Current Projects

Project 1.1.003

Project 1.1.003

Understanding and promoting good soil stewardship

Professor Mark Morrison – Project Leader
Charles Sturt University

The scoping study Activating markets to create incentives for improved soil management literature scoping study identified the lack of research on what consumers know about soil stewardship and its effects on consumer demand.

In the current market, there are not many incentives for the good management of soil. To begin to address this, farmers need a better understanding of the consumer demand for soil stewardship and their willingness to pay. Once this is determined, communication strategies and materials will be developed to promote the use of soil stewardship to consumers. Then the requirements and potential usage of this information by food processors will be examined.

This project will develop and trial a range of different communication materials to educate and promote soil stewardship to consumers in order to determine whether consumers are willing to pay more for food that has been produced using good soil stewardship practices.

The project will also engage with value chain stakeholders to better understand their potential demand for information about consumer’s willingness to pay, perceived obstacles for its usage, and specific information requirements for rewarding farmers for quality practices.

Involving and researching value-chain stakeholders is critical for achieving the goal of financially rewarding famers for improved soil stewardship. Even if consumers are found to be willing to pay for soil stewardship, and this can be activated through effective communications, the end-goal of rewarding farmers through higher prices for their products will not be achieved without the cooperation of critical value chain stakeholders such as food manufacturers and retailers. These intermediaries are essential for presenting soil stewardship attributes on their products and providing financial incentives for landholders.

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Related Programs

Project duration

Two years

Participants

Charles Sturt University
University of Tasmania

Project 1.1.004

Project 1.1.004

Rewarding soil stewardship

Dr Nicholas Pawsey – Project Leader
Charles Sturt University

This project follows on from Dr Pawsey’s first Soil CRC project Collaborative approaches to innovation which identified that many finance stakeholders and growers accept the importance of good soil stewardship and its profitability and are interested in how it might be encouraged and rewarded.

However, to unlock investment in soils and to activate financial markets to reward soil stewardship, a few things need to happen. A stronger link between good soil stewardship and profitability needs to be demonstrated; connections between researchers, growers and financial markets needs to be improved and the soil science must be well translated to relevant finance sectors.

A three-stage approach involving grower groups (Birchip Cropping Group, Riverine Plains and WANTFA) and the finance sector (Deloitte and NAB) will secure outcomes that best reflect industry expectations. A range of potential mechanisms and pathways have been identified including loan schemes, risk assessment and other financial decision tools, government programs and policies, and insurance products.

It is important for farmers to be rewarded for their good soil stewardship.

Related Programs

Project duration

Three years

Participants

Charles Sturt University
Federation University Australia
University of Southern Queensland
Birchip Cropping Group
Riverine Plans Inc
WANTFA

Project 1.2.002

Why soil management practices are adopted

Project 1.2.002

Associate Professor Vaughan Higgins – Project Leader
University of Tasmania

Farmer uptake of soil management programs and techniques is historically, relatively slow. This project sets out to understand why farmers do not adopt soil management improvement programs. It will investigate whether current strategies and techniques for adoption are working. It examine the commonalities, differences and effectiveness of soil improvement priorities, drivers and pathways.

The project will examine and identify the social drivers that influence adoptability of improved soil management at the farm scale. This will lead to a second phase of understanding the policies and institutional settings that promote adoption. By addressing the issues that lead to a lack of adoption of soil management programs, we will begin to ensure an increase in adoption in the future.

The project team will partner with farming groups across five states to develop a criteria for adoptability that will lead to an increase in adoption of improved soil management practices. Not only will this criteria help future Soil CRC projects to ensure uptake of new research findings, but will be of broader use for the farming community.

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Related Programs

Duration

Two years

Participants

University of Tasmania
Birchip Cropping Group
Central West Farming Systems
Charles Sturt University
Eyre Peninsula Agricultural Research Foundation
Mackillop Farm Management Group
Riverine Plains Inc.
University of Southern Queensland
Western Australian No-Tillage Farmers Association

Project 1.2.004

Surveying farm practices

Project 1.2.004

Dr Hanabeth Luke – Project Leader
Southern Cross University

The collective behaviour of individual farmers can have a significant impact on the broader health of the economy and natural resources of Australia. It is with this understanding that practices and products are being developed within the Soil CRC to influence some of these behaviours.

