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USQ research soaks up cover cropping options

cover cropping

Researchers from the University of Southern Queensland (USQ) are studying the effect of cover cropping on soil moisture through computer modelling and system analysis, to better support agricultural soils and the decisions farmers must make each season. 

USQ PhD candidate Hanlu Zhang is conducting the research, supervised by Dr Afshin Ghahramani from USQ’s Centre for Sustainable Agricultural Systems. 

Zhang is conducting field observations at an on-farm trial site near Goondiwindi, where soils have suffered from the long-term effects of drought. 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,” Zhang 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.” 

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

“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,” he said. 

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

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

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