Ground cover, erosion risk and production implications of targeted management practices in Australian mixed farming systems: lessons from the Grain and Graze program

TitleGround cover, erosion risk and production implications of targeted management practices in Australian mixed farming systems: lessons from the Grain and Graze program
Publication TypeJournal Article
Year of Publication2018
AuthorsThomas D, Moore A, Bell L, Webb N
JournalAgricultural Systems
Volume162
Start Page123
Pagination123-135
Date Published02/2018
ARIS Log Number334975
Abstract

Maintaining the productive capacity of the agricultural soils of Australia's broadacre cropping zone requires careful management, given a highly variable climate and soils that are susceptible to degradation. Mixed croplivestock farming systems are the predominant land use across these regions and managers must operate farms for long-term sustainability as well as shorter-term profitability. Achieving profitable and sustainable businesses has required ongoing innovation and productivity gains, of which the integration of crop and livestock enterprises has been an important part. Production-soil erosion trade-offs associated with enterprise integration is critical information that has not been investigated to date at a whole-farm level. The objective of this study as to systematically evaluate management options developed in Grain and Graze (an integrated program of research, development and extension targeting mixed farms) to identify farm systems responses to soil erosion risks across seven regions spanning the mixed-farming area of Australia. To evaluate production-soil erosion trade-offs, we linked the APSIM soil water, soil nutrient cycling, annual crop and surface residue simulation models to the GRAZPLAN pasture and ruminant simulation models, using the AusFarm modelling software. Our results demonstrate that the management options tested in Grain and Graze support the principles of  conservation agriculture and inform the sustainable intensification of mixed farming systems. Across the regions considered we found that: (1) Increasing pasture legume content and soil fertility can consistently benefit farm production and environmental indicators, (2) management interventions that target direct management of ground cover have the greatest potential to reduce soil erosion rates, (3) management during critical periods of naturally high soil erodibility and wind/water erosivity can substantially increase or decrease erosion risk; the timing of management interventions is therefore critical, and (4) grazing management to balance use of crop residues and pasture biomass is required to avoid developing hot spots of erosion and soil degradation.

URLfiles/bibliography/18-002.pdf
DOI10.1016/j.agsy.2018.02.001