Future farming systems for the eastern wheatbelt

Page last updated: Wednesday, 9 December 2020 - 10:15am

This long term project aims to evaluate the long term productivity, profitability and sustainability of lower input regenerative and intensive ag-tech systems against current district practice and benchmarks of continuous cereal and continuous pasture over a decade. Located at the Merredin Research Facility, the project will generate scientific evidence on the performance of various farming systems and practices over time, while providing a forum to exchange ideas.

scientists in field

Farming systems innovation

Ongoing farming systems innovation is vital to the long term profitability of farm businesses in the Eastern Wheatbelt in the face of climate change and changing consumer preferences.

During the life of the trial, the project team will be able to monitor changes in the productive capacity of the site, soil carbon, grain yields and quality and sheep grazing capacity.

This scientific, objective information will assist growers make more informed, data-driven decisions on what farming systems and technologies best suit their business now and in the future.

The large farming systems trial will be complemented by adjacent small plot trials to examine system components and inform options to include in the long term trial, such as specific bio-stimulants or cover crop species.

The trial will test a range of regenerative agriculture principles including:

  • integrating sheep
  • reduced used of synthetic inputs
  • diverse crop and pasture species, which may include tillage radish, sorghum and millet.

The intensive agricultural technology (ag-tech) system will involve soil re-engineering, alongside the use of digital decision tools and diverse crops to optimise either grain or biomass production for sheep feed.

One of the most important parts of the project will be getting the transition phase right for adopting new farming systems and how that can be achieved economically.

We expect there will be different pathways to future-proofing profitable and sustainable farming systems in the Eastern Wheatbelt, based on a deeper understanding of key soil health principles and advanced crop and livestock management skills.

This 10 year initiative should play an important part in identifying and demonstrating these principles and management options.

Trial site

The trial site recently underwent intensive soil sampling, where 840 soil cores were collected from a grid of 280 positions to provide a baseline of soil properties.

Weed and disease pressure, soil nutrient level, soil carbon and soil biology was also measured to establish a firm baseline to monitor any change to soil properties and weed or disease pressure over time.

Comprehensive soil measurements will be undertaken throughout the life of the trial, including pH, bulk density, weed seed and insect pest and predator populations, plant pathogen inoculum loads, water storage and infiltration.

Soil biology will be a key monitoring component of the trial, which will measure changes to carbon and macro and micronutrients, including bacterial, fungi and other microbes, as well as the mesofauna, such as earthworms and nematodes.

Input costs will be measured, as will crop yield and grain quality, crop and pasture biomass and grazing days. 

Earlier this year a crop of Magenta wheat was sown to characterise yield variability across the 5.4 hectare sandy loam over gravel focus site.

Reference group

The project will be guided by a reference group comprised of farmers and agricultural consultants from the Eastern Wheatbelt, university and DPIRD scientists from a range of disciplines.

The project will look at at current constraints, emerging opportunities and threats to design farming systems able to address and capture these, supported by scientific data over time.

Contact information

Caroline Peek