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.
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:
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...
We've been busy on farm with our project partners, researchers at DEDJTR, testing and calibrating the pasture measurement gear we will be using as part of the project. One of the tools we are trialling is the Pasture Reader. See below for a YouTube clip of this in action.
The purpose of the monitoring and measurement strategy is to collect data on pasture accumulation and nutritive value as well as water use to assist in the identification on opportunities and challenges, inform management decisions and ground truth estimates and gut feel of our top operators for accuracy.
We have been getting both a CDax and a Pasture Reader calibrated and tested. The CDax is a proven and reliable way of measuring pasture but it's performance is limited in tall crops such as lucerne, as it is a pull behind device an ATV can squash the pasture before it is measured, confusing the results. The Pasture Reader is mounted on the front of an ATV so...
A key component of the project is the close monitoring and data collection of existing farm performance, definition of business goals relating to these areas and development of strategies to meet these goals in conjunction with specialised advice, leading research and access to the latest technology.
The on farm activities that are underway or are being developed to achieve these include:
In depth analysing of current farming system and future options;
Monitoring of pasture and crop growth;
Monitoring of water use; and
Measuring and monitoring of other factors that drive profitability on farm, for example business management, animal management etc
The parameters and methodology to undertake this measurement on farm are being developed with our key project partner the Department of Economic Development, Jobs, Transport and Resources. Sign up to make you sure you get our next newsletter with more information.