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N.P. Dalgliesh1, N. Olm2, N. Douglas3, and R.L. McCown1

1CSIRO/Agricultural Production Systems Research Unit, Toowoomba, Qld. 4350; 2Landcare, Brigalow, Qld. 4412; 3Queensland Department of Primary Industries, Toowoomba, Qld. 4350.


An example of the FARMSCAPE participatory approach to learning by farmers, their advisers and researchers is illustrated with reference to a two year NLP (National Landcare) project based on the western Darling Downs in Queensland. The process is described whereby farmers (members of the Brigalow Floodplain Management Project-B.F.P.), were invited by their peers and local project staff, to work with APSRU researchers in exploring the value of knowing more about their soils. The interactive process whereby farmers and researchers increased their knowledge of the local soils and the effect that this information had on decision making is described. The taking of this information, which was valuable in its own right for the particular season, and using it as the basis for simulation sessions using the APSIM (Agricultural Production Systems Simulator) model, is also explored.

Key words: FARMSCAPE, APSIM, soil monitoring, simulation, co-learning, participatory approach

Farmers often identify improved knowledge of their soil as an important objective.. This project presented an opportunity for co-learning between farmers, local advisory staff and researchers to explore this area. The collaboration had the potential for farmers to increase their understanding of their soil resource, develop skills to monitor it and to use the information in their farm management. Researchers were keen to explore the potential for the technologies of monitoring and modelling in a commercial setting and to determine the value that farmers placed on the various technologies.

Results and discussion

Improving knowledge of the soil resource had previously been identified by the farmers of the BFP as an area in which they were interested in learning more and an area that had the potential to increase their productivity. Increased awareness of the processes involved in the capture, management and measurement of soil water and nutrients were seen as important areas on which to base the project. Three key farmers, representative of the diversity of farmers on the floodplain, were approached to gauge the potential interest in a soils project. These farmers then invited their local peers, based on social interaction, geographic spread and enterprise mix, to attend a field day to discuss soil-related issues and their involvement in the proposed project.

A key component of this initial meeting was a field session where farmers were able to discuss and explore the soil to a depth of 180 cm using soil coring (looking at pH, salinity, moisture, depth of the root zone, structure, texture and colour), something that many had not had the opportunity to do in the past. The scope of the proposed project was presented and this meeting resulted in the formation of three groups of 4 to 5 farmers each and an agreement to explore the use of soil monitoring as a tool to provide better understanding of the soil on each of the farms. The project was to include the characterisation of local soils for plant available water capacity (PAWC) and the routine monitoring of a number of paddocks on each farm for water and nitrogen prior to and after each cropping sequence. This information would enable planting and fertiliser decisions to be based on available resources, comparisons of resource use at the end of the season and the simulation of commercial cropping scenarios.

Six soil types were characterised for PAWC. Sites were jointly managed by the individual farmers and the researchers with farmers providing input during the wetting-up phase (1, 2, 3) and researchers responsible for the determination of upper storage limit (USL), bulk density (BD) and crop lower limit (CLL). Data were presented to the farmers in terms of the water holding capacity for a particular crop by soil combination. This information was then used to add value to the routine soil monitoring information, customising output for each paddock on each farm.

In the first year data gathered in the soil monitoring exercise were presented to the farmers in a form ready for discussion, however by the second year, two workshops (2, 4) had been held to train farmers in the calculation of water and nitrogen (in mm of water and kg of N/ha) and they were undertaking their own soil monitoring using an hydraulic coring rig provided as part of the project.

At the commencement of each season (summer and winter), groups met to calculate the levels of water and nitrogen available in the monitored paddocks and to discuss the implications of this for management and to explore options both through discussion and through use of simulation. Simulations were used in two ways: a) interactively-farmers and researchers exploring cropping and management options, based on a particular situation in a particular local paddock, and b) as scenarios of more general district interest based on local soil types and long-term weather records.


Independent evaluation (contracted telephone and face to face interviews undertaken with farmers, extension staff and researchers at points through the life of the project) suggests that farmers have gained a better understanding of their soil resource and are using the information and skills gained through soil characterisation, monitoring and simulation to either change their management strategies, or to reinforce their already formulated strategies. Changes to cropping mix, fertiliser strategies and the ability to be able to explain particular effects within crops were symptomatic of the learning that took place within the project. However, adoption of the technologies has not been at a uniform level, with farmers, apparently based on enterprise, selecting only that which is of interest and value to them. With monitoring there was almost 100% acceptance of the value of the technology but with individual farmers opting to use it at the level that they considered appropriate (this varied from simple push probing to sampling and calculation of available water and nitrogen). With simulation there was a higher acceptance of the technology from those farmers who were in more complex cropping systems, particularly where high input crops such as dryland cotton were being grown. Researchers for their part have refined the soil characterisation techniques; gained a better understanding of the variability amongst farmers and insights into where the types of technologies offered by APSRU may be best targeted.


This work was funded by the National Landcare Program and the Grains Research and Development Corporation.


1. Dalgliesh, N.P. 1996. Proc. 8th. Aust. Agron. Conf. Toowoomba, p.638.

2. Dalgliesh, N.P. and Foale, M.A. 1998. Monitoring soil water and nutrients in dryland cropping systems. (Agricultural Production Systems Research Unit, Toowoomba, Qld.).

3. Dalgliesh N.P., McCown, R.L., Bridge, B., Probert, M.E. and Cawthray, S. 1998. Proc. 9th. Aust. Agron. Conf. Wagga Wagga. pp. __ .

4. Lawrence, D.N., Cawley, S.T., Cahill, M.J., Douglas, N. and Doughton, J.A. 1996. Proc. 8th. Aust. Agron. Conf. Toowoomba, p 369.

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