Transcript of the re-record of the soil moisture monitoring dashboard webinar

Dale Boyd:

Hi, and welcome to the re-recording of the walkthrough demonstration of the Agriculture Victoria Soil Moisture Monitoring Dashboard. My name's Dale Boyd, I'm an agronomist and I work in the grains seasonal risk team.

Dale Boyd:

For a number of years now I've been working in the area of soil moisture monitoring, and today I'll look to provide you with an update and the background of the story of the soil moisture monitoring network within Agriculture Victoria, the recent survey results, that have certainly established some of the key benefits that we've been looking to implement into this dashboard. And, following the PowerPoint presentation, I would then go into the web and explain the key features of the dashboard.

Dale Boyd:

So, I think it's really exciting to see the interest continue to increase in the area of soil moisture monitoring, and it's certainly quite exciting for me to provide you with this update of the dashboard. It's been a concept that I have had in my mind for quite a number of years now, and are certainly quite appreciative of the support with the dry seasons program, and to be able to receive funding through the drought support package, from my application to do this work late last year. So, it's been a quite busy 2020 to convert what we had existing and bringing in those new works with the dashboard.

Dale Boyd:

It's also been very exciting to have the high profile release too, from Jaclyn Symes, Minister of Agriculture on the 4th of June, which really put the dashboard up at a really nice profile, a good extension with the media, and that was reflected too, with the great visitation to the dashboard and the webpage. So, with over 900 users within the first week, and probably more pleasing was that there was over a thousand sessions. So, we've got users that are going onto the dashboard, but they're repeat as well, so actually seeking more information as they go back to the dashboards, so that's been great.

Dale Boyd:

Just with that, I'd just like to certainly acknowledge that from the survey results of the participants within the soil moisture program, we did find that the highest use of obtaining the data was via the desktop. So, I'd just like to state that the better user experience is certainly going to come from using desktop, and we've certainly got preferred browsers where it operates best, so either in Chrome or Firefox is where you're going to get the best user experience. You can still use your mobile devices of your phones and iPads, probably encourage you to try both, but I know from trying at this stage, the best display of data is certainly going to be coming on your computer screen.

Dale Boyd:

So, just in terms of the web page to obtain and find the dashboard, agriculture.vic.gov.au/soilmoisturemonitoring all in one word.

Dale Boyd:

I've also found it quite interesting as I've done this presentation, is looking back to find out exactly where we've come from. And when I looked at the graphic interface we had in 2010 to display soil moisture, it was pretty basic. So, luckily we've been able to implement changes as we've progressed through the program. And, initially it was a pilot, but getting good results within the farmer focus groups, we were then able to progress into a larger program.

Dale Boyd:

But, initially that was basic. This is the next stage you went to, it has been quite suitable for a number of years, but we did know that there was more to add in terms of the description of what's being grown at the site, which has a big bearing on the soil moisture, also the soil type resists, all we could really display was soil temperature, soil moisture and a bit of the weather data.

Dale Boyd:

Also, found that this username and password was a big restriction, and I find that as well, it's hard enough remembering all the passwords, so the new dashboard has certainly avoided the requirement for that. So, this dashboard has certainly been built upon from the concepts that I had, but also incorporating the suggestions that have come from the audience of the soil moisture program.

Dale Boyd:

So, we've got a great subscription list at the moment, so we're almost up to 800, and when we did the survey, we've almost got a 20% response rate, which is excellent, so 129 participated. We know from the open rate of the email updates, generally coming out monthly in the growing season, they're hovering around the 40% to 50%, rate, so it aligns up quite well with the 80% indicating that they read the newsletter 50% to a 100% of the time.

Dale Boyd:

The newsletters aim to be both informative and educational, and I've found it quite pleasing to come up with this result of 90% indicating that the newsletter has actually helped improve their knowledge of understanding of the deep soil moisture. And also, why we've got the moisture probes is, is just to manage the seasonal variability, and the we're getting the indications that the newsletter is actually assisting with that.

