The Australian truffle industry continues to grow at an unprecedented rate but truffieres are battling with basic questions like how much and when to water their crop.
Very little reliable data is available on ideal irrigation regimes for the fledgling industry, so Sutton truffiere Wayne Haslam welcomed the installation of soil moisture monitoring technology in November last year. The technology, he hopes, will help provide answers to those basic questions.
"The reality is, in most agricultural industries they are usually right on top of irrigation, how much water is needed at what depth at what time of year," Mr Haslam said.
"With truffles, we've got nothing like that. Truffles are a funny beast ... they are quite complex."
Mr Haslam, who started the Australian Truffle Growers Association in 2006, said before the group was created to share information, truffle growers were suffering.
"That was one of the reasons I established the Truffle Growers Association because the whole business was heading down the track of becoming secret men's business, no one was sharing information and it was just mindless," he said.
"It was obvious from day one the truffle industry was going to be an export industry… That's really part of what we're trying to do here - grow the industry and generate information of use to both small and large growers, and hopefully develop a great export industry that will benefit everybody."
Mr Haslam partnered with South Australian-based company MEA, which installed the soil moisture monitoring system on Blue Frog Truffle Farm in Sutton for 12 months from November on the proviso Mr Haslam share the results with members of the Australian Truffle Growers Association.
Installer of the system for MEA, a company which designs and manufactures environmental monitoring systems, Sonja Van Wegen said it was the first time they had installed such devices on a truffle farm.
She said the Sutton site was realistically only a demonstration of the technology available and would carry no weight scientifically.
"It is there to highlight a knowledge gap, to start creating interest ... and create momentum for this industry to begin exploring this fundamentally important issue – how much and when should I water," she said.
Truffle Dogs owner Jayson Mesman, a consultant for a number of truffle farms in the region and across Australia, said everyone was looking for advantages to improve their crop.
"There is a different approach from farm to farm. A lot of people believe truffles are a byproduct of stress which they are, but people still aren't sure how that works," he said.
Mr Mesman said while there was a "huge" number of people attempting to grow truffles, more than 500 hectares in Australia, a very small percentage of those people were successful.