3 years ago

Comparative agriculture methods capture distinct production practices across a broadacre Australian landscape

Comparative agriculture methods capture distinct production practices across a broadacre Australian landscape
In farming systems research the link between farm resources, management and performances is often described, but rarely confirmed or quantified. Problems arise in formalising such linkages because substantial spatial and longitudinal whole-farm data are difficult to acquire. This study used the integrative discipline of comparative agriculture to collect such information and address a wide range of related farming system questions. The mixed method procedure included a landscape analysis, a historical investigation, and the collection of current farm information from 36 farms, representing half the farming businesses of a 4 000km2 area in a region of the Western Australian wheatbelt (≈300mm/year) with highly variable soils. Land types influenced management, including cropping specialisation, and explained some of the regional variability in grain yield and enterprise mix. Rotations varied by soil type and farm type. On average their duration was 3–4 years, typically starting with a 2–3 years of wheat, resulting in overall composition of 64% cereals, 20% break crops and 16% pastures/fallows. Break crops were grown more on light sandy soils than on heavier fine-textured soils. Lights soils were managed similarly by all farmers but distinctions occurred on heavier soils between mixed crop-livestock farmers and cropping specialists. This divergence in farming production was explained by farm soil composition: whilst cropping appears more profitable in the region, mixed farmers retained animals and pastures as a strategy to cope with having greater proportions of land less suited to crop production. Typical farm grain yields were indeed found to vary in relation to farm soil composition. The location of the original family farm in the landscape is likely to explain these differences in farm land resources, and subsequently current farm performance, production strategies and trajectories. This study highlighted the potential of a method that deserves wider application: comparative agriculture helped identify and establish complex relationships within the farming system, some of which challenge common assumptions. Further applications to define typical farms, monitor practices, and contribute meaningful divisions of agricultural landscapes are also discussed.

Publisher URL: www.sciencedirect.com/science

DOI: S0167880916304716

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