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Research soaks up cover cropping options

Combating increased challenges in Australian agriculture

As farmers hold their collective breath to see if predictions of higher than average rainfall between now and the end of the year ring true, researchers from the University of Southern Queensland are looking down – not towards the sky – in an effort to better support agricultural soils and the decisions farmers have to make each season.

Under the supervision of Dr Afshin Ghahramani from USQ’s Centre for Sustainable Agricultural Systems, PhD candidate Hanlu Zhang is studying the effect of cover cropping on soil moisture through computer modelling and system analysis.

Ms Zhang is conducting field observations at an on-farm trial site near Goondiwindi, where soils have suffered from the long-term effects of drought, and farmers are trialling cover cropping to combat it.

“A cover crop is any plant that is grown to improve soil health or slow erosion, and is ordinarily not for harvest,” she said.

“My research is looking at how cover cropping on the trial site is affecting soil moisture and yields, then converting those soil observations into biophysical computer models for system analysis to explore how soil moisture and available soil nutrients can change under different types of farm management.”

Dr Ghahramani said modelling for system analysis is a critical element in assisting farmers make good decisions.

“It’s important that farmers have the best data possible to make the right decisions for them on the farm, supported by modelling, which makes this research important for increased challenges in Australian agriculture such as drought.”

The research is funded and supported by the Broadacre Cropping Initiative (BACI) which is a partnership between USQ and the Queensland Department of Agriculture and Fisheries, as well as the Soil CRC.

Dr Ghahramani’s and Ms Zhang’s research was featured on ABC’s Landline program earlier this month.

man and woman standing in field
Dr Afshin Ghahramani and PhD candidate Hanlu Zhang from the University of Southern Queensland's Centre for Sustainable Agricultural Systems.