Unearthing soil constraints to crop production

Growers and advisers will be better equipped to manage soil constraints in their paddocks after the development of a three-dimensional (3D) mapping strategy, currently trialled at farms in western Victoria.

This will give a greater understanding of the dynamics and location of constraints to crop production that lurk in the depths of the soil profile.

Agriculture Victoria senior research scientist Professor Roger Armstrong is leading the research, working closely with a team of scientists, technicians and PhD students.

The research effort is part of the Victorian Grains Innovation Partnership (VGIP) between Agriculture Victoria and the Grains Research and Development Corporation (GRDC).

“Growers often have trouble identifying what the soil constraints are in their cropping paddocks, the soil profile can be highly variable, and often they only analyse the topsoil,” Professor Armstrong said.

“However, our research is enabling us to use soil sensor technologies to 3D-map the location and severity of multiple soil constraints at a paddock scale.

“We then use the soil maps we have created and overlay them with ‘above-ground’ crop growth rates, which were developed using a range of crop sensor technologies,” he said.

“Combining the soil and crop-focussed maps links the 3D spatial arrangement of soil constraints within a paddock to crop performance. It can then provide a basis of how to manage these constraints, including soil amelioration using gypsum, organic matter or whether to leave unchanged.

“Our findings will inform the way growers assess soil-based crop constraints and how to tackle the problem to achieve optimal crop production and maximum profitability,” Professor Armstrong said.

So far, four farmer’s paddocks have been mapped using the new sensing techniques, located in the state’s medium-rainfall zone at Nurcoung, Nurrabiel and Wallup and in the high-rainfall zone at Wickliffe. Commercial crops grown in these paddocks included wheat, barley, faba beans and canola.

The VGIP aims to improve the enduring profitability of Victorian and Australian grain growers through world-class research and innovation.

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