News

Jan 10

FarmLink project portfolio growing

Posted by Kylie Dunstan at Friday, January 10, 2020

The following article appeared in the Summer 2019 edition of the FarmLink quarterly member-exclusive publication The Link (archives appear at http://www.farmlink.com.au/the-link).

FarmLink is developing, pursuing and managing projects covering a range of activities relevant to mixed farming in Southern NSW and beyond. Just like our industry, our project portfolio is ever changing in response to the needs of agriculture and its future sustainability. The following is a list of all ongoing FarmLink projects, those that are in the pipeline, and those that were recently completed.
Ongoing projects
Technology & Tools Connecting Farmers to their Soils
In this project, innovative soil moisture sensors linked to auto-weather stations will be installed on five farms and networked to transmit data over two cropping seasons. It will demonstrate how understanding the sensors and the data they produce can support on-farm decision-making, and assess the economics of adoption.
Funded through the National Landcare Program.
Utilising new technologies to optimise nitrogen use in broadacre cropping, protect the soil resource and minimise potential offsite impacts
This project seeks to quantify nitrogen variability within broadacre cropping in southern NSW using intensive grid deep N sampling. It will also examine existing and emerging technologies to inform Variable Rate (VR) N applications, to help with better N management, and improved profitability and sustainability.
Funded through the National Landcare Program.
Towards best practice site-specific mapping, prevention and treatment of subsurface acidity in southern NSW
Current liming practices are failing to prevent soil acidification through the profile and within-paddock variability of surface pH is high throughout the region.
By surveying a variety of soil types, rainfall regimes and management histories, this project will assess both the vertical and lateral variability of pH, to develop decision support methods for best-practice Variable Rate lime application.
Funded through the National Landcare Program.
Pulse Check – Local Extension and Communication for Profitable Pulse Production
Growers and advisors within the southern region will be trained in pulse agronomy, production risks and management strategies. The project aims to unlock the potential farming system and financial benefits of pulse crops through targeted expansion of lentils and chickpeas into new areas, and sustainable intensification of pulse crop production in existing areas.
Funded by GRDC.
Innovative Approaches to Managing Subsoil Acidity in the Southern Grain Region
This collaborative project will analyse aggressive amelioration options for soil acidity at depths of 10-30cm in high rainfall zones. The practice of surface liming will be compared to three intensive management options; deep ripping to 30cm, ripping plus lime at 10-30cm and ripping plus organic ameliorant at 10-30cm.
Funded by GRDC.
Exclusion Feeding for Lambs in Drought
This project investigates whether lambs with exclusive access to grain via an exclusion feeding system gain weight quicker than lambs sharing access to grain with ewes. It will also examine whether the exclusion-fed lambs have a more efficient conversion rate and whether grain consumption costs are reduced.
Funded by MLA.
Mechanistic Understanding of Mode of Action of Soil Re-Engineering Methods for Complex Soil Constraints
Soils often exhibit multiple constraints limiting their productivity. This collaborative project will examine soil re-engineering mechanisms to ameliorate complex soil constraints. FarmLink will identify problematic soils within our region and provide advice. Grower groups will also have a communication role.
Funded through the Soil CRC.
Impact of Nitrogen Application Timing on Bread Wheat Protein Composition, Quality and End Use Functionality
This project is a partnership between FarmLink, Allied-Pinnacle (milling, baking and ingredients) and Arytza (bakery and food-service company). It aims to increase grower knowledge around the end products of wheat production, and end-users’ knowledge around drivers for farmer decisions that influence wheat quality.
Funded by Allied Pinnacle and Aryzta.
Smelling Soil: Novel Electronic Noses for Mobile In-Field Determining of Microbial Health, Function and Resistance
Healthy soil microbial communities are essential for resilient soils, however there is a lack of rapid in-field testing techniques. This project aims to develop an ‘eNose’ tool to determine changes in the microbial profile. FarmLink will host workshops and provide input to inform to tool’s development.
Funded through the Soil CRC.
Dung Beetle Ecosystem Engineers – Enduring Benefits for Livestock Producers via Science and a New Community Partnerships Model
Australia’s native dung beetles are not adapted to European livestock dung. FarmLink is part of a national collaborative project to survey existing dung beetle populations, leading to the introduction of several new strains of dung beetles. This project will quantify the value of dung beetles on farms and develop a business model of dung beetle services.
Funded by MLA.
‘Smart’ Soil Sensors
