The UWA Institute of Agriculture

Conservation cropping

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Cropping Project Manager

Dr Ken Flower

School of Plant Biology

Phone: (+61 8) 6488 4576

Email: ken.flower@uwa.edu.au

For the UWA Future Farm 2050 to be successful, its cropping enterprise must be highly profitable whilst retaining long-term perspectives on the growing environment: climate, soil, crop, insects, diseases, weeds.

Problems with current farming practices

Australia is one of the oldest continents on the planet, so most of its soils are very heavily weathered and infertile. Australian farms therefore depend heavily on fertilizers for phosphorus, nitrogen and trace elements.

Our soils typically have poor structure and low organic carbon, and they are also prone to wind erosion and salinity.

Australia is a dry continent and our cropping systems depend on rainfall as a source of soil moisture, so farming is susceptible to frequent droughts. This problem will worsen as the rainfall becomes less reliable.

Our original farming practices included tillage that was mainly used to loosen the soil, kill weeds and prepare a suitable seedbed for sowing. However, tillage increases soil erosion and water loss, and reduces soil organic carbon.

'No-till' method of agriculture

Australian farmers experimented with no-tillage: a system of planting crops into untilled soil by opening a narrow slot, trench or band only of sufficient width and depth to obtain proper seed coverage. No other soil tillage is done (Derpsch, 2010).

This system is more sustainable than conventional tillage, especially in our relatively dry environment. However, there are still challenges: Weed control before seeding in the no-tillage system relies on herbicides and some weeds are becoming resistant to these chemicals. This is a major area of research.

With tillage removed from the system, it is important to reduce machinery traffic over the paddocks. Therefore, another component that will be included, over time, is controlled traffic using GPS guidance.

National Adaptation and Mitigation Initiative (NAMI)

A cropping trial, called National Adaptation and Mitigation Initiative (NAMI), was recently undertaken at the UWA Future Farm 2050. The theme of the trial was climate change.