This project will initiate the process of surveying a range of land managers. The aim is to better understand their current practices, the various influences on their decision-making and how they believe they will be farming in the future.

Six regions related to existing grower groups and NRM partners will be surveyed. This project will complete the first of these, and develop the instruments and approach for two more. The data from this project will be used for future Soil CRC projects by enabling more targeted strategies and initiatives.

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Related Programs

Duration

Two years

Participants

Southern Cross University
Charles Sturt University
North Central CMA
NSW Department of Primary Industries
Primary Industries and Regions SA
Western Australian No-Tillage Farmers Association

Project 1.2.005

What drives farmer decisions?

Project 1.2.005

Dr Hanabeth Luke – Project Leader
Southern Cross University

Following on from Dr Luke’s first Soil CRC project – Surveying farm practices, this project will complete the surveying of land management practices.

Farmers and their on-farm management strategies are critical to the ongoing health of Australia’s economy and environment.  It is important to understand what drives farm management decisions, so that research can be better targeted.

The surveys will take place across regions and industries for an improved understanding of current practices, and to better understand farmer aspirations and motivations, as well as perceptions of existing and proposed research and development initiatives.

Four surveys have been administered in the initial project in Victoria, South Australia, Western Australia and New South Wales. For this project, another two surveys will be completed, in Queensland and Tasmania,  and the data will be spatially analysed. All survey instruments are co-developed with local Soil CRC partners and Soil CRC scientists.

The Soil CRC will better understand grower’s needs and intentions, and as a result other projects can be better targeted to meet those needs. The surveys will address regional and industry nuances of different farming groups, enabling follow-up surveys in five to six years, which will provide a means to evaluate the impact of the CRC.

Improved understanding of farmers and their practices will help the Soil CRC and the farmer groups to better target their innovations, communications and contribute to their strategic planning.

Related Programs

Duration

Two years

Participants

Southern Cross University
Charles Sturt University
Soils for Life
Burdekin Productivity Services
Southern Farming Systems

Project 1.4.002

Building farmer innovation capability

Project 1.4.002

Professor David Falepau – Project Leader
Charles Sturt University

Lack of adoption of agricultural technologies and practices by farmers has historically been a significant problem. In order to stay competitive farmers increasingly need to undergo rapid transformation.

This project will begin the refinement of a partnership approach which builds the long term capability of farmers, through farmer groups, to lead the innovation process from ideation through to commercialisation and adoption. Farmers are most likely to adopt the technologies and practices that they initiate or develop.

The project will train an innovation manager within each participating farmer group on how to design and implement an innovation system. They will also be trained on how to support farmer members to build their capability to develop innovative soil management technologies and practices specific to their farms and management systems.

Initially, the project will build the capacity of four Soil CRC farmer groups to implement innovation systems that focus on soil management. The longer term vision for this project is to roll out this innovation capability partnership model to other Soil CRC farmer groups and agribusinesses and beyond.

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Related Programs

Duration

One year

Participants

Charles Sturt University
Birchip Cropping Group
Central West Farming Systems
EPARF
Herbert Cane Productivity Services
Riverine Plains Inc.

Project 1.4.003

Building farmer innovation capability – Phase two

Project 1.4.003

Professor David Falepau – Project Leader
Charles Sturt University

Farmer-led innovation provides an alternative to historical approaches to research, development and adoption of technologies and practices to improve soil management.

Following on from the Soil CRC project Building farmer innovation capability which worked with five farmer groups to build their innovation systems, capability and culture, ‘Phase Two’ will establish similar partnerships with another four farmer groups.

They will have the additional criteria of working with a partner such as an agribusiness or research and development provider who will work with them towards the accelerated development and commercialisation of an innovation targeted at improving soil stewardship.

