Agriculture and Soils Theme

One of the main challenges for agriculture is how to increase productivity, as terms of trade decline, and at the same time conserve the soil resource and reduce off-site impacts. Appropriate management of soils is an important part of a sustainable farming system. Soil constraints reduce plant growth and increase run-off and recharge. Soil acidification is a major problem in much of the southern agricultural region. The use of annual crops and pastures has altered the hydrology of catchments and caused waterlogging and salinisation. Perennial based farming systems are becoming an increasing important tool in reducing recharge but there are still many gaps in knowledge about perennial-based farming systems.

Soil Management

Background

The low nutrient status, water repellent topsoils and low water retention of many of the soils in the Great Southern provide a major challenge for soil management. Fertiliser application has led to acidification of many soils and soil compaction is a problem. More efficient use of nutrients would not only be of economic benefit but would also reduce off-site impacts. Similarly overcoming water repellence would improve plant growth and reduce recharge.

NRM problem: Soil degradation

Research objectives

  • Finding systems that enable more efficient use of nutrients and soil ameliorants
  • Improving management of non-wetting soils

Reducing Recharge by Changing Crop and Pasture Systems

Background

Perennial pastures are generally only a small part of farming systems in the Great Southern and yet there are many production and environmental benefits to increasing the proportion of perennials. Their deep roots and ability to use out-of season rainfall reduce recharge and increase water use efficiency. If the development of perennial grains is successful they may also be an option for future farming systems.

NRM Problem: The impact of annual based farming systems in changing the hydrology of catchments.

Research objectives

  • Increasing knowledge of the advantages and disadvantages of perennial based farming systems
  • Finding the appropriate proportion/mix of perennials for farming systems
  • Increasing the water use efficiency of crops and pastures

Agricultural nutrients - off-site impacts: see water theme

Agriculture and Climate Change

Background

Agricultural emissions, particularly from livestock, contribute to Australias carbon emissions. Research on reducing ruminant methane emissions with more efficient feed conversion and changes in pasture can make an important contribution to lowering carbon emissions from the region. Changes in the regions climate are already impacting on land managers with changes in enterprise mix and the need to adapt to more variable seasons. In addition there are likely to major land use changes in the region as a result of carbon sequestration plantings.

NRM problem: Agriculture is a major contributor to carbon emissions. Research may offer opportunities to both reduce emissions and increase carbon sequestration.

Research objectives

  • Improving carbon sequestration with different pastures
  • Reducing methane emissions in cattle