Precision Agriculture delivers a deeper understanding of soil variability for dairy farmers


Andrew Vincent

Precision Agriculture (PA), one of Australia’s most experienced agriculture technology providers, is working with Gippsland dairy farmers, consultants and researchers to demonstrate the agronomic, economic and environmental benefits of using Variable Rate Application to match fertiliser application with soil and plant needs.

The 18-month research project, which is funded by the Victorian Government through the Virtual Centre for Climate Change Innovation (VCCI), has completed the initial on-ground work across four Gippsland farms with positive results. By using tools such as grid soil sampling, electromagnetic induction (EM38) soil mapping and elevation surveys, the project has built a detailed picture of soil health. Geo-referenced soil samples were taken every 1⁄4 hectare to provide a detailed understanding of the variability in soil and nutrients than conventional soil sampling can deliver.

The grid soil sampling has identified substantial variability in pH, nitrogen, phosphorus, and potassium, both between and within paddocks on each farm. These spatial soil maps will allow farmers to fine tune their fertiliser application, spreading only the amount and type required in each part of the paddock. This approach has the potential to deliver economic benefits, thanks to more efficient use of fertiliser, and significant environmental benefits, through a reduction in the nitrous oxide emissions that are a major contributor to GHG emissions.

Gippsland-based PA Specialist Andy Lay noted, “By eliminating key soil constraints, and improving nitrogen use efficiency, this project aims to reduce soil emissions and deliver economic benefits to farmers.” Sebastian le, PA Senior Research Officer, who oversees the project, said “For farmers already using Dairy Australia’s FertSmart program based on farm management zones, a move to variable rate management within a single paddock could be the logical next step.” “We have already identified promising opportunities for variable rate to better match fertiliser supply to different
requirements within the paddock.”

Tools such as grid soil sampling, EM38 and elevation surveys to generate variable rate fertiliser applications will keep Gippsland dairy at the cutting edge of more environmentally and financially sustainable dairy systems, and is in line with the region’s clean and green reputation.

“These soil results form the backbone of the project. The next step will focus on pasture growth measurements, and then we’ll implement in-paddock demonstrations of variable rate fertiliser application,” said Sebastian le. “There is a clear appetite by farmers to improve fertiliser management, and strong interest in the project’s results.”

The results of the project will inform decision making for all Australian dairy farmers, and demonstrate how they can use precision agriculture tools to enhance their profitability and sustainability. The Demonstrating Fertiliser Management for Emissions Reduction in the Victorian Dairy Industry Project is funded by the Victorian Government through the Virtual Centre for Climate Change Innovation.

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