Consultant's Corner: Break crop research digs beneath the surface – The commercial view

Author: Peter Eliott-Lockhart | Date: 01 Dec 2014

Caption: Peter Eliott-Lockhart.

Caption: Canola plants showing symptoms of manganese toxicity where the subsurface pH is below 4.8.

Caption: Assessing and comparing the subsurface pH of healthy and unhealthy canola plants.

With Planfarm, I have been involved in Grains Research and Development Corporation (GRDC) supported paddock testing work which complements the Focus Paddocks project.

While Focus Paddocks has surveyed paddocks mainly in Western Australia’s medium rainfall areas, the project I’ve been working on has focused on the State’s high and low rainfall cropping zones.

Results from both projects highlight the importance of checking soil quality at depth.

It is not unusual for growers to report that the performance of a break crop has been disappointing, despite a good season and data suggesting paddock conditions were suitable.

To find out what is the issue, it is worth digging a few holes to check for possible constraints, and to soil test at depth.

Soil compaction and acidity – which limit root growth and reduce the size of the soil’s water holding capacity, or ‘bucket’ - will often be the culprits.

Anything we can to do increase the size of the bucket will definitely increase water use efficiency (WUE) – conversion of rainfall into grain – and crop yields.


GRDC Project Code DAW000213

Region West