Project sheds light on soil

The West Australian
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A research project by the Department of Agriculture and Food is casting a new light on paddock soil health.

Under the Focus Paddock project, participating growers are able to take a closer look at their paddock nutrient status by applying a productivity indicator colour system to their soil analysis reports.

Department development officer Paul Carmody said part of the project involved soil samples being taken from 184 sample paddocks which were analysed for the full range of soil nutrients.

"The resulting paddock-based reports provide growers with a traffic light system which highlights nutrient, weed or disease levels, all of which can impact crop yields," he said.

"While the majority of sampled paddocks produced performance- indicating green lights in terms of soil phosphorus and potassium, more variation was experienced for soil pH and nitrogen with amber and some red lights resulting."

In June 2013, the completed soil analysis for each paddock sampled was returned to growers via their grower group representative in time for them to consider further management applications.

Mr Carmody said the production of the automated traffic light system had enabled the project to turn soil analysis reports around in time for most growers to make or confirm decisions about fertiliser inputs in 2013.

"This project will offer growers a quick and ready way of looking at paddocks, especially in terms of weeds, disease and soil constraints," he said.

The resulting data from the project can also be used to help identify suitable rotations to manage the paddock successfully and what areas growers need to seek further advice on.

The database has also been built to help address researcher questions about crop sequences and management decisions as well as storing biological, physical and socio-economic data collected on each sample paddock.

Mr Carmody said the traffic light system was the first of decision support tools the project was planning to integrate with paddock reports for growers.

"Ultimately this project could lead to the development of a decision support application for growers to help them better interpret soil and paddock data," he said.

The project is funded through the Grains Research and Development Corporation. More information about the Focus Paddock project can be found via the project website http://focuspaddocks.ning.com.

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