Dale Boyd:

So, in terms of the seasonal variability, it has been quite varied through the duration of the program. So, we've got here the ... And I'll get a laser pointer here. We've got the start of the program in 2011 progressing right to where we are in 2020. This black line here is indicated with the eight sensors that are located at each monitoring point, and they're from 30 centimeters down to a meter. So, this black line really is the trend line of the total soil water conditions.

Dale Boyd:

And, over that time, we've been able to establish what the lower limit is, and below this wilting point, this is all plant available water in this green zone, and that's where you want to be, and above this is going to be saturated or crop upper limit.

Dale Boyd:

But, it certainly does show the importance of monitoring moisture and understanding the conditions, because we've had some good years, some very dry years, some challenging years in '13 and '15, but then '16, '17, just opportunities to capitalise and really improve your yields based on rainfall, which has allowed infiltration down to depth. Currently this site West of Kerang, about 50%.

Dale Boyd:

So, that's a low to medium rainfall zone. When we move to the high rainfall zone, we do find this is the same sequence, 2011, progressing to where we are now, 2020. But a higher rainfall zone, more reliable, more likely to get profile full, and then have it drained during that spring summer period.

Dale Boyd:

I guess it does alert that at times there are challenging years, and this is the response, and the lack of build up the moisture in 2015. And, since 2015, this site at Lake Bolac has actually been converted from an annual crop phases into perennial pasture. So, again we're going to likely see the perennial pasture depleting all the water resources, when that doesn't mean its water requirements, and the buildup in that water, autumn, winter period, and still yet to build it up in the southwest at this stage.

Dale Boyd:

And, just in terms of the relevance, and this is a pleasing result from the survey, that we've got some sites across the state trying to get some spatial coverage as best we can. But, a very pleasing result to see that it's very relevant to somewhat relevant, the data that we can present at those individual location sites, so really good there.

Dale Boyd:

I think this is where we're assisting with decision making, so it's not just interesting information now, it's moved to that next point. Here are the listing of the types of decisions that are predominantly going to be made in that cropping scenarios, so nitrogen, timing, amounts, crop variety, understanding what your starting soil moisture is. Do you go for your normal rotation? Or, if it's dry, do you scale it back and go for your low risk crops? I've also seen hay versus grain in the last few years with pretty tight, and tough, and short springs, but also the fodder market being quite good.

Dale Boyd:

Probably this is the stat that we're probably looking at this year with, certainly to the Central Victoria and moving off to the east in being good conditions, maybe even to the point of where it's going to be wet, too wet. But, this deep soil moisture information can certainly provide you some guidance of what yield potential could be, and then maximizing that production with the right amount of inputs.

Dale Boyd:

In terms of the information and the seasons ranking of when the information is, is rated the highest we've got spring, that's number one, autumn, winter and summer.

Dale Boyd:

And, this is just some newspaper articles that I was able to capture last year, and I found it quite pleasing. This is about in August, so we're progressing right through that winter period. But, just some of these farmers, they're quite switched on, and they've obviously got some form of soil moisture monitoring, or they're running some models, or maybe a combination of both, but within these articles, they're certainly indicating of what the moisture percentage is. And, in this even particular case 40% to 50%, but they're also attributing it to the rainfall that might've actually provided that impact and to put that moisture down to whatever depth it is.

Dale Boyd:

So, I'm finding it quite pleasing that this information is certainly filtering from the agronomists, and moving through the industry, and the farmers are certainly seeking the information, and probably making some investments themselves, which is great.

Dale Boyd:

And, another source of information we do find handy is the Australian Landscapes and Water Balance model, and to the point where with the dashboard, we've actually got some overlay, some spatial overlays that you can click on, and that will highlight the areas. We've got similar to what we've got here with the Bureau of Met, you can either have the root zone moisture listed as a percentage or, you can have the anomaly chart, and the drop pin there is just at Raywood. But, good rains all through the year, particularly in April there, has less that current district in moisture percentages, above average and probably almost well above average I would say by what we can pick up from the moisture data with those points tracking as average at the moment.

Dale Boyd:

But, this is the trend line from that Raywood site, and when we look at some of that soil moisture data that we can record at that point, and this is actually a perennial pasture with lucerne to grow when there is water available. The summed line, all eight sensors from 20 centimeters in this case, to 90, the lucerne using the water in response to the rain, the lucerne using the water once out of its dormancy and active with the moisture uptake. The model starting from January, so the summer storm that we had.

