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Decision support for risk management of farming systems in a variable climate
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Decision support for risk management of farming systems in a variable climate
Lead organisation: Mallee Sustainable Farming
Hub members and partners involved: Insight for Extension, The Agricultural Bureau of SA, Lowbank Ag Bureau
Project Category: Hub Projects
Project summary: 

To improve the decision making processes of farmers across the SA Mallee in relation to use of nitrogen fertiliser and other tactical agronomic based decision making through the use of support tools (including the “Mallee Nitrogen Calculator” and soil and crop monitoring).

Project description: 

The focus of the GRDC National Risk Management Initiative (NRMI) project is to enhance farmer decision making by determining the risk and reward of farming practices. There are five identified themes for this project, with this specific project investment focusing on two of these themes being (1) N decisions: whole of system view and (2) Sowing decisions: developing long term strategies. Additional information is provided in Annexure B. Mallee Sustainable Farming (MSF) have received funding from GRDC to undertake a range of on-farm research trials and demonstrations, workshops and other grower events over the next 5 year period. A Participatory Action Research (PAR) model of engaging farmers underpins the delivery methodology for this nationally delivered project.

This project investment sought from the SA Drought Hub will provide additional support for the delivery of a range of activities that are linked to the GRDC NRMI project. This funding in particular will provide the opportunity to expand the impact of the project across participating groups across the SA Mallee through addressing the specific objectives for this project investment; “to improve the decision making processes of farmers across the SA Mallee in relation to decision making in relation to use of nitrogen fertiliser through the use of support tools (including the “Mallee Nitrogen Calculator” and soil probes for measuring available water in the soil profile)”.

These initiatives will help to address the unique environmental characteristics of the SA Mallee, that set it apart from other regions across Australia where the NRMI project is being conducted. In particular the “N Bank” approach to guiding farmers on the application of nitrogen fertiliser (as promoted through the NRMI project) is not suited to the low rainfall SA Mallee environments. Previously the “Mallee N Calculator” was developed for the SA Mallee, however requires updating as it was developed 15 years ago, and so this project investment will support this activity.

Increasingly, the ability of farmers to access information relating to the availability of soil water in the profile within their local farming district is helping farmers to manage risk (as part of a “risk and reward” scenario). Specifically, this project investment will allow the expansion of group-based training and capacity activities provided to groups through the SA Mallee, targeting Agricultural Bureau / local farmer groups located at (1) Lowbank, (2) Loxton (3) Bowhill and (4) Coomandook. In addition to this, it is intended that this project funding will help support the establishment of an on-farm field trial-demonstration site at two locations, these being Coomandook and Lowbank in season 2024 (which otherwise would not have been possible without this additional funding support from the SA Drought Hub). The nature of the demonstration trials will be based on both (1) a group needs analysis (initial consultation completed in September to narrow down key priorities but this will be ongoing to refine trials and demos leading into the new season 2024) and (2) an assessment of specific soil constraints identified through soil testing. Lowbank for example will focus on their lighter sandy soils, with the view of undertaking demonstrations that aim to maximise economic returns and minimise risks. Initial consultation has taken place with all four groups engaged in the project, and this will continue into 2024 as part of refining the specific field trial treatments that underpin this co-design approach.

Collectively, this project proposal aligns with priorities under the SA Drought Hub, through managing on-farm production risks particularly during dry seasons.  The key elements of this project have been captured through a co-design process involving participating farmers from groups that will be engaged directly in this proposal. In the delivery of specific activities associated with this funding, the specific field trial and demonstration treatments will be identified through a farmer engaged co-design research approach, ensuring that outcomes from the trial are relevant and “ready to adopt”