Why is it so important to retain soil moisture?
With Australia’s unpredictable weather conditions and the typically drier climate in NSW, it’s important to make every drop of moisture count. Soil moisture management is not just important; it’s essential for maximising your crop yields, water use efficiency, and productivity through the harsh Australian conditions.
Too much moisture can contribute to waterlogging in very wet years, however, it will allow you to sow earlier, which helps overcome the wet conditions. Early sowing is also generally recommended to give the crop more time to develop deeper roots, essentially giving the seedlings better access to the moisture and nutrients in the soil.
What are the benefits of managing soil moisture?
Properly managing your soil moisture can have several benefits, including:
- Better plant growth: Having sustainable moisture in the soil can help with plant growth, increasing yields, germination and root development.
Cereal crops, such as wheat, barley, and oats, rely on sufficient soil moisture for successful germination and seedling establishment. If the soil moisture is too low, seeds may fail to germinate or seedlings may struggle to emerge, reducing yields.
Proper soil management during the early growth period for cereal crops is also vital for strong root development – well-developed roots help plants access water and essential nutrients present in the soil.
- Water use efficiency: Effective soil moisture management allows you to make the most of limited water resources. By consistently managing your soil moisture (see tips below) you can minimise water wastage and increase your water use efficiency. Maximising water use efficiency will help you get the highest possible yield.
- Resilience to the conditions: Managing soil moisture also helps increase the resilience of cereal crops to the dry Australian conditions.By maintaining a healthy moisture balance in your soil during wet periods, you create a reservoir of water that can sustain your crops during drier times. Well-maintained moisture levels allow crops to better tolerate water scarcity, reducing the risk of yield losses.
- Improved soil health: Balanced soil moisture contributes to maintaining soil health and enhances soil nutrients, increasing the nutrient uptake by crops. By managing your soil moisture effectively, you are essentially creating an environment where your crops can access the necessary nutrients easier, promoting better growth and crop health.
How to manage soil moisture
Managing soil moisture in agriculture is crucial for optimising crop growth and productivity.
Implementing practices such as crop rotation and cover cropping can help balance water usage by diversifying the crops grown. Different crops have varying water requirements, and by rotating crops, you can ensure efficient use of water resources. Additionally, incorporating cover crops, such as legumes or grasses, during fallow periods or intercropped with main crops, can reduce soil moisture loss, control erosion, and improve soil health.
Proper irrigation management is also essential for maintaining maximum soil moisture levels. Different methods like drip irrigation, sprinkler irrigation, furrow irrigation, and flood irrigation can be used depending on crop and soil characteristics. Precision irrigation techniques, such as drip or sprinkler systems, minimise water wastage, reduce costs, and promote sustainable water management practices.
Stubble retention, early weed control, soil fertility management, and crop rotations that address disease control and nematode issues are additional factors to consider for efficient crop water use.
By integrating these practices and understanding crop water requirements, you can effectively manage soil moisture, enhance water use efficiency, and ensure overall better crop growth.
Managing soil moisture is an essential way of ensuring high crop productivity. It is shown to contribute to better crop growth, water use efficiency, and improved soil health. Soil moisture management also helps store water to sustain crop growth during drier conditions.
By maintaining maximum moisture levels, you provide your plants with the water they need to thrive, ensuring healthier crops and increased productivity.