An innovation manager will be trained within each farmer group in conjunction with their partner to design and implement an innovation system including all stages from ideation through to commercialisation and adoption.

Related Programs

Duration

One and a half years

Participants

Charles Sturt University
Four farmer groups tbd

Project 2.1.004

Smelling soil

Project 2.1.004

Dr Shane Powell – Project Leader
University of Tasmania

Farmers often intuitively assess soil by smell. There is strong evidence that the fingerprint of gases emitted from soil can identify the composition and activity of the microbial community which relates to soil health. Currently there are no field based sensors to diagnose soil health using aromas. An ‘electronic nose’ offers a solution to this problem.

This project will test a prototype eNose and a range of sensors to show “proof of concept” of this technology. The eNose will be co-developed with farmers to ensure that the technology is useful, usable and provides relevant information which is easily interpreted and understood by farmers themselves. Being able to do this will mean that farmers can make the right management decisions to improve crop performance and yield, especially in poor soils.

An objective diagnosis of soil health will assist farmers and other land managers in understanding which management practices and environmental events have positive or negative effects on soil microbial communities, as well as enabling the temporal monitoring of soil microbial health.

Currently, there are very few rapid and cost effective in-field techniques available to assess and monitor the health of soil microbial communities. The eNose will “smell” the soil (via gas sensors) and then translate this gas fingerprint into microbial health metrics. This project aims to build on expertise available through previous eNose research activities and build on existing sensor technologies. The project will have very close synergy with other Soil CRC research into determining the key microbial indicators of performance.

The soil eNose could be used as a stand-alone tool, complete with other soil (temperature, pH, and moisture) sensors, or integrated into more complex precision agriculture systems including components which are under development by the Soil CRC.

The prototype eNose will be built by an expert in eNose technology for measuring volatiles emitted during insect damage to crops. The prototype will consist of a sensor array made from low cost, off-the-shelf components. Existing sensors we plan to use include: carbon monoxide, carbon dioxide, sulphur dioxide, hydrocarbons, ammonia, organic solvents, nitrogen dioxide, ethylene, and nitric oxide. We aim to exploit the cross sensitivity of these sensors to create a signature of soil aromas. The tool will also include basic environmental monitoring capability (soil moisture, pH and temperature; air temperature and humidity).

The eNose will function biometrically i.e. in a similar way to how humans smell. Humans have learnt to associate certain aromas with certain items – although we have no ability to measure or identify the exact gases present.

The eNose design we propose mimics biochemical processes and the exact compounds emitted do not need to be identified. We aim to use the signature of these compounds as a proxy for health and function of the soil. Some of the sensors however will act in a traditional capacity, e.g. the eNose will have a carbon dioxide sensor (carbon dioxide flux is commonly used as a measure of soil respiration, it is known that high respiration rates are associated with healthy and productive soils).

An eNose will be located on a single farm for a “proof of concept” test that it can observe changes in gas emissions over time. Data will be analysed using the basic calibration data acquired in lab testing and related to basic response variables shown by the stress trials.

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Related Programs

Duration

One and a half years

Participants

University of Tasmania
Birchip Cropping Group
FarmLink
Southern Farming Systems
Soils for Life

Project 2.2.002

‘Smart’ soil sensors

Project 2.2.002

Dr Marcus Hardie – Project Leader
University of Tasmania

There are a range of constraints to the use of soil sensors (moisture) on a farm. This project will develop the next generation of ‘Smart’ sensors that will overcome the problems associated with above ground sensors, transmit data over large areas, and automatically interpret sensed data in order to provide farmers with actionable information rather than just data.

This project will develop the next generation of field-based sensors that can measure, map, interpret, and communicate sensor data using new approaches that meet growers’ need for information in order to make on-farm decisions.

The ‘Smart’ Shovel: A shovel that can measure soil moisture and salinity and will include compaction sensors which will all be mapped and visualised through smart phones whilst in the paddock.