Dale Boyd:

This is my last slide, and then I'll move into the dashboard. But, Speedos were ranked the highest in the component of the information products within that newsletter, so they're certainly the main focus with the dashboard. There's no log in details, there's more information about the soil, and actually the crops or the pastures that have been growing, and as I indicated, that has a large bearing on the site and the data.

Dale Boyd:

We've got some branding and some sponsorship possibilities for the future and clearly listing, which is the Ag Vic sites. I'll go through the search function, and within the pop ups, there's certainly some seasonal forecast outlooks as well.

Dale Boyd:

Pretty much it's just got to look to have a more modern appearance, knowing that previous graphic interface had been as it was for, since 2012. And, I guess the pleasing thing is that these speedos are going to be automatically generated, in the past I had to go into the data set, grab the numbers, put it into Excel, produce a graph, pretty time consuming. And also, as soon as it rained, it becomes irrelevant, so to get to these day by day step ups is great.

Dale Boyd:

So that's the presentation, I'll now move into the web page, and agriculture.vic.gov.au and soil moisture monitoring will get you into this page here, by clicking on this link, it'll then take you onto the dashboard.

Dale Boyd:

There is a bit of a time delay because we're grabbing data from the server, as raw data, and then bring it down onto this dashboard here.

Dale Boyd:

The first part of the dashboard is a map of Victoria. All the icons indicating where the sites are and their names. We've got some search functions here, so at the moment, we've got all sites we can, if your only interest is just to look at the cropping site, you can isolate those. If you want to look at grazing sites, you can look at those. This is just the street view to get perspective of town locations. When we click on these spatial models of soil moisture, you'll lose those references of the towns, but as from that AWRA model, soil moisture model, it'll indicate what the moisture percentages are and then that anomaly.

Dale Boyd:

And, so with that anomaly we can either target these wetter areas to see what they're doing in terms of soil moisture, or we can start to look at other alternative sites. But, in this instance, we can click on the site at Brim in the Wimmera, the model has got a below average, here's the pop up here.

Dale Boyd:

So, with the pop up, we get the rainfall today, the rainfall yesterday, the soil temperature at the shallower sensor, 30 centimeters, and just what the total moisture is in terms of a percentage. So, we've got saturation dry, and it's sitting probably about 40% there with that black needle, that's the current one. A year ago the Wimmera obviously had a very wet December 2018, so that's where these started off with a very wet profile, and pretty much was the main contributing factor to the excellent yields they received last year.

Dale Boyd:

So, the pop up is good, you can obviously get those from all the sites, but click more details to get the information.

Dale Boyd:

The site is quite visual, it gives you photos of the site of the monitoring set up. There is some information that about the rainfall, soil type, crop growing last year. But, in terms of the Speedo, what's driving those Speedo numbers, we've got the break down at each individual sensor, and what the percentage is of moisture at each of those sensor depths.

Dale Boyd:

Such a big crop that was grown last year and high yielding is the summed line. So, at crop maturity last year, it was less than 10%. We've seen a gradual buildup of soil water into that summer, autumn period. But, when I look at where the moisture is, it's clearly quite wet from zero to 30, 30 is our first sensor, so it's still at saturation, building up at water at 85% at 40, a bit more, there's still water at 50, but then this is where it really starts to drop off. So, this is where the capacity is to still bring on more water if there's more rain in winter.

Dale Boyd:

So, I think these two are quite a simple and quite a visual way of displaying things. We've got individual sensor traces, similar to what we've always had, and just the trend lines you can pick up at 50 centimeters, it's gone up on the end of April, and probably a little bit at 60, but certainly no moisture changes below that.

Dale Boyd:

We've got the bar graphs of rain for the chart, individual daily totals, we can map things as well on those months, monthly totals, and look at the long term average.

Dale Boyd:

I think what was interesting looking at this site here at Brim, once you move into those winter periods, 39 ml, 39, 40 ml, it's pretty consistent with its monthly averages and we've got soil temperature as well plotted.

