Charles Sturt University (CSU) research has found a number of reasons why farmers prefer to dip a toe into the water of conservation farming rather than dive right in.
Researchers from the Graham Centre for Agricultural Innovation have examined why farmers prefer to partially adopt stubble retention despite clear economic and environmental benefits.
Lecturer from CSU's School of Agricultural and Wine Sciences, Ms Caroline Love said stubble was traditionally burnt to help control pests, weeds and disease but conservation farming and retaining this stubble has significant benefits.
"These include retaining and improving soil carbon, avoiding the loss of nutrients from burning stubble, improved plant biomass, and healthier, more productive crops," she said.
"Despite considerable efforts by government and farming organisations to promote these benefits the rates of on-farm adoption in some regions, such as those with higher rainfall in parts of Victoria and southern NSW, have been slower than expected."
This social research used group and individual interviews with growers from broadacre cropping regions of southern, central NSW and Victorian dryland and irrigated areas to assess their knowledge, understanding and practices of stubble management.
"Our study reveals that many growers are willing to trial stubble retention," said Ms Love. "But growers reported numerous challenges in implementing stubble retention in practice.
"The most notable was the impact of pests, diseases and weeds where stubble is retained while for some growers moving towards full stubble retention would require upgrading machinery.
"Biophysical constraints, such as being in a high rainfall zone, and higher costs, were mentioned also as important limitations.
"Stubble retention is partially adopted because of the negative experiences in trialling and implementation as well as the recognition that moving towards full stubble retention would undermine growers' flexibility to manage biophysical and financial variability.
"Improving the uptake of stubble retention requires greater accommodation of growers' existing practices, as well as recognition that selective burning may be complementary to growers retaining crop stubbles."
The research, 'Why do farmers partially adopt conservation farming practices? A sociological study of stubble retention in NSW and Victoria' is by CSU researchers Associate Professor Vaughan Higgins, Ms Caroline Love, Mr Tony Dunn and Professor Deidre Lemerle
Ms Love will present the research at the Australian Agronomy Conference in Hobart on Tuesday 22 September.
Other CSU scientists presenting research at the conference include Emeritus Professor Jim Pratley, Dr John Broster, Professor Len Wade, Professor Deirdre Lemerle, Dr Belinda Hackney, Mr Shawn McGrath, Mr Joe Moore, Mr Aaron Preston, and Miss Leah Garnett.