Nutrient use project aims for efficiency

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Jenne BrammerCountryman
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A Nutrient Use Efficiency project led by the Wheatbelt Natural Resource Management Group may still be two years from completion, but it is already delivering helpful information to growers.

The NUE project, which started in 2014, involved $150,000 funding for growers from the Australian Government through the National Landcare Program and support from the Swan River Trust and technical support from the Wheatbelt NRM.

Forty-nine farmers, the Liebe Group and Living Farm Group are participating in the project.

WNRM project delivery officer Lizzie von Perger said Planfarm benchmarks and Department of Agriculture and Food WA data from a 2015 Department of Water report suggested approximately half of the nitrogen and phosphorus fertiliser being applied in the South West was not being taken up by the crop.

“As fertiliser is one of the highest farm input costs, understanding soils and more efficient use of nutrients could save big dollars,” she said.

Ms von Perger said the project encouraged an integrated approach to nutrient management by supporting landholders to better understand their soils through encouragement of on-ground activities such as soil testing to depth and plant/grain analysis.

Paddock history information and the soil/plant test data is being used to estimate nutrient use efficiency — how much of the fertiliser applied is actually going into grain production — and to help in understanding the soil constraints that may be limiting crop uptake of nutrients from the soil.

One such example of a success story from the first year of the NUE project has led to a change in lime applications for Dalwallinu brothers Rob and Gary Sawyer, and their families.

The farmers were funded by WNRM to conduct subsoil testing on their property, because they suspected subsoil acidity was limiting crop production.

“Subsoil acidity was identified as an issue and the Sawyers themselves went on to subsoil test most of their 22,000ha property,” Ms von Perger said.

“On the back of the results, they have increased their spreading rates of lime, have moved to variable rate technology (for fertiliser applications) and are experimenting with lime incorporation to depth.”

Ms von Perger said WNRM along with industry experts would work with farmers to highlight all useful information obtained as part of the trials, specifically around where efficiency gains could be achieved.

In addition, extension activities such as workshops during field days could be hosted to provide training around decision support tools.

Advances in technology would aim to enable farmers to better manage nutrients.

A range of case studies on other findings from this year is planned for release after harvest.

Meanwhile, in a separate initiative, about $533,000, also from the National Landcare Program, will be distributed to growers and grower groups by the end of 2018 through a Trials and Demonstrations Project led by WNRM project officer Fiona Brayshaw.

This project encourages landowners and grower groups to trial innovative and sustainable practices on their farms.

Four rounds of funding have been offered and there are now 25 established trials being held across 1641ha, with seven new projects due to start soon.

More than 40 landowners across the Wheatbelt would have trials on their land as part of this initiative.

Dr Brayshaw said the Trials and Demonstrations Project gave farmers an opportunity to try new practices they were interested in, but considered too risky to fully fund themselves in the initial stages.

Trials must operate within one or more of the four themes of improved soil management, innovative crop management, sustainable grazing systems and tree crops.

“The aim of the whole project is to encourage adoption of new and viable (as supported by the trials) sustainable practices in the region to maintain a productive and environmentally sustainable agricultural industry into the future,” Dr Brayshaw said.

One such trial being undertaken under this umbrella is the Spring Sowing of Winter Crops in the Wheatbelt for Animal and Crop Production. Trials are held at two sites at Pingelly and Hyden, led by landowners and AgInnovate’s Jonathan England.

Dr Brayshaw said the project aimed to determine whether winter-type crops could be seeded in the Wheatbelt in spring, survive over summer and grow successfully the following season throught to harvest.

The trials also aim to establish whether there are viable grazing opportunities and harvestable grain for these winter types in an environment which is hotter and drier than previously tested.

“We also want to see whether leguminous summer crops sown in spring can provide benefits for the following autumn, apart from grazing, when compared to a more traditional grass type forage crop,” she said.

The trials involve plantings of Global Sunn, a new summer growing fodder legume that fixes nitrogen, and Super Dan, a late flowering Sudan hybrid forage grass.

“These are sown at low and high rates and are in with a mix of AFG Tillage radish,” Dr Brayshaw said.

A strip of Manning wheat was also sown for a demonstration test. Hyola Canola may also be tested if conditions are right.

WNRM plans to release findings on this initiative next year.

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