Dale Boyd:

All these data sets are restricted to two years, which is a fair bit of data to bring from the server and to be displayed. And, we've got the tools to certainly zoom in, and track what those soil temperatures changes are like.

Dale Boyd:

We've got some tools here, so on that you get all the sensor values. You can click on this, because really with soil temperature, you're looking to look at the shallower sensor we've got. So, it shows we've dropped from 10 degrees, we've obviously had a fair run of frosts in early June, dropped down to seven degrees over a space of time, and now frosts not occurring, some milder nights and soil temperature has gone up slightly.

Dale Boyd:

Then, we can just go back to the main page. I guess there's other ways of finding sites, you can use these tabs up the top. If you want to look at grain sites, meat and wool, this is the drop down menus you can use. We can examine some pasture meat and wool sites. For example here at Bairnsdale, clicking on the site, getting some pictures of those sites.

Dale Boyd:

There is just a bit of a time delay, it is indicating that the data is being downloaded it will just take a few minutes to map it onto the dashboard. This is a different rainfall zone to what we examined from the Wimmera to down at Gippsland, and a bigger rain event in January, at the end of January has certainly boosted up those moisture percentages for Bairnsdale. We've got a paired site at Bairnsdale, annual pasture versus perennial pasture. The annual pasture actually had the paddock sprayed out for summer weeds, and then it improved annuals of grasses and clovers were sown. Whereas, when you compare the perennial site, the perennial pasture consumed all the water that actually fell in that summer period. We've certainly got some good profiles still occurring over at Bairnsdale, but we are seeing some movement shallower down.

Dale Boyd:

The other thing we've looked to incorporate is the three month rainfall outlook, so this is the source of information that's put in the fast break information products, so Dale Gray doing the assessment of the 12 climate models and coming up with the summary. So, this is a summary for Victoria, so we're certainly recommending that if you want your individual district details, there is a chance they could be different. Click here to go through to the Fast Break page, Victoria will be within that link there, so would certainly encourage you to use both in combination.

Dale Boyd:

But, why I wanted to have that listing there, because I think it's important to show the moisture conditions that we can measure at that time, and it's always good to have that projection moving forward, because we're always trying to use our own methodology of what that could be.

Dale Boyd:

The other way we can find sites is to do a search function, so we can click on sites, and for this we could head to another part of the state, so Youanmite in the north east, we'll activate that. Sorry, double click on that, and that will activate bringing in the details page.

Dale Boyd:

Wheat last year, and canola this year. It's certainly been wet the north east part of the state this season with parts of the profile that are 100% full. The Speedo needle is sitting at 100%, this time a year ago, 75%.

Dale Boyd:

This is the depletion of the moisture profile with that good yielding wheat crop last year. 2018, using soil moisture data as one of the information sources, this is where the crop was actually cut for hay, so salvaged for hay, rather than try and take it into that grain fill, sort of flowering period at the end of September, then into grain fill with the very poor outlook that was in 2018, so these are all good information.

Dale Boyd:

We've got particle size assessment and we're certainly looking to list that and at each 10 centimeter break down, what the clay, sand, silt fraction was. And with that, we can then get an estimation of the field capacity, the plant wilting point, and then in theory what the plant available water, in terms of millimeters per that measured zone is, so a lot of information there.

Dale Boyd:

The only other thing in terms of the break, that was the one to three month seasonal outlook, we've also got, and working on that is a long term outlook a four to six month outlook. So, it's pretty important to find out what the reference point is, in terms of when was the last update, and what are the months for reference. The descriptor of interpreting these, but again, individual forecasts can vary, go to the fast break publications to get that more information.

Dale Boyd:

Just in terms of other things, we've got meet the experts, so within Agriculture Victoria support within the industry. So we've got staff from dairy, the meat and wool, and we've got the descriptor of what the area expertise is, what industry and what the location is.

