A SERIES of trials set to take place across Western Australia will assess the use of technology in reducing nutrient loss off farms and improve water quality in local waterways and estuaries.
More than $5.5 million has been provided by the State and Federal governments towards Smart Farming Fertiliser trials.
In the trials, cutting-edge technology, including near-infrared and x-ray fluorescence, will be used in conjunction with traditional techniques to measure productivity and nutrient status in soils and pastures, providing more in-depth information than previously available.
The project will involve at least 36 fertiliser trials, using seven different treatments on local farms from the Peel-Harvey catchment to Oyster Harbour in Albany.
In the past month, 19 trials have been established with initial measurements starting next week.
Scientists from the Department of Primary Industries and Regional Development, Department of Water and Environmental Regulation and CSBP, Summit Fertilizers, Western Dairy, Landmark, Meat and Livestock Australia, independent agronomists and Murdoch University and farmer representatives are on a technical reference group that has developed the design of the trials.
The project is funded with $3.26m from the State Government's Regional Estuaries Initiative, Department of Water and Environmental Regulation and Department of Primary Industries and Regional Development; and $2.35m through the Australian Government's National Landcare Program with in-kind support from fertiliser, dairy and beef industry groups.
Water Minister Dave Kelly said WA's expansive waterways were central to many regional communities in WA, not just for recreational activities but because they support regional economies and jobs.
"From tourism ventures to commercial fishermen, improving water quality in our rivers is important to a variety of industries that provide local jobs," Mr Kelly said.
"Phosphorus is important in farming but there is widespread concern that repeated fertiliser applications are causing phosphorus 'leakage' to the environment which can cause algal blooms in our waterways.
"These farm trials will see local farmers work with experts from government, universities and industry, to help improve water quality and save money through efficient use of fertiliser.
"It's fantastic to see the fertiliser industry and farmers working together with the State and Federal governments to create more liveable, sustainable environments in WA."
The Oyster Harbour Catchment Group (OHCG) is one of the groups running trials, with four taking place in the Oyster Harbour catchment.
OHCG project officer Bruce Radys said the trials would be conducted over a range of different soils, with differing levels of phosphorus (P) applied on each site.
"The aim is to increase the confidence farmers have in applying the correct amount of P to achieve the required level of production with minimal waste," Mr Radys said.
"In the trial, zero P will be applied and then it will be applied at different rates, such as 40kg, 80kg and the recommended rate and also what would normally be applied by the farmer.
"Also on these sites we will be applying a basal fertiliser which covers everything else, so if the soils are deficient in other areas that will show up in the trials.
"Some of the sites will have zero P applied but have a basal fertiliser application.
"This is because what we have found during soil testing is that a lot of soils have sufficient P but are deficient in potassium or sulphur or have a low pH and that is what is limiting production."
Mr Radys said the use of the latest technology in assessing pasture in the trials would be interesting.
"We are going to trial a number of innovative new methods to measure the pasture," he said.
"We will take the traditional pasture cuts and do visual assessments but we will also be using a drone to fly over and take infrared and Normalised Difference Vegetation Index (NDVI) readings.
"We will also be using another product, which is a bit like an echo sounder that will run over the pasture to provide a reading on dry matter.
"So not only are we testing the soil, we are also testing some innovative new methods of measuring pasture growth.
"Hopefully these methods can be used to quickly assess pasture health without having to do a soil test and get an immediate response on what plant health is like."
As part of the trial, Mr Radys said pasture assessment would be done a number of times over the season and a field walk would be held in spring where farmers could see the results.
- This story first appeared on Farm Weekly
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