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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.
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.
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.
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.