Crop and Pasture Science Crop and Pasture Science Society
Plant sciences, sustainable farming systems and food quality

Re-inventing model-based decision support with Australian dryland farmers. 2. Pragmatic provision of soil information for paddock-specific simulation and farmer decision making

N. P. Dalgliesh A C , M. A. Foale B and R. L. McCown A
+ Author Affiliations
- Author Affiliations

A Agricultural Production Systems Research Unit (APSRU), CSIRO Sustainable Ecosystems, 203 Tor Street (PO BOX 102), Toowoomba, Qld 4350, Australia.

B Agricultural Production Systems Research Unit (APSRU), CSIRO Sustainable Ecosystems, 306 Carmody Road, St Lucia, Qld 4067, Australia.

C Corresponding author. Email:

Crop and Pasture Science 60(11) 1031-1043
Submitted: 19 December 2008  Accepted: 15 July 2009   Published: 19 October 2009


Economic and climatic pressures are forcing many Australian dryland farmers to reassess their management of soil resources and climatic risk. FARMSCAPE intervention has offered enhanced soil characterisation and monitoring as a contribution to soil water and nitrogen inventory, and simulation as a contribution to interpretation of locally measured environmental data in stochastic production terms. This paper relates the journey taken by the farmers, their consultants, and the researchers as they worked together to assess the value to farming and consulting practice of these scientific tools and techniques.

Ten years after FARMSCAPE interactions commenced, a sample of participant farmers and consultants was interviewed to evaluate effects on thinking and practice. Understandings and concepts gained in FARMSCAPE continued to guide thinking and action. Early simulations in response to ‘what if...?’ enquiries of strategic importance, such as crop sequencing and rotation choice, were still referred to as learnings of continuing value. However, techniques and practices varied markedly between individuals and organisations. Monitoring of soil resources varied from continued use of the relatively complex tools and techniques provided by the researchers through to the use of much-simplified techniques that provided adequate information to satisfy the conceptual models. Methods for interpreting soil water ranged from use of the simulator, APSIM, to simple water-use efficiency ‘rules of thumb’.

Additional keywords: soil characterisation, monitoring, participation, evaluation.


Thanks are due to the farmers and consultants of the northern cropping region for their willingness to engage with researchers over an extended period in the FARMSCAPE journey. Their time, always freely given, and their input to the process and to the learning are greatly appreciated. Thanks also to those who were asked to participate in the evaluation process, which consisted mostly of lengthy interviews conducted by the authors. The interviewees’ permission to publish verbatim some of their responses is also appreciated.


Carberry PS, Hochman Z, Hunt JR, Dalgliesh NP, McCown RL, Whish JPM, Robertson MJ, Foale MA, Poulton PL, van Rees H (2009) Re-inventing model-based decision support with Australian dryland farmers. 3. Relevance of APSIM to commercial crops. Crop & Pasture Science 60, 1044–1056.

Carberry PS, Hochman Z, McCown RL, Dalgliesh N, Foale MA, Poulton PL, Hargreaves JNG, Hargreaves DMG, Cawthray S, Hillcoat N, Robertson MJ (2002) The FARMSCAPE approach to decision support: farmers’, advisers’, researchers’ monitoring, simulation, communication and performance evaluation. Agricultural Systems 74, 141–177.
CrossRef |

Cook SE, Bramley RGV (1998) Precision agriculture-opportunities, benefits and pitfalls of site-specific crop management in Australia. Australian Journal of Experimental Agriculture 38, 753–763.
CrossRef |

Corwin DL, Lesch SM (2003) Application of soil electrical conductivity to precision agriculture – theory, principles, and guidelines. American Society of Agronomy Journal 95, 455–471.

Cox PG , Garside AL , McCown RL (1993) Participatory design of an agronomic research programme in central Queensland. In ‘Proceedings of the 7th Australian Agronomy Conference’. (Eds GK McDonald, WD Bellotti) pp. 325–327. (Australian Society of Agronomy: Adelaide, S. Aust.)

Dalgliesh NP (1999) Module 1-Soil Monitoring and Data Management: principles, techniques and quality assurance. In ‘FARMSCAPE Training and Accreditation Manual, Volume 1, Soil and Weather Monitoring’. (Ed. Z Hochman) (CSIRO, Australia, ISBN 0-6430-6660-8)

Dalgliesh NP , Foale MA (1998) ‘Soil matters—Monitoring soil water and nutrients in dryland farming systems.’ (CSIRO/Agricultural Production Systems Research Unit: Technical Manual, ISBN 0-6430-6375-7)

Dalgliesh NP , Wockner G , Peake A (2006) Delivering soil water information to growers and consultants. In ‘Proceedings of the 13th Australian Agronomy Conference’. Perth, W. Aust. (Australian Society of Agronomy)

Dimes JP , Freebairn DM , Glanville SF (1996) HowWet? A tool for predicting fallow water storage. In ‘Proceedings of 8th Australian Agronomy Conference’. (Ed. M Asghar) pp. 207–210. (Australian Society of Agronomy)

Douthwaite B, Kuby T, van de Fliert E, Schulz S (2003) Impact pathway evaluation: an approach for achieving and attributing impact in complex systems. Agricultural Systems 78, 243–265.
CrossRef |

Fawcett RG (1969) Soil moisture probe for the wheat belt of northern New South Wales and southern Queensland. North West Wheat Research Institute, Report No. NA 69/2, Narrabri, NSW.