Below Ground Sensor Data Transmission: Send sensor data wirelessly through soil, so that sensors can be fully buried without risk of damage from stock, pests or machinery.

Self-learning moisture sensors: Develop algorithms that use existing soil moisture sensors to learn the soil properties needed for use with models such as APSIM & Yield Profit, and enable growers to relate moisture content to crop stress.

This project seeks to build and develop technologies and provide sensors with the functionalities that growers actually want. They want sensors that do not obstruct machinery and that result in actionable information. This project is the first step in developing the next generation of field-based sensors that growers are seeking to support sustainable and precise management decisions and to improve soil function.

The scope of this project has been intentionally limited to a proof of concept stage, with the understanding that should the proof of concept be successful, further investment will be required to develop a market-ready product or service offering. A utilisation plan will be developed during the second phase of project.

This project will provide farmers with an improvement in on-farm decision making based on data and information, an improved understanding and interpretation of sensed data, improved irrigation and nutrient efficiency, greater uptake of modelling technology, increased profitability and reduced soil damage.

They will run a series of facilitated on-line and in-person meetings among approximately 20 Soil CRC members working with Program 1.2 and 1.3, and in other Soil CRC Programs, in particular Program 4.

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Related Programs

Duration

Three years

Participants

University of Tasmania
University of Southern Queensland
Federation University Australia

Project 2.2.003

New sensors for measuring soil nutrients

Project 2.2.003

Dr Craig Lobsey – Project Leader
University of Southern Queensland

This project will provide farmers and their advisers with tools to help them make the best possible decisions in nutrient and water management. It will develop sensor technology that enables detailed measurement of soil nutrient status and supply, through the soil profile and across the field.

This will provide unprecedented insight into the nutrient status of their soil and the mobility of these nutrients under irrigation and rainfall scenarios. With this technology the distribution of nutrients through the soil profile can be better controlled to maximise both farm profitability and environmental sustainability.

The efficiency of nitrogen applied in-season (e.g. at planting) is low throughout the northern cereal cropping regions. This is attributed to low nitrogen mobility through the soil profile. Yields in these situations are then constrained by low subsoil nitrogen. In these regions, nitrogen management and cropping decisions extend over multiple seasons to build and maintain subsoil nitrogen reserves. In high rainfall regions such as New Zealand and Great Barrier Reef coastal catchments, the mobility of nitrogen is high throughout the profile and so nutrient management decisions require greater focus on leaching potential. Here, nitrogen application must be closely monitored and continually matched to crop demand throughout the root zone.

The ability to cost effectively measure soil nutrient status will be significant. However this addresses only part of the problem. Correct decisions also require understanding soil nutrient supply and dynamics under irrigation and climate scenarios. The development of nutrient sensing technology must be closely linked to sensors that can extend these measurements across the field and through time (i.e. dynamics, soil supply and crop demand) of which soil water status and retention characteristics are highly significant factors. The sensor technology and algorithms that we will develop in this project will be the mechanism by which information on nutrient status and dynamics can finally be provided to farmers and their advisers – enabling a step-change in soil management practices for both profitability and environmental sustainability.

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Related Programs

Duration

Three years

Participants

University of Southern Queensland
Burdekin Productivity Services
Herbert Cane Productivity Services
Manaaki Whenua Landcare Research

Project 2.2.004

Affordable rapid field-based soil tests

Project 2.2.004

Dr Liang Wang – Project leader
University of Newcastle

Farmers need on farm information on soil chemical properties that can affect crop performance. However, the cost and time required for traditional soil sampling and chemical analyses are uneconomical for use in precision agriculture. This has led to the widespread interest in the development of real-time soil sensing systems.

This project will develop an affordable field-based tool kit for farmers to quickly determine soil chemical properties on their farm. It will develop a user friendly mobile and desktop interface which will access the measurement data, and provide crucial soil nutrient information for the users.

The project will evaluate potential technologies for the rapid determination of soil chemical properties, and present the best solution for rapid in-field chemical soil measurements focusing on soil nutrient status. Training courses and workshops will be offered to farmers to share the research outcomes and promote the rapid testing tool kit.

