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Conservation Cropping

Photo:  Land Use Cropping David Smith
Cropping near Birchip

(Photo: David Smith)

Soil structure decline, soil erosion, loss of soil nutrients and soil salinity are major land degradation issues on cropland in Victoria. These conditions can be accelerated by certain cropping practices adopted by farmers. Intensive cultivation of soil before sowing, long periods of fallow between crops and total removal or burning of stubble can be major contributors to these forms of degradation. The use of tillage methods, stubble management practices and fallowing have been selected as indicators of the use of sustainable cropping practices.

Trends in cropping practices

1980-1990 - A clear increase in use of minimum tillage and lesser increase in use of direct drilling. A reduction in stubble burning and a move towards stubble retaining or incorporation.

1990-1993 - Increased use of direct drilling (20% of farmers) and a reduction in use of fallow.

1993-1997 - Move back from direct drilling towards minimum tillage and an increase in use of fallow (22% of farmers). A move away from cultivation fallow towards more use of chemical fallow. Move back to stubble burning (28% of stubble).

Other findings

  • Conventional tillage is the dominant form of soil preparation for cropping (50% of crop area in 1996/97).
  • The use of conventional tillage is greatest in the Mallee, where this technique is part of the farming culture. Cultivation is the only effective control of the Rhizoctonia fungus, which is more prone to occur in the sandy soils of the Mallee. The use of conventional tillage is also high in regions with low cropping intensity such as the southern part of Victoria.
  • The use of direct drilling is greatest in the Wimmera, North Central, Goulburn Broken and Glenelg-Hopkins regions. Rainfall and soil type are reflected in the decision to use direct drilling within these regions.
  • Fallow is concentrated in the north west of the state: the Mallee and northern Wimmera regions. This is consistent with the higher use of cultivation and stubble incorporation reported in these areas.
  • Stubble retention is highest in the Mallee region. This is due to the high risk of wind erosion in poor seasons and the difficulties of eliminating cultivation from the cropping system. The lower rainfall and subsequent lower burden of stubble in Mallee make stubble management comparatively easier than in other regions.
  • Stubble burning is most common in the southern part of the state, in Glenelg-Hopkins and Corangamite regions. This reflects the higher stubble burden due to high rainfall in these regions and the lower commitment to investment in conservation cropping technologies.
  • Stubble burning is widely used in cropping districts in the southern Wimmera, the southern cropping zone of the North Central region and in the North East and Goulburn Broken regions. The higher rainfall and subsequent higher stubble burden makes stubble retention more difficult to manage.

Photo:  Land Use Birchip David Smith
Land Use near Birchip (Photo: David Smith)

Adoption rates for these sustainable cropping practices are documented for major cropping regions in Victoria, namely:

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North Central

(PDF 1.3MB)
North East

(PDF 1.0MB)

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