This project will develop the next generation of field-based sensors that can measure, map, interpret, and communicate sensor data using new approaches that will help growers make on-farm decisions. FarmLink’s role is to identify grower participants and communicate progress and outcomes.
Funded through Soil CRC.
Graft India Ag-Tech Challenge
The project will select 12 Ag-Tech startups from India and Australia with proven broadacre dryland cropping technologies to tour the other country. It aims to help them to localise their product, gain insights into sales channels and meet potential customers. The Indian participants will spend three days in the FarmLink region with local growers.
Funded by FarmLink.
Increasing Productivity and Profitability of Pulse Production in Cereal Based Cropping Systems in Pakistan
CSU and ACIAR are working to improve pulse production in Pakistan. FarmLink is supporting this goal by leading ‘Farmers without fences’. In this sub-project, farmers and researchers from Pakistan visit Australia and vice-versa, to exchange information. Pakistani farmers benefit from a better understanding of Australian farming and the value chain, while Australian farmers and researchers learn more about the international pulse market.
Funded by ACIAR.
Recently approved projects
Extension of best practice principles for identifying and managing soil limitations in southern and central NSW
In this project, FarmLink and its partners will deliver a range of soils extension material and activities throughout southern and central NSW. Topics cover a range of soil limitations, interactions and management strategies.
Funded by GRDC.
Future proofing the soils of southern and central NSW from acidification and soil organic carbon decline
This project will develop a new, accurate acidification model using innovative machine learning methods. These tools will provide updated liming recommendations and scenario forecasting resulting in more sustainable soil management and productive farming enterprises.
Funded by National Landcare Program.
Improved Rhizobial Strains
The adaptation of high value pulse crops is restricted by the suitability of current rhizobial strains. This project will evaluate a range of elite rhizobial strains for high value pulse crops with the objective of releasing elite commercial strains.
Funded by GRDC.
Soilborne Pathogen Identification and Management Strategies for Winter Cereals
Soilborne pathogens are a widespread problem across Australian cereal growing regions. This investment will test localised soilborne disease management strategies.
FarmLink and other groups will work with cereal pathologists and other to deliver a coordinated set of 14 knowledge, identification and diagnosis workshops, which will inform subsequent non-replicated demonstration trials for pathogen management.
Funded by GRDC.
Projects in negotiation with funders
Facilitating adoption of integrated weed management strategies for feathertop Rhodes grass in the Northern Region, Prg 2. (Southern NSW)
Feathertop Rhodes grass is an aggressive weed that continues to increase in severity and incidence. This project will develop an integrated weed management strategy for FTR for growers and advisers in southern New South Wales. FarmLink will play a minor role in the overall project.
Regional harvester set-up workshops for the economic optimisation of harvest losses, efficiency and grain quality
This investment proposes a series of interactive harvester set-up days to inform growers, harvest contractors, advisors and machinery resellers on harvester set-up, front-to-back grain quality/ losses and harvest weed seed control. FarmLink will conduct 12 workshops over three years and three case studies.
Adoption of annual mixed species grazing crops to bridge the feed gap and increase annual feed production
Scarcity of feed in late autumn into winter limits the stocking potential and productivity of sheep enterprises. The aim of this project is to work with growers experimenting with mixed species annual pastures and grazing crops and to develop a small plot trial to showcase the productivity of these mixtures. 
Concluding projects
Climate and Weather Risk Guidelines
FarmLink supported CSIRO and the Bureau of Meteorology to deliver 57 Climate and Weather Risk Guidelines– one for each of the Australian natural resource management (NRM) regions. These will assist farmers to make decisions about crop planting and stocking levels by better understanding their local climate risks.
See: www.bom.gov.au/climate/climate-guides
Funded by the National Drought Response.
Managing Early Season Canola Establishment Pests in NSW – Establishment and Coordination of Grower/Advisor Groups
Early identification and control of insect pests has been identified as a key constraint to the successful crop establishment of canola in southern NSW in the GRDC Northern Region. FarmLink worked with CESAR to produce practical agronomy advice to increase the awareness, understanding and management of early season pests in canola in Central and Southern NSW.
Funded by GRDC.


Jan 10

Summer moisture preservation is critical

Posted by Kylie Dunstan at Friday, January 10, 2020

The following article appeared in the Summer 2019 edition of the FarmLink quarterly member-exclusive publication The Link (archives appear at http://www.farmlink.com.au/the-link).

