In this Western Australian extension update, VegNET Regional Development Officer Truyen Vo discusses the results from digital soil moisture monitoring that was conducted in tomato and chilli crops, plus the challenges that vegetable growers can face when setting up their system.

The VegNET – Western Australia Regional Development Officers (RDOs) have worked closely with growers and related stakeholders to create value by setting up a field demonstration of digital soil moisture monitoring on tomato and chilli crops in April 2021. These were a translation of innovation into adoptable field practices.

Technically, the digital soil moisture monitoring requires a few practices that most growers haven’t used before. These included:

  • Soil moisture monitoring probes installed at various depths to monitor the soil moisture profile over time.
  • Digging to expose the root zone to acquire knowledge on the root zone concept and soil characteristics.
  • Downloading an app to their smartphones to read the soil moisture monitoring results.
  • Accessing and understanding the data outputs presented in graph form on digital devices such as smart phone or computer.
  • Including the soil moisture monitoring results in decision making of irrigation program.

As a result of these demonstrations, growers who were involved experienced better crop performance as well as reduced water and fertiliser loss.

There was some concern from the growers involved that the technical skills required to set up the system and to gain confidence to adopt this innovation may be too difficult.

To manage these concerns and barriers, the project to was carefully designed to provide grower participants on the one-on-one assistance needed to bring them up to the competency level required to operate the system themselves.

VegNET – WA RDO Truyen Vo pictured on-farm.

Developing a strong task force

The careful implementation of the stakeholder engagement plan has brought in expert collaborators who committed to contributing resources and knowledge to create value by translating the innovation into easily adopted field practices for growers.

This taskforce includes experts and scientists of Department of Primary Industry and Regional Development, Perth Natural Resources Management, Irrigation Australia, Wildeye Soil Moisture Monitoring and the VegNET WA RDOs.

Since January 2021, the taskforce has been working together to design field trials and demonstrations and setting them up on two growers’ properties in Wanneroo, WA.

Effective grower learning design

The project team has foreseen that some growers may have difficulty setting up an account on smartphone to download the app.

Recorded soil moisture showing as a graph chart on a grower’s smartphone.

They may also find it difficult to access and understand the data outputs presented in a graph form on digital devices such as a smartphone or computer. It can also be complicated for growers to include the soil moisture monitoring results into their irrigation program. These difficulties can be even more significant for Vietnamese-Australian growers because of the added language barrier.

Therefore, the five stages of the extension process have been carefully employed in the project. This will enhance growers’ journey toward decision-making and innovation adoption. This extension process include:

  • Knowledge (Introduce the innovation to growers and help them understand the benefits).
  • Persuasion (Development of growers’ favourable attitude to the introduced innovation).
  • Decision (Growers’ commitment to adopt the innovation).
  • Implementation (Growers putting innovation into use via trial-and-error process).
  • Confirmation (Reinforcement the adoption decision based on positive outcomes from it).

This article has been provided by vegetablesWA, and first appeared in the spring 2021 edition of WA Grower magazine.

Find out more

For more information, please contact VegNET – Western Australia Regional Development Officer Truyen Vo at truyen.vo@vegetableswa.com.au.

VegNET 3.0 is a strategic levy investment under the Hort Innovation Vegetable Fund.

This project has been funded by Hort Innovation using the vegetable research and development levy and contributions from the Australian Government.

Project Number: VG21000

Cover image: VegNET – WA RDO Truyen Vo helps to install the soil moisture monitoring device at a grower’s farm.