Several of the most promising technologies for rapid field measurement are radiometric and spectroscopic methods. These methods require the acquisition of sophisticated instruments and software to process the spectral data, which are unaffordable for most farmers.

Soil chemical indicators can be rapidly measured using colorimetric reagents, which is simpler and more affordable. However this method is not always accurate and needs to be modified to provide more precise measurement results.

This project will develop a disposal and affordable device which can simultaneously determine multiple soil key chemical indicators in the field. To do this, we will investigate an application of colorimetric methods in a 3D printed microfluidic device. By using this device, soil solutions can be measured directly in the field with a mobile phone, without sample preparations like other on-site analysis methods.

The device will be cost effective and environmental friendly, which will translate to an easy on-site analysis tool. Here, we will embed colorimetric reagents into the device to quantify the target soil nutrients in samples, so it can greatly simplify the whole analysis process and achieve sample-in/answer-out analysis.

Using 3D printing, we can integrate the functional parts into the microfluidic device that can mitigate the reliance of the sample preparation process and the use of external components. An additional advantage of 3D printing is that once the design has been finalised, we will be able to scale production to manufacture several hundreds of units a week, making it easy to perform a full field validation of the design and its use.

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Related Programs

Duration

Three years

Participants

University of Newcastle
Burdekin Productivity Services
Herbert Cane Productivity Services
University of Tasmania

Project 2.2.005

Improved soil data management

Project 2.2.005

Dr Nathan Robinson – Project leader
Federation University Australia

Across its four programs, the Soil CRC is producing a great deal of new data. This project will ensure the reliable storage, sharing, analysis and visualisation for all this soil related data.

Through co-design and trial with Soil CRC projects, the project will develop guidelines, process and policies that support discovery and re-use of research data. This will make it easy for researchers, farmer groups, growers and advisors to contribute soil data including sensor data streams into automated and FAIR (Findable, Accessible, Interoperable, Reusable) systems.

Research will explore how near real-time in-field sensor and other soil data could be used with Soil CRC related data analytics, modelling, decision support and visualisation dashboards.

Soil data that is both spatially and temporally explicit will help researchers use the data for foresight and allow multiple outcomes from data. This becomes important for farmers as being able to use soil data for decision-making is critical to them optimising their soil productivity.

Related Programs

Duration

Two years

Participants

Federation University Australia
Charles Sturt University
Manaaki Whenua Landcare Research New Zealand
NSW Department of Primary Industries
University of Tasmania

Project 2.3.001

Visualising Australasia’s Soils

Project 2.3.001

Associate Professor Peter Dahlhaus – Project Leader
Federation University

Data is key to sustainable soil health and profitable agriculture. Following on from the scoping study A review of indicators of soil health and function: farmers’ needs and data management, this project addresses the issue of large amounts of underutilised agricultural data.

The aim of the project is to provide Australasian farmers, agronomy practitioners, agricultural researchers and agribusinesses with relevant place-based information on demand. It will improve soil data availability and encourage the generation of new research ideas, collaborations and investment, both locally and globally.

The Visualising Australasia’s Soils interoperable spatial knowledge system provides the Soil CRC participants, and the broader agricultural industry in general with access to data, information and knowledge on Australasian soils. It includes a data stewardship and governance model for custodians to clearly set the rules under which access to their data, or parts therein, is possible. This will enhance decision making and generate new insights into the profitability and resilience of Australian agriculture.
This project leverages established technologies developed by the lead researchers to federate data from disparate sources in both the public and private sector to make agriculture data more Findable, Accessible, Interoperable and Reusable (FAIR).

The initial focus will be on supporting CRC participants in provisioning soil data and improving data stewardship and governance. CRC participants will also be engaged in the co-development of spatial visualisation, search, filtering and download tools. Education materials will be developed to support broader adoption by farmers and researchers. Longitudinal research will be undertaken to assess practice change and other project impacts.

