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New nitrogen fertiliser management tool

CSIRO : 11 September, 2003  (New Product)
CSIRO Plant Industry has released a computer program designed to assist wheat growers in south-eastern Australia to more effectively manage their use of expensive nitrogen fertilisers.
According to CSIRO Plant Industry's John Angus, the maNage Wheat program takes much of the guesswork out of what can be a financially risky decision-making process.

'Many wheat growers now spend between $50,000 and $100,000 a year on nitrogen fertiliser,' Dr Angus says.

'But, while the returns from such sizeable investments can be high in a good season, in the event of, for example, a 'bobtail' Spring when the rain stops early, the bottom-line can be extremely negative.'

Weather conditions were just one of many factors farmers needed to consider when deciding how much to invest in nitrogen fertiliser.

'Farmers must also consider soil factors including nitrogen status, water-holding capacity, pH and the prevalence of root diseases,' Dr Angus says.

'When you take into account additional crop factors like sowing-date, maturity-type and the level of nitrogen already held in the crop, making a correct decision about how much fertiliser you need can be a daunting prospect.'

Developed specifically for dryland wheat growers in Victoria and southern NSW, the maNage Wheat program includes a simulation model that enables farmers to estimate the effect of different amounts of nitrogen fertiliser on yield and protein levels under a range of weather and soil conditions.

The program also takes into account the characteristics of the variety of wheat being grown, when it was sown, paddock history and plant nitrogen status.

'It can be used to estimate the effects of nitrogen applied before sowing in relation to long-term weather data or to make tactical decisions about top-dressing in response to crop measurements and the level of rainfall during the current year, fertiliser and grain prices and protein premiums,' Dr Angus says.

'There is a database to store records of crop, soil, paddock, nitrogen-cost, grain-price and protein premiums as well as a database of regional weather records for 223 locations in NSW and Victoria.'

He says maNage Wheat is not designed to supplant the knowledge and intuition developed over many years by experienced wheat growers or their consultants.

'It's a very useful tool in terms of assisting farmers and their advisors to make informed decisions but it does not, for example, account for hazards like diseases, frosts or floods.

'Its role is simply to present the decision-maker with an easily accessible 'second opinion',' Dr Angus says.

Junee wheat grower, Bernard Hart, says using the maNage Wheat program has enhanced his ability to make good tactical decisions about nitrogen management and to run a checklist on the many variables affecting crop response.

'It's really helped me to understand the importance of ensuring you have sufficient nitrogen in the soil at sowing time, to maximise plant establishment rates, but that using excessive amounts is highly inefficient and, ultimately, costly,' Mr Hart says.

Developed by the CSIRO with assistance from the Grain Research Development Corporation, the software is supplied on a CD and requires a PC running Windows (R) 95 or later.
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