Addressing industry concerns about reducing plastic and embracing sustainable practices, the first trial at the melon demonstration site in Mildura is underway and focusing on the use of barley straw as an alternative to plastic mulch in rockmelons.

The primary focus of these trials revolves around assessing three critical factors:

  1. Weed suppression
  2. Nutrient availability resulting from the decomposition of barley straw cover
  3. Soil temperature variations across the different treatments.

Treatments underway include bare soil, the standard practice of black plastic coverings, and barley straw cover at densities of 5t/ha and 10t/ha.

“We want to understand whether barley straw can suppress weeds effectively and how it influences nutrient availability while decomposing,” Soil Wealth ICP team member Umberto Calvo (Applied Horticultural Research) said.

“Soil temperature is also an important factor in the success of the crop. We need to verify whether the straw allows the soil to warm up enough for the melons to thrive, and if so, at what density we can obtain the best overall result.”

Another variable under investigation in this trial is the use of metham sodium, which will be applied to one half of each treatment area only. As growers are interested in phasing out this soil fumigant, we want to understand its effects, and the impact of its absence, in combination with other variables.

Trials will be ongoing for the duration of the crop and results will be shared with the melon growing community.

The team thanks demonstration site host, the Dawson Melon Co. in Red Cliffs, Victoria, for their participation in the trial.

Pictured above: One of the treatments with barley straw cover next to the black plastic mulch control.