Collaboratively designing the portal tools, models and visualisations with 15 CRC partners will ensure that the output is a useful, everyday support tool for all Soil CRC participants, and Australian farmers.

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Related Programs

Duration

Two years

Participants

Federation University Australia
Landcare Research New Zealand
University of Tasmania
University of Southern Queensland
Birchip Cropping Group
Burdekin Productivity Services
Central West Farming Systems
Gillamii Centre
Herbert Cane Productivity Services
Landmark
Liebe Group
Mackillop Farm Management Group
Mallee Sustainable Farming
North Central Catchment Management Authority
Riverine Plains
Southern Farming Systems
WANTFA
Wimmera Catchment Authority

Project 3.1.003

Recovering nutrients from organic waste streams

Project 3.1.003

Dr Dane Lamb – Project Leader
The University of Newcastle

Large scale agricultural systems rely on inputs of nitrogen and phosphorous which can be costly for farmers. Although phosphorous is significantly present in many agricultural soils, the majority exists in strongly adsorbed or insoluble inorganic forms and is not readily available to agricultural crops.

Every year, large quantities of organic waste streams that are rich in these nutrients are produced globally. The total quantity of phosphorous from various waste streams in Australia is around 20 times higher than the current agricultural demand. There is a particularly strong need to recover phosphorus from waste streams due to its dwindling availability from traditional rock phosphate sources. As well as this, the nutrients present in organic waste streams can pose a threat to the environment by nutrient enrichment causing problems such as surface water eutrophication.

This project will develop and optimise novel technologies to recover essential nutrients from organic waste streams such as poultry manure, pig manure, dairy farm wastes, sewage and industrial effluents. This will be done using an energy efficient process thus providing farmers with an efficient, cost-effective fertiliser solution.

This has to be accomplished through inexpensive, locally-sourced nutrient reserves and innovative technologies to ensure cost-effective cultivation and enhanced productivity. The waste-derived fertiliser products will be assessed across a range of farming systems and soil types.

One of the expected outcomes will be increased crop productivity in Australia, which will make contributions to global food security directly and through technology generation.

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Related Programs

Duration

Three years

Participants

The University of Newcastle
Griffith University
Southern Cross University
Central West Farming Systems
Primary Industries and Regions South Australia
Australian Organics Recycling Association
South East Water
Herbert Cane Productivity Services
Landcare Research NZ

Project 3.1.004

Application of liquid biosolids

Project 3.1.004

Dr Aravind Surapeneni – Project Leader
South East Water

Australian farmers experience soil constraints both at the surface and subsurface which affect the ability of crops to absorb water and essential nutrients. Using nutrient rich organic waste materials including biosolids (sewage sludge) could be a more economically viable option to the rising costs of fertilisers. This solution also addresses the need for more efficient, socio-economically acceptable and environmentally sound disposal options for biosolids.

Safe and cost-effective disposal of sewage sludge generated from the wastewater treatment is one of the major environmental challenges facing the water industry and communities today. Cities in Australia and elsewhere generate high volume of wastewater and solids, which results in high environmental footprint. There is an urgent need to develop, evaluate and implement alternative and diversified options for biosolids management and utilisation.

Subsoil injection of liquid organic wastes including biosolids, animal manures and food industry wastes has been practiced in Europe and North America since the 1980s, but it is not common practice in Australia. This project will explore the agronomic benefits and environmental effects of direct subsoil injection of sewage sludge taken from wastewater lagoons. It will be targeting improvements in soil structure and fertility as a result of subsoil injection of sewage sludge.

This project will involve research, development and demonstration (RD&D) processes to study the agronomic benefits and environmental risks of injecting wastewater sludge into subsoil. The project will be conducted at Longwarry Water Recycling Plant in Victoria for three years, and will investigate the factors such as time, capital, infrastructure, machinery, cost, labour, energy and environment associated to the operation. The sludge will be applied at the Longwarry RD&D site after pre and post treatment processes and a summer sorghum crop will be established for two consecutive seasons to study the agronomic value of injected sludge in subsoil.