While it might be tempting to allow weeds and crops that have been cut for hay or windrowed to regrow as a source of livestock feed, the impact on following crop yields could be significant.
Riverina Independent Agronomy consultant Neil Durning says weedy canola crops are ideally sprayed before windrowing to reduce the addition of ryegrass to the seedbank and a loss of moisture and nutrients from the soil.
“As part of an integrated weed management plan, it is worth applying glyphosate to canola with ryegrass from early senescence at label rates,” he says. “One way or another you want the canola and the ryegrass dead. It doesn’t take much rain for ryegrass to stick a head out and add more seeds to the seedbank.”
Mr Durning says wheat following canola where glyphosate was applied before harvest appears to hang on for longer in dry finishes. Spraying before windrowing also reduces the likelihood of plant regrowth after rain.
3D-Ag consultant Peter McInerney advises his clients against grazing sheep on paddocks that have been cut for hay.
“Do not try to retrieve residual grazing from hay paddocks because there is none to be had,” he says. “All you will do is powder the soil and have it blow away, particularly paddocks that have been cut for hay for two consecutive years.
“A crop that would have produced 2.5t/ha of grain leaves 3 to 3.5t/ha of residue. That same paddock cut for hay will leave behind less than 1t/ha of residue.”
Where hay has been cut for two consecutive seasons, Mr McInerney encourages the application of manure to replace lost organic matter and nutrients.
Effective summer weed management is critical to reap the soil water conservation benefits of retained crop residues (Flower, Dang & Ward 2019).
Zeleke (2017) showed that summer weed control increased residual soil water and soil nitrogen by 64 millimetres and 60 kilograms per hectare respectively.
Lilley and Kirkegaard (2007) used modelling to show that summer weed control could increase subsequent wheat yield by up to 20 per cent.
According to NSW Department of Primary Industries researcher Colin McMaster (https://weedsmart.org.au/how-much-moisture-and-nitrogen-is-wasted-on-weeds-over-summer/) trials in Central New South Wales showed the economic benefit of every dollar per hectare spent on herbicides to control summer weeds was $8/ha.
Mr Durning says mixed farmers must treat weeds as if there are no livestock in the system, particularly if the paddock is earmarked for cropping.
“The minute you compromise on summer weed control by allowing weeds to grow large is when you start to reduce the yield potential of next year’s crop,” he says. “Preserving moisture over summer is the difference between having a crop that can be harvested and salvaging a failed crop in a dry finish.”
John Stevenson allows sheep to lightly graze stubbles on ‘Orange Park’ near Lockhart only after the first summer knockdown has been applied. His actions back research showing grazing sheep on crop residues at low stocking rates has no detrimental impact on following crop yield (Hunt et al. 2016, Allan et al. 2016).
Where paddocks are bare, Mr Durning says a strategic cultivation may be needed to curb erosion and maximise water infiltration, although this depends on slope and implement choice. Cultivation leaves the surface coarse and lumpy to slow run-off and reduce surface wind speed.
Mr Condon says one of his clients with discs on 16.5cm row spacings planted millet over summer as a cover crop.
“It was sprayed out at early tillering and we saw no yield loss in the following crop even in a dry season,” he says. “You have to be disciplined to avoid grazing and spray it out before the roots reach 15 to 20cm deep to prevent stored soil water loss.”
While two to three tonnes of wheat stubble per hectare (Kirkegaard & van Rees 2019) or 70 per cent soil cover are suggested to minimise erosion and maximise water infiltration, Mr Condon suggests keeping 100 per cent of cover if possible.
He and Mr McInerney agree that confinement lots are worthwhile to preserve soil cover. Confinement lots work on the theory that less topsoil is lost by concentrating sheep in a small area rather than a large area.
Mr McInerney suggests positioning a new confinement lot near an existing tree line where there is standing crop and to apply for grants for infrastructure needs.
Mr Condon says confinement lots allow sheep to be efficiently kept at target condition scores using grain and straw, while preserving soil cover.
“My clients with diverse rotations who kept stubble from 2016 have produced reasonable crops during the past two years,” he says. “The retained stubble allowed autumn rain to infiltrate rather than run off and enabled crops to be established on time.”
Mr Durning agrees, adding that he has noticed paddocks with less stubble cover failed two weeks earlier this year than paddocks with a higher percentage of cover.
Acknowledgements: Peter McInerney, Neil Durning, Greg Condon and John Stevenson.