Collaborative approach to tackle soil constraints

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Photo of smiling man (Dr Stephen Loss)

Stephen Loss, program manager – farming practices, GRDC

Soil constraints cost Australian growers millions of dollars in lost productivity each year. To reclaim some of this productivity and profit, the GRDC has invested in a national Soil Constraints Initiative, which commenced during 2015.

As part of this national program each GRDC growing region is focusing on soil constraint issues specific to their production systems.

The initiative is a $33 million collaborative effort across the three grain-growing zones, with growers and researchers driving the research and its extension through a focused steering committee.

Grower involvement will ensure the research and its application are locally relevant, while the collaboration of research organisations will draw together soil-science experts to focus their collective effort on integrated solutions to soil constraints across soil types and production systems.

The western region’s Soil Constraints – West was the first regional initiative to be launched and will run until 2020 to tackle a range of soil constraints from subsoil acidity through to sodicity, water repellence and compaction.

This Ground Cover Supplement details past and present research efforts to develop practical and profitable management solutions for soil constraints holding back yield potential across Australia. Although much of the research to date has been done in Western Australia, which is home to some of the nation’s most problematic soils, the research results are applicable across Australia.

Modern cropping machinery, production systems and varieties have combined to boost crop yields but this has highlighted soil constraint issues, resulting in a need for new management solutions.

For example, dry seeding and drier autumns have led to a perceived increase in water repellence across many of the western region’s cropping areas (see Dry seeding puts time pressure on moisture). In response, researchers and growers have combined forces to develop and assess seeding modifications and wetting agents to direct moisture towards emerging crops.

The mechanisms controlling non-wetting are now better understood but more research is needed to develop management solutions to non-wetting in dry-seeding systems – a growing practice in an age of increasing cropping programs and a drying climate.

Soil compaction issues are also changing with the increasing weight of modern cropping machinery driving compaction to a depth of 50 to 60 centimetres where traditional deep-ripping options struggle. To better mange the depth and issues caused by extensive compaction research is underway to develop and assess new ripping methods (see Double-tyned ripper removes deep compaction).

A major focus of the soil compaction work is to promote controlled-traffic systems for prolonging the benefits of deep tillage (see Ripping benefits quickly negated by wheel traffic).

Decades of soil acidity research have highlighted the benefits of applying surface lime to combat soil acidification. New research and extension efforts will develop easier benchmarks for how much lime needs to be applied to treat subsurface acidity and how to integrate deep-cultivation efforts with lime application to save money and speed the return to more productive pH levels.

Finally, subsoil constraints such as sodicity are under renewed focus across Australia, with the aim of developing innovative and cost-efficient solutions to an issue that affects more than 60 per cent of Australia’s cropping soils.

With the soils initiative just beginning growers can expect regular updates on the projects and their research outcomes over the next few years.

More information:

Stephen Loss, program manager – farming practices, GRDC,
02 6166 4500,
stephen.loss@grdc.com.au

 

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New initiative investigates non-wetting solutions

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