The influence of agronomic advice upon soil water thresholds used for planting decisions in Southern Queensland's grains region
At least two decades of sustained research, development and extension (RD&E) effort was undertaken in Southern Queensland's broad acre cropping zone regarding the role of stored soil water in crop performance. Grain industry concern that the resulting insights into stored soil water were not being integrated into the planting decisions of grain producers was raised when a series of dry years culminated in widespread wheat crop failure across Southern Queensland's Darling Downs in the winter of 2007. This paper reports on a resulting qualitative investigation into the use of stored soil water research in planting decisions in this cropping region of Australia. A dual sample of grain producer and agronomic RD&E advisors were interviewed in-depth in order to establish what planting strategies were used by grain producers, explore the relationship between these strategies and agronomic advice, as well as the relationship between grain grower's planting decisions and their short and long term economic objectives. We found that all of the interviewees understood the role of stored soil water in crop performance. However, this understanding supported three distinct planting decision strategies: plant only when a stored soil water threshold has been reached; take the opportunity to plant at least some crop each season; and plant at the appropriate time to maximise crop yield and consider stored soil water a bonus. These planting strategies were perceived by the interviewees to be aligned to agronomic advice differentiated by its commercial terms. Private agronomists, hired via an annual retainer, tended to be associated with the first planting strategy while retail agronomists, hired through the purchase of chemicals, were perceived as associated with the second strategy. These results indicate that an industry wide comparison of planting strategies in terms of yield outcomes and economic performance over multiple years is warranted in order to facilitate industry wide discussion of the trade-offs between long term enterprise profitability and short term economic pressures.
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