Soil probe a weather weapon

Soil moisture probe a weather weapon


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As the song goes, you've got to know when to hold them and know when to fold them, and changing climate conditions is making this more important for the State's livestock producers.

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Lambs Alive founder Jason Trompf and Agriculture Victoria climate specialist Graeme Anderson spoke to more than 200 farmers at Climate Smart Farming workshops across the state.

Lambs Alive founder Jason Trompf and Agriculture Victoria climate specialist Graeme Anderson spoke to more than 200 farmers at Climate Smart Farming workshops across the state.

As the song goes, you've got to know when to hold them and know when to fold them, and changing climate conditions is making this more important for the state's livestock producers.

Now, soil moisture monitoring is being used as a new tool to assist farmers to better measure and respond to spring variability.

Speaking to more than 200 farmers who attended Climate Smart Farming workshops at Violet Town, Ararat and Cavendish this week, Agriculture Victoria climate specialist Graeme Anderson said soil moisture monitoring was becoming a useful early warning sign to start preparing "get out of jail cards" during poor seasons.

In 2018, Agriculture Victoria installed seven new probes under pasture sites at Baynton, Greta, Bairnsdale, Giffard West, Dartmoor, Lawloit and Harrow to monitor soil water content and temperatures.

"The cropping industry uses this information to make the most of good rainfall and soil moisture to increase production and profit, and when the season isn't as generous there are less wasted inputs," Mr Anderson said.

"It's enabling producers to make the most in the good years and limit the risks in the poor years."

Recent data shows Central Gippsland is significantly wetter than a month ago but less than 50 per cent of plant-available capacity.

Most sites except Central Gippsland and West Wimmera in the monitoring network reached field capacity during winter, where soil water profile was full.

"Some seasons you can get to the end of August and pastures look green on top but the soil probes can show us that there's no moisture below 50 centimetres depth in some cases, which is a strong, early red flag for a tight spring," he said.

"In winter and spring... the soil moisture testing is showing us that sometimes our gut feeling is wrong.

"For the new pasture sites it's also providing some insights on soil temperatures which can also be useful."

Knowing the volume of "rain in the bank" is one weapon in farmers' weather arsenal but understanding forecasts and outlooks is also powerful, he said.

"A producer forewarned is forearmed," he said.

With the Indian Ocean Dipole (IOD) in a drier phase, Mr Anderson said a higher chance of a drier three months ahead was predicted.

"Weather forecasts are deterministic for the next seven days, they do a good job of predicting what is going to happen, but when it comes to the next three months, no one really knows for sure," he said.

"Warmer than average sea surface temperatures to Australia's north correlate with more cloud and moisture which feeds into our weather patterns to make rain down south.

"The sea surface temperature off north-west Australia is cooler than average currently, meaning a lack of cloud and moisture, which is key to feeding our spring weather patterns in south-eastern Australia."

Odds are favouring a drier spring with Agriculture Victoria's Fast Break scan of 11 global forecast models all tipping +IOD, and cooler sea surface temperatures.

"Whenever more than half [of the climate models] lean towards wetter or drier conditions, it tends to be well worth paying attention to," he said.

"At the moment for Victoria, nearly all are sitting on the dry side of the fence.

"Like a game of footy, if all are picking one side to win, there can always be an upset but from a seasonal outlook it is worth having a plan A, B, and C, should spring cut short."

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