Farmers learn to manage drought
THE Southern Gippsland Agricultural Climate Resilience Project recently held a workshop on the drought resilience index, presented by soil scientist and agricultural consultant Graham Shepherd.
The index is a checklist farmers can run through to ensure their lands’ productivity remains satisfactory, even through periods of drought.
The event was held at the Outtrim Hall, followed by an on-farm session at Gordon and Sylvia Vagg’s property in Leongatha South and was attended by around 40 people.
Agricultural climate resilience officer Jill Vella said farmers could test their land for drought resistance, but being able to look at specific indicators and fill out the checklist was helpful.
“It could either prove you’re on the right track or you might have thought you were, but there could be another way to do it better,” she said.
“No one gets it right all the time and you can always pick up things here and there.”
Mr Shepherd said measuring drought could be a tenuous task, but could be easier when looked at from a soil and plant physiology perspective.
He has put together a methodology to assess the potential drought resistance of a farm looking at 18 specific indicators, both soil and plant, broken into various components which can be quantified.
“Once you do this and apply the appropriate reading, you come up with a nice assessment of the potential resistance for drought,” Mr Shepherd said.
The 18 key indicators include residual pastoral levels, soil structures, as well as calcium, magnesium, potassium, sodium, zinc and iron levels.
“Residual pastoral levels left after grazing are key because if we over graze, we severely affect the ability of the pasture to bounce back,” Mr Shepherd said.
“Iron levels determine the ability of pasture to bounce back coming out of drought, while organic carbon levels are also assessed. Soils with higher carbon have much greater capacity to hold and provide water.”
Once the index is complete, Mr Shepherd said the most valuable thing was to look at the individual scores of the 18 indicators.
“It provided a way forward to address any score that is scoring one or less and put a farm plan in place,” he said.
“In time we can increase drought resistance of the farm.”
Mr Shepherd believes it is the first time such a comprehensive list has been given to farmers to check off, an educational potential he said farmers could use to handle drought “smartly”.
“There’s a huge potential for education by looking at the indicators to increase drought resistance,” he said.
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