Soil water knowledge can help grow more dollars

Author: Natalie Lee | Date: 21 Jul 2014

Image of Western Australian agronomist, Craig Topham

Increased knowledge about soil water is allowing growers to better manage risk and match inputs to the productive capacity of their soils, according to agronomist Craig Topham.

Agronomist Craig Topham says many growers are already capitalising on their ability to measure and manage water holding capacity.

“The availability of real-time information is helping many Western Australian growers currently making tricky management decisions, given generally good crops but variable, and in many cases marginal soil moisture levels,” he said.

Mr Topham, of Agrarian Management, is one of the ‘Soil Water Champions’ assisting a research project which aims to improve grower and consultant understanding of how to best use soil water information in farm decision making.

Funded by the Grains Research and Development Corporation (GRDC) and led in WA by CSIRO, the project will also determine whether current soil water monitoring tools meet industry needs.

Mr Topham said many growers were already capitalising on their ability to measure and manage water holding capacity.

“This has been made possible by knowledge gains made in recent years in the fields of soil water measurement and management, subsoil constraints, targeted nutrition and variable rate technology,” he said.

“Tools such as Yield Prophet® and soil moisture probes are allowing us to identify soils and locations that will respond to additional inputs.

“Many farmers are pushing these responsive soils much harder, and applying inputs such as nitrogen at considerably higher rates than they would have done in the past.

“At the same time, they are reducing risk by cutting back inputs where there is limited soil water, or changing farming practices including increased grazing rather than continuous cropping.

“It’s all about growing more dollars in a sustainable way.”

CSIRO researcher Yvette Oliver, who is leading the soil water project in WA, says previous GRDC supported research has shown that 10 per cent yield gains are possible from improved soil water management.

“The ‘Measuring and managing soil water’ project will deliver information to assist in the management of farming systems, which require an understanding of the relationship between soil water, yield benefits and other factors,” Dr Oliver said.

“These factors include a long fallow in the rotation; summer weed control; early sowing; water use and canopy management; drought-proofing crops; and managing subsoil constraints.

“Other uses of soil water information include in-season decisions, such as nitrogen top-ups or spray topping.”

More information about soil water and water use efficiency (converting rainfall into grain) is available in the GRDC Water Use Efficiency Supplement


Contact Details

For Interviews

Craig Topham, Agrarian Management
0428 645 192


Natalie Lee, Cox Inall Communications
08 9864 2034, 0427 189 827

GRDC Project Code CP00170

Region West