Multispecies summer cover crops for Western Australian cropping systems
Lead Professor Terry Rose
Facey Group Inc
The Regenerative Agriculture Alliance and Southern Cross University are excited to reveal the progress of a research project in partnership with Facey Group near Wickepin in Southwest Western Australia.
Western Australian cropping systems typically involve a summer fallow kept free of weeds using herbicides due to concerns that the use of stored soil moisture by weeds over summer may impact on growth and yields of winter cash crops. The aim of this project is to investigate summer moisture and soil properties, and winter crop yields then multi-species cover crops are grown during the fallow. It will include single and multi-species summer cover crops compared to a typical chemical fallow. Both economic and environmental measurements, particularly soil health, will be taken throughout the trial.
- This project has initiated a high level of interest amongst growers within the local area, where summer cropping has not yet been widely adopted.
- There has been minimal rainfall over the summer period, however, multiple species are still surviving and continuing to grow and produce biomass, thereby providing benefits to soil health and structure.
- The success of all 2021/2022 summer trial sites to thrive indicates a significant opportunity for successful producer adoption of summer cover cropping practices within the local area.
The Catalyst for Change
- Facey Group farmers have identified soil health as a key priority area for research and development.
- Summer cropping has not yet been widely adopted, as such there is the potential to increase farm revenues while also increasing opportunities for regeneration.
- Increased awareness of the benefits to cover cropping, including soil protection from erosion and evaporation, suppression of summer weeds, reduced soil compaction and improved structure, regulated soil temperatures, increase in organic matter content, stimulated microbial activity, addition of nitrogen and prevention of nitrogen leaching.
- The technical learnings, knowledge sharing and relationships that will be facilitated throughout this project will provide significant support for producers who are looking to adopt summer cropping practices to improve soil health.
- Increased uptake of summer cover cropping practices which directly contribute to the restoration of degraded soils.
- Increased awareness and understanding of the benefits of regenerative agricultural practices on soil health.
- In Western Australia, rainfall trends are indicating a decline in growing season rainfall with increased variability of the timing of the season break.
- Growers are concerned about irregular summer rainfall, the labour requirements associated with setting up seeding equipment and concerns of reducing soil moisture that may be utilised by winter cash crops.
- Demonstrating the success of the summer cropping species in this project also entices producers towards adoption by highlighting the dual benefit of cover crops through the provision of livestock nutrition during the summer feed gap.
- The results from this testing and the establishment assessments of the subsequent winter crops may address producer concerns relating to soil moisture reserves.
The project work has commenced with the development of three summer cropping trial sites, including one small plot (8 treatments with four replicates) and two farmer demonstration sites. Various mixed and single species suited to the local environment have been included in the project, and at all trial sites are being compared with a chemical fallow control (district practice). Soil sampling has been undertaken prior to the commencement of each trial site, and a series of plant measurements have been undertaken monthly throughout the summer at each site. Facey Group hosted a field walk in February, where approximately 20 local interested growers visited the three sites.
Preliminary results show that although there has been minimal rainfall over the summer period, multiple species are still surviving and continuing to grow and produce biomass, thereby providing benefits to soil health and structure. This is indicating a very real opportunity to target local producers and increase the incidence of summer cover cropping, which will benefit soil health and structure and protect topsoil from wind and water erosion.
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