Tuesday, 28 August 2018

The Irrigation, Grazing Game

In this week’s blog we welcome guest contributor - Nicole Mesman. Nicole achieved honours in soil science through Lincoln University. Her honours project looked at the effect of grazing and irrigation on soil porosity, here she shares what was discovered through this project.

While university projects are often published in journal articles I feel research can sometimes take a long time to make its way to our farmers and end users, those who we are trying to help with this research in the first place. I am very happy that I am able to explain my findings to an audience that might be able to make use of this information.

I wanted to find out what, if any, effect irrigation was having on soil porosity and water holding capacity. From both my findings and the research of others I was able to suggest that a combination of irrigation and cattle grazing led to a decrease in soil macroporosity and those micropores holding water in the range readily available to plants. Also that there is an increase in very small micropores storing water that plants are unable to access.

Macropores are the largest pores, they don’t store water for the plant but provide aeration for the soil, space for root growth and allow water to infiltrate through them to the small micropores that the plant draws water from. Reduction in macropores can result in decreased root and plant growth and an increase in waterlogging and surface run-off as water is unable to infiltrate into the soil and instead pools and runs off the surface.

Macropores allow water to pass quickly through them and are occupied with air unless the soil is waterlogged. Micropores store water for plants to access, some micropores are so small that plants are unable to draw water out of them.
The result of a decrease in micropores is less water held between field capacity and refill point; readily available water for plants. In order to ensure plants have optimum water available to them irrigation volumes should be decreased but made more frequent to ensure neither overwatering or water stress is occurring. Once compaction of soil and decrease of microporosity has occurred it is easier for damage to continue. Soils take longer to dry out after irrigation and subsequent grazing events are more likely to damage the soil again.

When a soil becomes compacted under a combination of irrigation and grazing events the available water decreases as soil particles are compressed together. This means there is less water available to the plant and irrigation volumes should decrease while frequency increases to maintain water content.
If you think you may be seeing the negative effects of decreased macroporosity and microporosity on your property then there are steps you can take to avoid further damage:
  • Soil moisture sensors that are calibrated for your soil type allow you to identify when your different soils require irrigating and mean that you can change your irrigation volumes according to your field capacity. Reduction in micropores may mean that soils retain a higher moisture content for longer and are more susceptible to further damage when grazed. Moisture sensors will also allow you to monitor areas that have been irrigated and determine when moisture content has decreased below field capacity and stock could be moved back to graze the area, avoiding further damage to soil structure. 
  • Decreased macroporosity can be countered by leaving a paddock under pasture, allowing roots and organic matter additions to create structure while using variable rate technology to adapt your irrigation. Irrigation can be altered to avoid areas where decreased macroporosity has resulted in ponding, this can help the area dry out and encourage grass growth.

That’s all for now but please watch this space for my next post where I will tell you about the specifics of my trial, quantify the changes in macroporosity and microporosity that myself and others have measured, explain the role of these properties in soil quality and natural capital and how their importance in this system can be assessed.  

Post by Lindsay NZ, informative content created by Nicole Mesman - BSc (Hons) Soil Science

Tuesday, 7 August 2018

Rain gauges – why they're a powerful tool for your operation

Do you know how much rain has fallen on your farm?  Or on your block of land down the road?  Do you sometimes forget to tip out the rain gauge?  Accurate rainfall figures for farm records are becoming more and more important in this age of transparency.  Knowing how much rain fell on any given day on your own farm or on a particular crop will give you the ability to make more accurate decisions.  Telemetered rain gauges save you the hassle of manually reading the rain gauge and provide up to date data straight to your phone or computer. 

Rain gauges can be installed along with your soil moisture probe and positioned under the irrigator or installed in a dryland area.  Positioning the rain gauge under the irrigator enables you to monitor exactly what application depth the irrigator is applying.  Application depths can change as a result of adding extra irrigators to the system, blocked or broken nozzles and changes to system pressures to name a few.  Excessive application depths are expected to account for on average 10% of water losses on an average irrigation system, that’s wasted power, water and most importantly money.  Not applying enough water may result in yield losses and shallow rooted plants.    

A telemetered rain gauge installed under the irrigator will also enable you to see the application rate applied.  If it is above the rates described for your situation in the table below you may be wasting water.  

Agri Optics can add a rain gauge to your soil moisture system to help your decision making.  Ring us today to talk about the options for your farm. 

Agri Optics office: (03) 302 9227
Cindy Lowe 021 796 834 or cindy@agrioptics.co.nz
Email: info@agrioptics.co.nz