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Irrigating perennial pasture with saline water: Effects on soil chemistry, pasture production and composition



Irrigating perennial pasture with saline water: Effects on soil chemistry, pasture production and composition



Australian Journal of Experimental Agriculture 42(3): 265-272



In response to a local survey that revealed that many farmers in the Goulburn Valley region of Victoria did not adhere to recommendations for safely applying saline irrigation water to perennial pasture, an experiment was conducted at Tatura. Six irrigation water quality treatments, which differed in the timing of the application of saline water, were applied to perennial pasture plots over 4 irrigation seasons. Measurements made included soil EC1:5, soil SAR1:5, soil ESP, pasture dry matter production and composition, dry matter digestibility, tissue ion concentrations and mineral ash content. After 4 seasons, in which the winter rainfall for each season was significantly lower than the long-term average, soil sodicity and salinity levels appeared to reach steady values. Plots irrigated with non-saline water (0.1 dS/m, treatment 1) performed the best in terms of lower soil salinity and sodicity levels and higher dry matter production and pasture quality levels. However, for most of these measurements and for most seasons, there were no significant differences between the control plots and those irrigated with water at 1.2 dS/m (treatment 2). Soil EC1:5 and SAR1:5 levels were highest, and dry matter production and dry matter digestibility levels the lowest (particularly for the clover component), in plots irrigated with water at 2.4 dS/m throughout the season (treatment 6). There were no significant differences in soil characteristics or biomass production between the remaining 3 treatments (treatments 3, 4 and 5) or between treatment 2. These treatments had the same amount of salt applied throughout the season but differed in the pattern of salt application - whether it occurred at the beginning or end of the season, or was alternated with fresh water throughout the season. This study confirmed that in the long term, there is a reduction in the yield of perennial pastures when saline irrigation water at levels greater than 0.8-1.2 dS/m is used on the red-brown earths of the Shepparton Irrigation Region. However, the soil and pasture were more sensitive to the total amount of salt applied rather than to the pattern of salt application throughout the season. It was concluded that farmers should monitor the salinity levels of their irrigation water to avoid a build up of Na+ and Cl- in the soil profile and consequent long-term reductions in herbage production and quality.

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