Foale MA , Cox P , Dimes J , Carberry PS , Dalgliesh NP , McCown RL , Marshall J , Milne G , Sotiriades B , Haeusler P , Skerman R , Town R , Town R , Walters A (1993) Collaborative on-farm research for decision support: activities of a pilot group on the Darling Downs. In ‘Proceedings of the Australian-Pacific Extension Conference. pp. 316–318. (Queensland Department of Primary Industries and Fisheries: Brisbane, Qld)

Foale MA, Probert ME, Carberry PS, Lack D, Yeates S, Brimblecombe D, Shaw R, Crocker M (2004) Participatory research in dryland cropping systems – monitoring and simulation of soil water and nitrogen in farmers’ paddocks in Central Queensland. Australian Journal of Experimental Agriculture 44, 321–331.
CrossRef |

Hayman PT (2004) Decision support systems in Australian dryland farming: A promising past, a disappointing present and uncertain future. In ‘Proceedings of 4th International Crop Science Congress’. (Eds T Fischer, et al.) (The Regional Institute: Gosford, NSW)

Hochman Z, Carberry PS, McCown RL, Dalgliesh NP, Foale MA, Brennan LE (2002) APSIM in the Marketplace: a tale of kitchen tables, boardrooms and courtrooms. Acta Horticulturae 566, 21–33.

Hochman Z , Hunt J , Carberry PS , Gartmann A , McCown RL , van Rees H , Dalgliesh NP , Long W , Holzworth DP (2007) Scaling up FARMSCAPE: From participatory action research to a national network for delivering simulation to support farm management. In ‘Farming Systems Design 2007’. pp. 85–86. (La Goliardica Pavese s.r.l.: Pavia, Italy)

Hochman Z, van Rees H, Carberry PS, Hunt JR, McCown RL, Gartmann A, Holzworth D, van Rees S, Dalgliesh NP, Long W, Peake AS, Poulton PL, McClelland T (2009) Re-inventing model-based decision support with Australian dryland farmers. 4. Yield Prophet® helps farmers monitor and manage crops in a variable climate. Crop & Pasture Science 60, 1057–1070.

Hunt J , van Rees H , Hochman Z , Carberry PS , Holzworth D , Dalgliesh NP , Brennan L , Poulton PL , van Rees S , Huth NI , Peake A (2006) Yield Prophet®: An online crop simulation service. In ‘Proceedings of the 13th Australian Agronomy Conference’. (Eds NC Turner, T Botwright Acuna) (Australian Society of Agronomy)

Huth NI, Poulton PL (2007) An electromagnetic induction method for monitoring variation in soil moisture in agroforestry systems. Australian Journal of Soil Research 45, 63–72.
CrossRef |

Isbell RF (1996) ‘The Australian soil classification.’ (CSIRO Publishing: Collingwood, Vic.)

Johnston RM, Barry SJ, Bleys E, Bui EN, Moran CJ, Simon DAP, Carlile P, McKenzie NJ, Henderson BL, Chapman G, Imhoff M, Maschmedt D, Howe D, Grose C, Schoknecht N, Powell B, Grundy M (2003) ASRIS: The database. Australian Journal of Soil Research 41, 1021–1036.
CrossRef |

Keating BA, Carberry PS, Hammer GL, Probert ME, Robertson MJ, Holzworth D, Huth NI, Hargreaves JNG, Meinke H, Hochman Z, McLean G, Verburg K, Snow V, Dimes JP, Silburn M, Wang E, Brown S, Bristow KL, Asseng S, Chapman S, McCown RL, Freebairn DM, Smith CJ (2003) An overview of APSIM, a model designed for farming systems simulation. European Journal of Agronomy 18, 267–288.
CrossRef |

McCown RL, Carberry PS, Hochman Z, Dalgliesh NP, Foale MA (2009) Re-inventing model-based decision support with Australian dryland farmers. 1. Changing intervention concepts during 17 years of action research. Crop & Pasture Science 60, 1017–1030.

McKenzie NJ , Jacquier DW , Maschmedt DJ , Griffin EA , Brough DM (2005) The Australian Soil Resource Information System—technical specifications Version 1.5. National Committee on Soil and Terrain Information, Australian Collaborative Land Evaluation Program, Canberra, ACT. Avialable at:

Ritchie JT (1981) Soil water availability. Plant and Soil 58, 327–338.
CrossRef |

Ross PJ (1990) SWIM – a simulation model for soil water infiltration and movement. CSIRO Australia, Division of Soils Reference Manual, Adelaide.

Saxton KE, Rawls WJ, Romberger JS, Papendick RI (1986) Estimating generalized soil-water characteristics from texture. Soil Science Society of America Journal 50, 1031–1036.

Verburg K (1996) ‘Methodology in soil water and solute balance modelling: an evaluation of the APSIM-SoilWat and SWIMv2 models.’ (CSIRO Division of Soils, Divisional Report, Vol. 131, Adelaide, ISBN 0-6430-5868-0)

Rent Article (via Deepdyve) Supplementary MaterialSupplementary Material (285 KB) Export Citation Cited By (22)