Steph Coombes, EXTENSION OFFICER, NT FARMERS
NT Farmers have launched three new projects after successfully applying for funding from the Northern Hub. The Northern Hub is one of eight national Drought Resilience Adoption and Innovation Hubs created as an initiative of the Future Drought Fund.
The projects focus on land management and best practice stewardship in both horticultural and broadacre contexts.
Executive summaries below:
The hay industry in northern Australia is expanding rapidly, despite being in its infancy. A gap exists in co-authored sustainable best management practice (BMP) resources which pertain to local conditions.
BMPs for fodder production are the strategies used by successful growers to produce high yields of high-quality fodder, resulting in a profitable, sustainable business.
Unlike southern producers, the northern fodder industry does not have decades of knowledge and research to draw upon and inform their practices.
Fodder production in Northern Australia can be either dryland or irrigation, with some work undertaken over in recent years in both areas. However, the development of fodder production standards has yet to be achieved. Improving the standard of fodder production in northern Australia will increase market access for growers, reduce the risk of financial penalties at time of sale, and improve the end-users experience with the product.
This project will provide BMPs derived from decades of research as well as the lived experiences of fodder growers.
Soil Pits for Sustainability
The ‘Soil Pits for Sustainability’ project is a multi-stakeholder, collaborative project aimed at upskilling and supporting land managers to understand soil science, the impact of different irrigation systems, and how their management decisions affect their soil.
In response to changing climatic conditions and maximizing water efficiencies, supporting growers to increase their understanding soil horizons and the wetting patterns of irrigation systems will aid in improving grower return, community resilience and drought preparedness through improved natural resource management.
This project addresses the following goals from the Commonwealth Interim Action Plan – National Soil Strategy (2021, Department of Agriculture, Water and the Environment):
Goal 2: Empower soil innovation and stewards
- 2a: Promote soil stewardship
- 2b: Optimise soil productivity, sustainability and resilience
- 2c: Help protect and enhance Australia’s environment through effective soil management
Goal 3: Strengthen soil knowledge and capability
- 3a: Increase soil knowledge for better decisions
- 3c: Make Australian soil information and data available
- 3d: Build and retain diverse soil expertise
This practical project will be delivered in 12 months and strives to provide growers across three regions in the NT access to soil and irrigation experts as well as visual demonstrations of the soil structures and how it reacts to differing irrigating systems and watering schedules. This will be achieved by three one-day on-farm field days, whereby soil pits will be dug in existing crops with established irrigation systems as an extension tool to observe moisture depth and dispersal. The sites will be selected in the Mataranka, Douglas Daly, and Katherine regions; all production areas, but with differing soil types, crop rotations, and irrigation systems – such as sprinklers, center pivots, and irrigation tape.
Moisture probes will be installed prior to the field days to capture data at the site, which will be presented and discussed at the on-site field day.
Pits will be dug to show the existing soil horizons, with onsite soil experts to examine each horizon, it’s associated structure and profile, and share this knowledge to growers. The moisture and wetting profile will also be explored, with the potential for dyes to be added to illustrate water penetration.
Best practice management suggestions, based on soil science, will be discussed to enable improved watering practices for the benefit of both the plant, the water resource, the soil type and grower return.
The project will have the overarching principal of improving water use efficiency, building capacity in precision agricultural practices and use of appropriate soil moisture monitoring, crop needs and cutting-edge irrigation technology and scheduling programs.
Climate Smart Agriculture
Developed in consultation with the Department of Industry, Tourism and Trade, and soil health experts, this project builds on current interests and grass root initiatives for improving soil health to ensure sustainable agricultural production.
This project aims to raise awareness and adoption of Climate Smart Agriculture (CSA) practices such as: conservation tillage, green manure cover crops, agro-ecology, integrated pest management, organic mulch and composting, climate smart irrigation censors, and nutrient efficiency.
This project will consider the key elements of CSA that are usually studied and promoted independent of each other to develop integrated horticultural systems with a focus on building soil organic matter.
Four demonstration sites (2 in Central Australia and 2 in the Top End) will be established to undertake trials and host field days.
To learn more about these projects, please contact Stephanie Coombes, NT Farmers General Extension Officer and Northern Hub Katherine node Adoption Officer at email@example.com
These projects are funded by the Northern Hub. The consortium of regional partners, including Charles Darwin University and the NT Farmers Association, is committed to building the resilience and sustainable prosperity of rural industries and communities across the region.