The Department of Water and Environmental Regulation’s (DWER) uPtake program has been recognised for its contribution to Research and Development Excellence at the Australian Water Association Awards held recently.
uPtake was acknowledged for its innovative science to improve water quality in South West WA waterways and estuaries. The program is a partnership between DWER, the Department of Primary Industry and Regional Development, industry, universities, farmers, and catchment groups and aims to reduce phosphorus loss off grazing properties by improving confidence in the science supporting fertiliser application recommendations.
Program Coordinator Rob McFerran received the award on behalf of DWER and said over the last three years, uPtake has established and monitored 40 phosphorus trials on farms across the southwest.
“Our trials aim to validate national critical values for phosphorus and trial innovative technology to assess pasture growth and to assess soil nutrient status,” Mr McFerran said.
“We have seen improved confidence in the data from the fertiliser industry and farmers, where traditionally buffer or excess phosphorus has been applied above the critical values due to lack of confidence in the data.”
Phosphorus loss from grazing properties accounts for around 70 per cent of phosphorus entering South West estuaries contributing to poor water quality, algal blooms and occasional fish kill events.
Reducing phosphorus loss from grazing farms is the single biggest opportunity to improve water quality in southwest estuaries. It is hoped that improved confidence from the uPtake project will accelerate behaviour change in fertiliser management leading to improved water quality.
Mr McFerran said an added benefit of the research are results showing the importance of applying nutrients that may be limiting production, such as sulphur, nitrogen, potassium and trace elements.
“This finding has been critical to both farmers and industry to demonstrate reducing reliance on phosphorus will not reduce production or profitability, and in fact may increase production if the limiting constraints are satisfied,” he said.
Importantly for southwest waterways and estuaries, water quality monitoring is showing that phosphorus leaching from soils with a high phosphorus status is significantly reduced when nutrients other than phosphorus are applied. This is a major finding of the research demonstrating phosphorus loss off soils with an already high phosphorus status could be reduced by addressing the nutrients limiting pasture growth, reducing impacts to the environment whilst increasing production and profitability.
uPtake is jointly funded through the State Government’s Healthy Estuaries WA and the Australian Governments’ National Landcare Program with more than $5.5 million funding to improve the health of waterways and estuaries and help increase farm productivity and profitability.