Soil is not just ‘dirt’. It is the key to farm profitability. We are investigating the effects of farm management on soil movement. Up until now, people have measured sediment from catchments in streams and rivers, but that is the end of the soil’s journey from farm to waterway. We want to look at the start of that journey, and find out what we can do to keep the valuable soil where it is wanted.
As farmers we have identified that helicrops can be cost effectively and successfully established for a range of fodder species. We are concerned that the ease of crop establishment may result in crops being grown in areas that risk soil loss. To manage that risk we have teamed up with scientists and partners to answer some questions.
We are trying to find out two things:
1. How effective are things like barriers and bunds are stopping soil loss during the grazing of a helicrop?
We know barriers can be effective to absorb some of the energy from moving water (runoff). We wish to identify which options are best on farm. We will be looking at the relative effects of different sized barriers, different locations and different plant species in reducing water energy and therefore soil loss.
2. What factors are best for catch crop (cover crop) establishment?
We know catch crops help hold the soil together and protect it from being broken down by rain. They have other benefits too, including making better use of nitrogen from animal urine. We will look at what factors influence fast and effective catch crop establishment.
We are doing things in a different way:
We are using photogrammetry technology. Multi-rotor and fixed wing drones with special cameras and accurate GIS allow us to collect images and information simultaneously to create a ‘snapshot’ of soil movement and crop development.
The technology also lets us investigate an area on a ‘population’ rather than a ‘sample’ basis. The traditional way to conduct trials is through studies of sample plots. The data has then been extrapolated to represent a larger area.
What will we do with this information?
In the final year of the project we plan to have completed a decision support tool. This being a process whereby a famer can be guided through the decisions necessary to have a profitable and soil sustaining outcome as to when and how to establish and utilise a helicrop. We will design the decision support tool with help from our scientists and partners in this project.