Science and Technology

Online Soil Water tool to improve crop potential

An online Soil Water tool has been added to the Department of Agriculture and Food’s suite of weather information to assist grain growers to optimise crop yields and profitability.

Research officer Fiona Evans said the tool would provide growers with local information about plant available moisture in the soil.

“The Soil Water tool harnesses rainfall information from 440 department and Bureau of Meteorology weather stations around the State,” Dr Evans said.

“It uses this information to model how the rainfall moves through the layers of different soil types to identify how much water is available for plant roots to take up.”

The information is displayed in the form of plant available soil water graphs to show the amount of soil water that has accumulated from 1 November through the grain growing season.

Growers can view the model results for 10 different soil types, which take into account evaporation rates based on either a fallow or cropped scenario.

Dr Evans said the Soil Water tool was designed to be used in conjunction with the department’s Statistical Seasonal Forecasting system and its Rainfall to Date model to assist growers’ cropping decisions.

“The tool provides a more complete analysis of a crop’s situation because it examines what is going on in the soil rather than just looking at the rainfall,” she said.

“This information will assist growers to make decisions about sowing times, crop and variety choices and fertiliser applications, particularly nitrogen applications, as the season progresses.”

However, Dr Evans urged growers to consider a range of other factors to build an accurate picture of their paddock.

“The soil status and characteristics, including any barriers to infiltration, influence soil water availability to a crop,” she said.

“Stored nitrogen and other nutrient availabilities should also be considered when making decisions using the Soil Water tool.”

Research officer David Ferris said the Soil Water tool would assist growers to make decisions about the size and implementation of their cropping programs.

“The Soil Water tool, together with the department’s Statistical Season Forecasting system, will help to improve growers’ confidence as they decide on their fertiliser strategy, based on current and projected soil moisture conditions to maximise grain yields,” Dr Ferris said.

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