the monitoring and measurement methodology and it was agreed that Accelerating Change would measure the impact of different watering strategies on the Stewart’s lucerne and perennial pastures.
The following methodology was agreed to. Each square represents a different irrigation bay.
On the Stewart farm, we are taking regular weekly readings to examine pasture growth at different irrigation intervals and on...
A lot has been happening in the Accelerating Change project and the broader industry over the last month. The hot dry start to spring meant irrigation was well under way when the Stewart Performance Innovation Team (PIT) met on 17 September. With the upturn in water prices, many farmers involved with Accelerating Change are reviewing their summer feeding strategies. Initial data collection will help assist with the calculations to weigh up whether certain pastures will be watered through or dried off. The Stewart PIT met in September to review farm performance, receive a technical presentation on moisture probes from Dale Boyd of DEDJTR and discuss and the monitoring and measurement strategy and pasture reading technology on the Stewart’s farm.
Accelerating Change is using the Automated Pasture Reader (APR) to collect data about the average pasture height, uniformity and estimated mass (kgDM/ha) across selected paddocks. In a number of these paddocks on both farms, we have taken sampl...