Soil Moisture Monitoring

Local South Australian farmers and experts speak to us about soil moisture monitoring in broad-acre farming.

As technology advances, so do methods of farm management. Soil moisture monitoring is one of the tools that farmers can use to improve productivity. One of the most significant economic advantages of the soil moisture project is the whole issue of grain marketing. In the last 10 years growers have had to do a lot more grain marketing, and it’s big risk.

Moisture Levels Help Choose the Right Crop

Being at a contract grain and know that you’re going to have a good chance of meeting the quality criteria by looking at the information on the soil moisture probe can be quite a significant management tool, even in choosing actual variety or cultivar that’s going to go in the ground, soil moisture can play a role.

With a full profile of soil moisture then the risk of growing a canola crop for example is significantly less, and then you could get the advantages of the grain marketing diversification of the canola, the soil health benefits, crop rotation of the canola at a much lower risk. The second big role for soil moisture is during the season for nitrogen application.

We don’t want to be adding back loads of nitrogen if the water is not there to sustain that.

Benefits to Production from Soil Monitoring

There is further information that we’d like to bring out in the future, however I think we’re looking to get more consensus amongst the farming community there. They can see what the benefits to their own production systems are through using soil moisture monitoring.

If farmers know what their deepest subsurface soil moisture is and what their upper soil moisture is, it puts them in a better position to have a feeling about what kind of variety they might grow that season and where that fits in with their rotations.

Soil Monitoring Units and Handheld Probes

We have got a set of soil monitoring units which NRM have put in on our property and I use those as a gauge, but that’s only a gauge. We also use a handheld probe and monitor soil moisture by banging the probe in and checking there, but primarily it’s a knowledge thing. It’s knowing that if you can control your summer weeds you can maximize your moisture retention.

Prior to the season we can actually see what moisture is leftover from last season and that gives us a bit more heart about putting in particularly canola and beans which are deep root to them. Then they can access that moisture and it does work a lot better in our system when you’ve got that moisture carried over and we are looking at basing decisions on nitrogen inputs during the year, based on how much soil moisture we’ve got, and if we’ve got a full profile late in the season, we’ll put on a bit of extra nitrogen for both protein and yield.

Jeremy Nelson, with the NRM I reckon, he helped put a couple probes on on a block for us. They’ve shown us some pretty interesting stuff. It’s probably given us the ability to look at it in the autumn and say look, there is enough moisture there to give you confidence to sow like a canola or and then during the season, you know you got a full profile in July and August, you might as well be throwing a bit more N and stuff in and at it.

Definitely a good tool to have.