Farmers benefit from soil moisture monitoring

By Jamie Salter

More than 1000 local dairy farmers have experienced improved confidence to make irrigation scheduling decisions through a range of soil moisture monitoring programs.

Murray Dairy demonstration programs were carried out at farms across the region and looked at the impacts of soil moisture monitoring on crop productivity.

Several crop types were evaluated including perennial pasture, lucerne and maize.

Murray Dairy regional extension officer Lisa Menhenett said soil moisture monitoring packages were made up of three broad components — the sensor, the transmission of data and display and the commercial services.

“The type of information provided depends on the type of sensor, data display and software utilised but can include determining whether the soil is wet or dry, capturing changes in drying and wetting of the soil profile, changes in the rate of plant water uptake, depth of penetration of irrigation (or rainfall), watertable depth, root activity and depth as well as salinity and movement of fertiliser,” Ms Menhenett said.

She said farmers saw the most value from soil moisture monitoring technologies at the beginning and end of the season.

“For pasture, knowing when to start the irrigation gave the greatest boost to production, while at the end of the season it was more about saving water or knowing if it was worth buying more to finish off.

“For maize, ensuring there was adequate water during the establishment stage, and from pollination to when finishing off, were seen as critical to maximising production.

“In addition, the soil moisture monitoring systems helped to make sure the farmer had enough water deep in the soil profile so the maize wasn’t impacted by a series of hot days.”

The review of the trial sites found the information provided by the soil moisture monitoring was useful for farmers in learning when to irrigate a crop that they had never grown before or using a new irrigation system such as a centre pivot.

“All participating farmers said the use of soil moisture monitoring fine-tuned their existing decision making and was seen to reduce the guesswork, allowing them to make decisions more precisely and reduce risks associated with growing a high value crop,” Ms Menhenett said.

For more information and to read the full report on soil moisture monitoring, visit: https://tinyurl.com/SMM-Report