Dale Boyd:

So, if you look to direct some questions, you might be able to go through this meet the experts section and identify the correct person to direct questions to. We've also got the capacity to bring in and answer questions. Questions are generally quite consistent, people are thinking about the same line of questioning. This one here is about, what is the probe length that's being used, or what do I recommend for dry land cropping? We've used 80 centimeter probes, but certainly if I had my time again and if you've got a rainfall zone and a soil type that can put moisture down below a meter, probably more like a meter 20 probe is going to be better.

Dale Boyd:

If we just head back to home, because we've certainly got the ability to subscribe to the newsletters that are being developed from this soil data, and we've got a meat and wool article and milking the weather. We have the ability to subscribe there, or by clicking on these icons, you can subscribe. The latest newsletters are also listed here, and we've got a few case studies as well.

Dale Boyd:

So, some of the farmers at the cropping sites have been involved in a GRDC publication, so you can click on those, and they will give their insights into how they've have used the data in the past to assist with their management decisions. And, we've also got a quick little six minute navigation tutorial as well, going through similar things like I've discussed today. And areas to be a subscriber to either of those newsletters.

Dale Boyd:

So, in terms of the presentation that's about it. In terms of the Speedo, I'll probably just be able to wrap it up now. But you've just got to have the right expectations with the moisture probe data and the dashboard. The data will certainly tell you what the conditions are, but it doesn't actually make the decisions for you, you've got to bring in all the other additional information, but it certainly can provide you with a great understanding of how the season's progressing.

Dale Boyd:

I think this dashboard also sets a template as well for what you should expect if you did look to do a private investment and implement a monitoring program on your own farm. And, also in terms of acknowledging people, certainly the funding through the drought and dry seasons program, and that drought support package, it's been so much appreciated to get the money to convert this. I'm quite confident it's going to serve a lot of good purposes, and not just in dry years, but also all years, average, wet, it's still going to inform you of what's happening underneath that soil surface.

Dale Boyd:

And, also just in terms of the seasonal risk team, so Graeme, Dale, Jemma, Ethan and Alice, thank you very much for your assistance. But, particularly Jemma Pearl for really helping me along the way with this dashboard.

Dale Boyd:

Now, when the webinar was run, there was some questions that come up, so I can actually answer those now. One question was, what is the soil moisture anomaly actually showing? So, from the dashboard, really it's just showing you in terms of the model for soil moisture and comparing it to the soil conditions. We've got white as the average, and moving to soil moisture conditions as per the model that are above average. Obviously, in an orange or a red shade, obviously the more intense, it's going to be dryer than average.

Dale Boyd:

How frequently is the data uploaded from each site? So, the data from each site, we'll get a recording on the hour, we'll look to put it up onto the internet on that hour. But, in terms of what's being displayed on the dashboard, it's just the most recent information. And, you'd probably have to refresh if you're on it for a couple of hours, or you have a break, and then you still haven't refreshed the webpage, it would still be whatever the data was that you initially logged on on.

Dale Boyd:

A question about, is pH levels measured at the site? The answer is no. With the capacitors probes, we're measuring a few things. It can be EC, I've got that switched off at the moment, but soil temperature and soil moisture are the data that we're looking to display.

Dale Boyd:

How do I represent a malfunction on the probe? So, it's rare, but occasionally we do get errors, so probably a malfunction would come up as a negative 950. There's probably a few sites there that were having trouble with temperature data, but that would be an indication.

Dale Boyd:

Otherwise, a malfunction, well probably what can happen is that we can get preferential flow. So, sometimes there's a bit of an artificial wet, and that's probably the only slight error that we might get with the data. Otherwise, I often do find the capacitor's sensors quite repeatable within their terms of when it's wet, those numbers are coming back to those sort of levels. And, when it's dry, it's the same thing.

Dale Boyd:

So, in terms of malfunction, it will probably just come up as a negative 950, so obviously with soil temperature, that's not going to be at that value, so it'll be pretty obvious.

Dale Boyd:

With that, I think I'll wrap it up. Hopefully, you've got something out of it, hopefully, you've got a lot out of it. I guess, any further questions we've got the contact us, or ask the expert, so send us those questions or queries and drop us a line. Otherwise, all the best for 2020 and stay tuned for the next soil moisture update in a couple of months. Thank you.

Page last updated: 03 Aug 2021