The Agronomy Network met for the second time in Echuca on Friday 9th December to hear about and discuss past and current agronomic and irrigation research occurring in our region.
The group heard from Agriculture Victoria Senior Research Scientists, Kevin Kelly and Mike Morris, on current and past research in the agronomic and irrigation hydrology space. Also on the agenda was an introduction to the Forage Value Index project by Ron Prestige from Dairy Australia. The session finished with a question and answer session with University of Southern Queensland Researcher, Geoff Cockfield, who was keen to understand the agronomists' perspective on what sustained and improved feedbase performance in the dairy industry might look like for our region. Geoff's work is part of a wider research project across Victoria funded by the Gardiner Foundation.
See below for a summary of the key messages from the day. The full presentations can be accessed here:
Accelerating Change has recently formed an Agronomy Network for the Murray region bringing together agronomists and others working in the technical feedbase sector with dairy industry professionals and researchers. The Agronomy Network meet in a series of technical workshops focused on issues that have the potential to assist farmers increase their efficiency in feed and irrigation management.
Why an Agronomy Network?
A key learning of Accelerating Change is that the commercial service sector play a critical role in driving innovation and facilitating change in dairy feedbase systems. Many agronomists and other service providers face similar challenges and opportunities in their work supporting farmers to develop profitable businesses in a changing environment. With changing access to and cost of water, and variability and volatility in climate and commodity markets, dairy farmers are increasingly reviewing their feedbase system and looking at what step changes they might need to make to...
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...
Working with our farmers, we delivered a Soils Constraints Road Trip in July, taking participants to three different sites in the Tatura-Stanhope region to look at different structural soil issues and ways to address them on farm for improved productivity. The Road Trip was delivered by soil scientist, Christian Bannan, who took farmers through issue identification and possible practical remediation actions in an interactive format.
The feedback from the day indicated that the event was particularly relevant for farmers in our region, given the wet conditions of each site. We are developing up a full report and video of the day so watch this space for more information. Accelerating Change is making this workshop available for delivery upon request. If you and your neighbours, or Discussion Group is interested at having a closer look at your soils, please get in touch.
"Your top soil is your horse power and your sub soil is your water tank"- Soil Scientist, Christian Bannan
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.
Accelerating Change, in partnership with Tactics for Tight Times and the Gardiner Foundation, ran two Summer Cropping Workshops this month to get farmers thinking about how they could get the most value from maize or sorghum crops in their respective dairy farming operations.
Together, Matt Nihill, Cropping Agronomist from Landmark, and Lisa Birrell, Murray Dairy Extension Officer, discussed the agronomic, financial and nutritional considerations of growing a good crop and effectively utilising the feed. Service Providers and dairy farmers in the room also shared their experiences of summer cropping.
Matt and Lisa spoke about the differences between maize and sorghum, their availability at different times and offering different nutrition characteristics they offer your cows. Whilst sorghum can be directly grazed in the summer time, maize must be harvested and stored, and won't be fed out until autumn.
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...
Accelerating Change had a cracking start to 2016 with a joint PIT meeting to review data collected on Partner Farms over the irrigation season and a bus tour to the southern cotton industry to showcase innovation, risk management and adoption of new research and technology. Our evaluation results from the tour found that the majority of farmers involved are enthusiastic to implement new ideas as a result of the trip, particularly focusing on irrigation scheduling, understanding soils and getting a better grasp on costs of production.
Late last year the Accelerating Change farmers discussed ways they could tap into innovation and technology that is successfully being used by different industries. The southern cotton industry was identified as a leading example of how to rapidly adopt innovation and technology to grow production and profitability. The industry has shown a tremendous ability to adapt to geographic, climatic and environmental constraints, embracing new varieties, managemen...