News

Cash in on soil moisture monitoring incentives

By Sophie Baldwin

Farmers can access some much-needed cash through the On-Farm Drought Resilience Grant Program.

Recent changes to the program have seen the inclusion of soil moisture probes, weed control and specific new technologies to improve mobile phone connectivity.

The grants of up to $5000 with a 50 per cent contribution, and $5000 for farm business planning, are now available and for more information or to submit an application, phone Rural Finance on 1800 260 425 or go to: ruralfinance.com.au

Soil moisture monitoring incentives are also available to eligible landowners through the Shepparton Irrigation Region Soil Moisture Monitoring Equipment program.

More details about this program can be found on the Goulburn Broken Catchment Management Authority website at: www.gbcma.vic.gov.au

A three-year trial completed by Agriculture Victoria and Murray Dairy trialling soil moisture monitoring devices under irrigated forages including lucerne, sorghum and pasture was completed in 2018.

Key findings included:

● Soil moisture monitoring can result in better irrigation scheduling decisions and improved water productivity.

● Remote soil moisture monitoring systems can make irrigation easier by significantly reducing labour.

● Care needs to be taken to install soil moisture sensing equipment correctly and to select a site with a representative soil type.

● Like any irrigation scheduling tool, soil moisture monitoring needs to be used in conjunction with other scheduling methods already used on the farm (ideally along with evapotranspiration information).

● Ongoing support, coaching and back-up service is essential.

● Readings from some soil moisture sensors can be affected by temperature and this needs to be considered when interpreting the soil moisture information.

One of the farmers involved in the trial summed up his experience by saying: “I’m happy with the probes. There’s definitely a place for them. They give you more confidence with your decisions.”

Using soil moisture information

The attached graph demonstrates the value of soil moisture information for irrigation scheduling decisions.

The characteristic saw-tooth pattern created by soil wetting (irrigation and rainfall) and drying is evident.

Typically, irrigators use soil moisture monitoring to assist them to maintain soil moisture in the zone of plant Readily Available Water (RAW) to optimise plant growth.

As shown in the graph, this RAW zone was configured for this site to lie between the estimated ‘Refill Point’ line and the ‘Field Water Capacity’ line.

In this situation, the irrigator regularly used soil moisture data to schedule irrigations over the season with good results.

Moisture levels were largely maintained in the estimated ‘RAW zone’, resulting in top yields and efficient water use.

Additional information on soil moisture monitoring devices and how to use the information is available in the Soil Moisture Monitoring Technote at agriculture.vic.gov.au/irrigation or phone Agriculture Victoria's Rob O’Connor on 0408 515 652.

For more information about available drought and dry seasons support, visit: agriculture.vic.gov.au/dryseasons or email: drought.support@agriculture.vic.gov.au or call 136 186.