Tapping into SoilWater app

25 Sep, 2014 02:00 AM
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University of Southern Queensland researcher Brett Robinson with the SoilWater app.
University of Southern Queensland researcher Brett Robinson with the SoilWater app.

A TEAM of southern Queensland researchers are on a mission to make the once costly task of measuring soilwater relatively simple and inexpensive.

The SoilWater smartphone app is set to be released soon and uses weather information to estimate soilwater in broadacre cropping systems.

University of Southern Queensland researcher Brett Robinson said the app would simulate – quite accurately and with a lot of detail – what was happening with soilwater.

“In the past it has been a difficult exercise to work out how much moisture they (farmers) have,” he said.

“Push probes have been a great thing in the past and widely adopted but we can take things a step further now, pretty reliably too.”

Mr Robinson said a few things had to be initially put into the app including the water start point, soil type and the state of the paddock.

Weather records are readily available online and, with plans under way to connect the app to rain gauges via Bluetooth, calculations can be made without having to step out in the paddock.

Soil moisture is estimated using a water-balance model, supplemented by local weather data and in-field sensor information.

Temperatures, solar radiation and evaporation data are used to simulate crop growth, run-off, drainage and stored moisture levels in the soil layers.

The app will be available for iPhone and iPad but an Android model is not in the works.

Mr Robinson said understanding soilwater greatly helped to forecast crop yields.

“One thing this app does is it’ll help people determine the frequency with which they can reliably plant crops,” he said.

“There used to be rules of thumb like if you’ve got a foot deep of soil moisture then that’s probably enough to plant a sorghum crop on, because in Queensland we get more summer rain.

“This app will help inform people of the situation they are in.”

He said the strength of the app’s development was in its team of diverse, positive people.

Two members of the team were involved in the development of another app, CliMate, which has been downloaded by thousands of farmers.

FarmOnline
Melody Labinsky

Melody Labinsky

is a journalist for Queensland Country Life at Toowoomba

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