A NEW $750,000 project is under way to assess land suitability for pulse crops in WA and non-rice crops in Cambodia.
Dr Richard Bell from Murdoch University is managing the three-year project which involves the Department of Agriculture and the Cambodian Agricultural Research and Development Institute.
The project, which provides for the use of a specialised software application in WA and Cambodia, is funded by the Australian Centre for International Agricultural Research.
Department research officer Peter White said the project was exciting due to the range of information researchers would be able to use to determine land suitability and to develop maps illustrating their findings.
"Most land suitability classifications only take into account bio-physical factors. In this project however, we will also be using socio-economic data, location of infrastructure such as roads, population centres, and farmer's opinions," he said.
"This will vastly improve the accuracy and usefulness of the land suitability maps produced."
Dr White said in WA, researchers would use the modelling approach to determine the most suitable areas and cropping systems for pulse crops in the wheatbelt.
He said outputs from the project would help re-establish industry confidence in the pulse industry which was widely regarded as being important for sustainable cropping in Southern Australia.
Dr White said the modelling framework would also be used for non- rice crops in Cambodia. Australia has been at the forefront of helping Cambodia re-build its agricultural sector, and this project would continue that commitment.
After two decades of civil war and food shortages, Cambodia reached self-sufficiency in rice production in the mid-1990s.
Dr White said the country was now striving to diversify its agriculture and improve production of alternative crops to rice. He said that unfortunately there was a critical shortage of land resource information and that was restricting land use planning and crop diversification.
The new land suitability project will directly address that problem with the help of the Cambodian Agricultural Research and Development Institute. Most work will concentrate on maize, mung bean and soybean crops for which there is already some local experience in Cambodia, and good market prospects.
The project is being made possible with the use of Eexpector, a software tool developed by CSIRO, Curtin University and the Department of Agriculture, WA.
Department natural resource unit manager Noel Schoknecht said the software combined data and expert knowledge to provide information on the occurrence of spatially distributed attributes.
"Expector is based on mapping systems originally developed for the mining industry in WA. We'll be using the same approach to better determine the most suitable areas for growing pulse crops in WA," said Mr Schoknecht.
"We will be able to tap into the expert knowledge that some growers have now developed in pulse production and integrate this with our research knowledge. We will then be able to target our pulse development efforts on those areas that we know are best suited to pulse production," he said.