Soil water app ready for wireless rain gauges

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MCA Ag agronomist Paul Gardoll uses the SoilWaterApp on a client’s Goondiwindi property to assess soil moisture available for planting of the next crop.

PHOTO: Liz Wells

Its marriage of climate data and soil-type information is giving SoilWaterApp (SWApp) the know-how to bring on board new technologies set to help growers make better-informed decisions about what to grow and when.

SWApp, released in March, is helping growers to navigate management decisions through notoriously unreliable rainfall patterns.

The paddock-based app links with data from Bureau of Meteorology (BoM) weather stations and has already attracted more than 500 registered users.

SWApp is the latest incarnation of the Australian CliMate and HowWet? apps and was developed with funding from the GRDC by the National Centre for Engineering in Agriculture at the University of Southern Queensland (USQ).

Developer Dr David Freebairn, associate professor at USQ, says SWApp could become the ideal interface between growers, consultants and big data on a portable platform when coupled with the imminent release of technology such as wireless rain gauges.

“The wireless rain gauge, when available, will improve reliability and ease of rainfall recording, and has the ability for growers and consultants to share data and add value as new applications come online,” Dr Freebairn says.

Further data will soon be available to SWApp users, including data from the Department of Agriculture and Food, Western Australia, which has 130 weather stations independent of the BoM, as well as location-sensitive soil selection options being developed in a CSIRO-led project.

Dr Freebairn says SWApp should not be used as a standalone decision-maker, but could supplement grower and consultant estimates, and is particularly useful for growers planting into low-rainfall periods.

He says winter cereals and pulses grown in the summer cropping zones of Queensland and northern NSW, which are particularly dependent on water stored during fallow, stand to benefit most from the use of SWApp.

“Up to 70 per cent of a winter crop’s moisture in Central Queensland can be derived from water in the soil at planting. The magnitude of water stored in summer fallows will decline moving south and west, but even small amounts of water can make a large difference to crop yields by reducing stress in critical periods.”

Dr Freebairn says SWApp has the ability to improve fallow management strategies on a paddock-by-paddock basis and assist with in-crop management.

Goondiwindi-based MCA Ag consultant Paul Gardoll said he and his colleagues use SWApp to better service the MCA Ag client base, which spreads from Roma and Condamine, Queensland, to Moree, in New South Wales.

“It’s another tool to put some numbers behind a moisture probe, and it also can be calibrated to crop-modelling apps for yield targets and nitrogen requirements,” Mr Gardoll says.

He has estimated that at least half the growers in MCA Ag’s area of operation use a consultant, and says the iOS-based SWApp is a great tool to remotely link consultants with clients.

“It gives you a linkage to an area’s weather data, which is very handy in a period like this when we rarely get general rain,” he says.

For growers who manage large tracts of country, the app could be a star addition to their management-decision toolbox.

“Rain is so patchy these days, and five kilometres can make a big difference. When you compare on-farm rainfall recorded against BoM data, there can be a 50 per cent difference.”

Mr Gardoll says SWApp is useful in bringing to light rainfall variations that affect decisions about planting and in-crop applications of herbicide and fungicide.

“We need to have a platform where a grower can log their rainfall data and use it for a number of applications instead of getting the numbers they write on their chart on the wall and re-entering them for all the uses that occur in a cropping cycle.”

When wireless rain gauges and soil-moisture sensors become available and affordable, other streams of data could be added to SoilWaterApp sums.

More information:

David Freebairn,
0408 876 904,

david.freebairn@gmail.com;

SoilWaterApp

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