4 - Farmlet planning
Most research comparing different farming systems has been conducted on relatively uniform plots at small scales made necessary by the desire for sufficient replication of the systems and cost limitations. This paper describes an alternative approach to plan the allocation of land to three unreplicated whole-farm management systems such that each farmlet had equivalent starting conditions and yet was at a scale credible to both livestock producers and researchers. The paddocks of each farmlet were distributed across the landscape in a ‘patchwork quilt’ pattern after six iterations of a mapping exercise using a Geographic Information System. Allocation of paddocks took into account those variables of the landscape and natural resource capacity that were not able to be altered. An important benefit of the procedure was that it ensured that the farmlets were co-located with contiguous paddock boundaries so that all farmlets experienced the same climatic as well as biophysical conditions. An electromagnetic survey was conducted of the entire property and used in conjunction with a detailed soils map in order to classify areas into soil conductivity groupings. Equivalent areas of each soil type were allocated across the three farmlets. Similarly, land was distributed according to its topography so that no farmlet would be compromised by being allocated more low lying, flood-prone land than any other farmlet. The third factor used to allocate land to each farmlet was the prior fertiliser history of the original paddocks. This process ensured that each farmlet was objectively allocated equivalent areas of soil type, topography and fertiliser history thus avoiding initial bias among the farmlets. After the plan for all paddocks of each farmlet was finalised, new paddock boundaries were drawn and where necessary, fencing was removed, modified and added, along with re-arranged watering points. The farmlet treatments commenced in July 2000 when the first pasture establishment and differential fertiliser applications were carried out. Evidence from the electromagnetic survey and the Landsat imagery confirmed that the distribution of hydrologic soil conductivity and vegetation greenness were similar between all farmlets just before the commencement of the experiment.
Planning for whole-farm systems research at a credible scale: subdividing land into farmlets with equivalent initial conditions
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