Probing for knowledge

24 Mar, 2016 10:00 AM
Leighton Wilksch, of South Australian-based business Agbyte, says there is real merit in croppers investing in soil moisture probes.
Leighton Wilksch, of South Australian-based business Agbyte, says there is real merit in croppers investing in soil moisture probes.

A SOUTH Australian-based farm advisor has urged grain producers to consider using soil moisture probes.

Speaking at Grains Research and Development Corporation (GRDC) updates last month, Leighton Wilksch, Agbyte, said soil moisture probes could provide valuable information.

“You can get a good deal of information from the probes, from how much moisture is in the soil and how deep to how much moisture the plant is using,” he said.

He said farmers should not be put off by not having probes right across their paddocks.

“I’m often asked how many probes do you need and I tell people, two is better than one, but one is a lot better than none.”

Mr Wilksch, based at Paskeville on the Yorke Peninsula, said farmers needed to carefully assess where they placed the probes in the paddock to get the best results.

“Location is critical. The probes need to be in a median soil type and in an area where tracks, trees, weeds and fence lines don’t have an influence.”

He said the information gathered by the probes could be used for in-paddock decision making, but also for farm management decisions.

“There are obvious applications there, such as whether there is sufficient moisture to plant, or using the data to make decisions on nitrogen management, but along with that, growers can use the information when doing their spring grain marketing programs.

“They can use the information to assess whether they think they will make target yield and make their marketing decisions accordingly.”

Mr Wilksch said moisture probes were just one of the in-paddock data collection services growers could use.

“There are canopy temperature sensors to assess both heat and frost shock, cameras that can be used to monitor for pests and weather stations for monitoring wind and potential air inversions when spraying.”

He said a critical mass of soil moisture probes was providing growers with better information in some areas.

“Increasingly, we are seeing local networks of SMPs (and weather stations) pop up that allow a grower to invest in one site, but have access to multiple sites set up by neighbouring growers.

“For example, on the northern Yorke Peninsula in SA, there are a number of networks that have three to five neighbouring growers that each have a SMP installed in different soil types,” Mr Wilksch said.

“In any one season, there will also be different crop types planted over the top of the SMP.

“Data can be displayed on the same webpage so that each grower can look at the others’ graphs and essentially extrapolate the information across their farm where they may have a similar soil type/crop type to their neighbour.”

Another tip for growers considering installing moisture probes was to link it in with a weather station.

“By hooking up to a weather station you can access data that impacts your farming business daily.”

Gregor Heard

Gregor Heard

is the national grains writer for Fairfax Agricultural Media


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