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Wheatbelt growers attend West Midlands Group crop update at Dandaragan

Understanding risk in the decision-making process for grain growers is part of a five-year project the West Midlands Group is holding though the national RiskWi$e project.

The Grains Research and Development Corporation (GRDC) initiative aims to understand and improve risk-reward outcomes for Australian grain growers through “participatory action research”.

The grower group partners involved across WA include Stirlings to Coast Farmers, South-East Premium Wheat Growers Association, Facey Group, Corrigin Farm Improvement Group, WA No-Tillage Farmers Association, Liebe Group, West Midlands Group (WMG) and Mingenew Irwin Group.

Growers attending the WMG crop update last week in Dandaragan heard from WMG chief executive Nathan Craig about how their project was exploring ways to measure risk.

Camera IconWest Midlands Group chief executive Nathan Craig. Credit: LinkedIn

“Deciding when and how much nitrogen to apply to a paddock is an example of an important and complex decision,” Mr Craig said.

“There are ways to minimise the complexity of this decision and reduce the risk.”

Mr Craig said measuring risk was needed in order to manage it, which was becoming more important when it comes to cropping decisions because of WA’s increasingly variable climate.

“The relationship between complexity and importance of a decision is what we are focusing on,” he said.

The initial five broad themes the project will work across include nitrogen application decisions, sowing decisions, enterprise agronomic and financial decisions and managing natural resource capital.

Mr Craig said meetings such as last week’s were what the WMG wanted to run to help brainstorm ideas about risk management for the project’s research.

WMG project officer Melanie Dixon also presented on the day and discussed trial results that had been collected for the group on potassium availability in soils.

Camera IconWest Midlands Group project officer Melanie Dixon. Credit: John Koh/The West Australian

Ms Dixon said there was still another 12 months of trial data to be collected but to date some interesting results had been gathered.

“We are finding most soils have sufficient potassium in the subsoil analysis,” Ms Dixon said.

“Between 50 to 90cm from the surface, there are good reserves.

“Other constraints such as compaction and water are causing more of a problem when it comes to the uptake of potassium.”

Ms Dixon said the effect of crop rotation on potassium levels would be tested in the next round of trials, as well as methods to bring subsoil potassium levels up to the surface.

“So far research has shown a lot more potassium is being leached than expected,” she said.

“On grey sands we see the nitrogen concentration in the root zone is sitting above critical, but these soils are still hungry for potassium.”

Preliminary results have also found leaching is more pronounced when rainfall happens in a condensed timeframe, such as two to three days, as opposed to over six days.

Ms Dixon said while the timing of rainfall could not be controlled, knowing this supported management decisions to split fertiliser treatment over three to four times a year to maximise potassium uptake by plants rather than putting it all out in two applications.

Future WMG research updates are planned for the year, with grower participation and discussion on these days encouraged. Visit wmgroup.org.au for more information.

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