TRIAL crops from a long-term Future Farming Systems cropping-livestock project are being harvested in Western Australia for the first time, providing a unique comparison between various broadacre production approaches.
The innovative 10-year field trial was established at the Department of Primary Industries and Regional Development’s Dryland Research Institute at Merredin in 2020, with an establishment wheat crop to provide baseline measurements for future benchmarking.
Project manager, senior research scientist Caroline Peek said after harvest the department would focus on analysing and interpreting the data collected over the past year, to be shared more broadly with stakeholders in 2022.
Ms Peek said the dynamic project had explored several production options in its first year of full operation.
“The mixed livestock and cropping regenerative trial plots were sown on early rains with tillage radish, oats and vetch in April, on the back of good soil moisture from Summer rainfall.
“No herbicides were used in this system and the plots were treated with a commercial bio-stimulant to encourage biological activity in the soil, before being grazed in late Winter,” she said.
“The regenerative cropping system and district practice plots were sown to Hyola 350TT with pre-emergent herbicides, with the regenerative plots receiving 30 per cent reduced fertiliser rates and a biostimulant.
“The ag-tech cropping plots were planted with Pioneer 43Y29(RR) canola and the agtech biomass plots to an oat vetch mix, which was cut for hay,” Ms Peek said.
“The continuous wheat plots were sown to Scepter, while the permanent pasture plots will be sown to Frano serradella and Nungarin sub clover in 2022.
“The district practice and ag-tech plots will undergo soil amelioration, with deep ripping and lime applications planned for 2022.”
The non-mulesed sheep used in the livestock systems to manage biomass, cycle nutrients and control weeds were only drenched when faecal egg worm counts indicated treatment was necessary.
The project is comparing the performance of five different farming systems in WA’s eastern grainbelt, including regenerative practices, ag-tech innovations, district farm practice, permanent pasture and continuous cereal.
The regenerative and ag-tech innovation approaches include plots with and without livestock to compare the different systems. The trial will test a range of regenerative agriculture principles including:
reduced used of synthetic inputs
diverse crop and pasture species, which may include tillage radish, sorghum and millet.
The scientific research will benchmark the performance of each system over time against a key set of biological, sustainability, soil health, economic and production measures to help landholders improve the climate resilience, sustainability and profitability of their enterprises.
DPIRD said the Future Farming Systems trial options are guided by an experienced reference group, comprised of farmers, agricultural consultants and scientists.
Extensive benchmarking measurements continue to be taken across the project site, including comprehensive soil biology tests, Predicta-B soil testing for pathogens, nutrient analysis and physical characterisation of the soil.
Neutron probe access tubes to measure soil moisture content and ibuttons to record soil temperature are also being installed to give more information on suitable conditions for soil biology and to measure soil moisture profiles under the different systems.
The project has already attracted interest from throughout the farming community, with the department hosting field walks for the Grains Research and Development Corporation, Soil and Land Conservation Council, agricultural consultants, local high school students and local farmers.
For more information and updates about the Future Farming Systems project and trials visit agric.wa.gov.au/future-farming-systems-eastern-wheatbelt.