Cover crops for soil health and productivity (AL21004)
What's it all about?
This investment explores cover cropping as a management practice in Australian almond orchards by assessing its efficacy and practicality in specific almond-growing regions for more effective and sustainable orchard management.
The project team are establishing field trials in two almond-growing regions, with up to six under-tree management options that seek to increase soil cover, including a business-as-usual herbicide bare-earth control.
The research will seek to understand how cover crops influence every aspect of the production system and which crops are best to mitigate soil damage, minimise water use and avoid the need for herbicide addition.
The research will deliver insights into the effects of cover crop species on:
- Soil (physiochemistry, microbial diversity, water holding capacity, compaction, water infiltration, surface temperature)
- Productivity (annual yield (fruit weight, kg/ha), per cent crack out (kernel weight: shell weight: fruit weight))
- Vigour (butt circumference, canopy size)
- Fruit quality (hull rot, shell staining, kernel damage)
- Harvest efficiency (number of nuts remaining in trees after shaking)
- Tree nutrient uptake (leaf tissue samples)
- Orchard climate (temperature, humidity).
The project team will share their results and findings with growers through workshops, fact sheets, and webinars. An economic assessment detailing the impact of changing management practices will give growers the knowledge they need to decide on their own approach to cover cropping.
Over the past four months, progress has been made towards the identification of the trial sites in both Riverland (SA) and Riverina (NSW) regions. Two highly suitable candidate locations were identified in Loxton, SA. The site chosen is situated at the Almond Centre of Excellence (ACE) research site, and provides growers with additional outreach activities and field days. This site is managed by a team well versed in the needs of research. The ACE trial site possesses long rows with a mixture of varieties, including nonpareil. Its limitation is the topographical variation within the site that the project team will overcome via the use of mixed model statistical methods.
Conversations are ongoing in the Riverina where the second trial site will be established. Members of the Almond board of Australia (ABA) are running workshops in the Riverina in early February.
This project is a strategic levy investment in the Hort Innovation Almond Fund