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Related Programs

Duration

Three years

Participants

South East Water
University of Newcastle

Project 3.1.005

Increasing nutrient efficiency with new organic amendments

Project 3.1.005

Professor Terry Rose – Project Leader
Southern Cross University

Many farmers have access to manures or other organic amendments, but transport and spreading costs along with uncertainty over crop responses and longer-term impacts on soils have limited their use.

Crop responses can be inconsistent because organic amendments can have variable effects on soil nutrient cycling and longer-term soil carbon stores. This is due to the complex interactions between soil microbes and soil carbon, and the additional nitrogen, phosphorus, sulphur and carbon inputs from organic amendments.

When carbon, nitrogen, phosphorus or sulphur are added to soils, and one element is in short supply, soil microbes typically obtain the missing nutrient to sustain their growth by degrading existing soil organic matter to release the needed element. As a result of these processes, and following the death of soil microbes, crop plants may accumulate more of a given nutrient than was applied in the fertiliser or amendment. This is often simplistically seen as ‘enhanced nutrient use efficiency (NUE)’. However, while there may be some short-term nutrient gain, it comes at the expense of native soil organic matter degradation and this will have longer term consequences for both soil processes and crop nutrition.

The project will determine how new ‘nutrient balanced’ organic amendment products affect NUE in the field compared to traditional fertiliser inputs. It will resolve the mechanisms that drive NUE, using a combination of field and controlled-environment studies with locally available manure and treated (composted or thermally treated) manure sources.

Ultimately the project will develop recommendations for the use of new organic amendment products to give growers confidence to replace or partially replace mineral fertiliser inputs with organic amendment products.

Related Programs

Duration

Three years

Participants

NSW Department of Primary Industries
FarmLink
NSW EPA

Project 3.1.006

Unlocking soil nutrients with organic amendments

Project 3.1.006

Dr Balaji Seshadri – Project Leader
The University of Newcastle

Enhancing nutrient use efficiency in agricultural soils is challenging due to diminishing natural resources such as phosphate rock and water availability. The use of organic wastes (e.g. composts, manures, biosolids) as soil amendments can potentially reduce the dependence on naturally available materials.

Maintaining and enhancing soil fertility are key issues for sustainability in an agricultural system with organic or low input methods. This project will study the effect of organic amendments on nutrient release in selected soil and cropping systems under different soil management practices. It aims to explore how organic amendments can unlock tightly bound soil nutrients, enhancing nutrient use efficiency (NUE). The project will also establish innovative approaches to apply organic amendments in agricultural soils and examine ways to make the nutrients available for plants through moisture retention and nutrient mobilisation.

Related Programs

Duration

Three years

Participants

The University of Newcastle
University of Southern Queensland
Central West Farming Systems
South East Water
Primary Industries and Regions SA
Australian Organics Recycling Association
Herbert Cane Productivity Services
Manaaki Whenua Landcare Research New Zealand

Project 3.2.001

Improving pesticide delivery efficiency

Project 3.2.001

Dr Yanju Liu – Project Leader
University of Newcastle

Pests and insects are causing significant damage in agriculture all over the world, requiring significant application of pesticide and insecticide. For example, the cane beetle damages the productivity of sugarcane by feeding on roots and stems, causing losses in hundreds of millions of dollars annually. The traditional application of insecticides has resulted in a large residue of pesticides in soils and surrounding environments, damaging soil enzyme activity and impacting nutrient availability. Key enzyme activities could be improved by controlling pesticide residue to a minimum level.

Nano-porous materials have the potential to encapsulate pesticides and improve their efficiency by controlled release of the active ingredient, thus minimising pesticide residues and damage of soil functionality. This project aims to examine nano-porous materials (either natural or carbon-based materials) as potential carriers to improve pesticide delivery. This will be done through glasshouse evaluation using imidacloprid and cane beetle control as examples.

This is critical for the effective control of cane grubs as well as improved soil performance. Upon development of materials, extended application to other pesticide active ingredients can be evaluated for wider benefits to other agricultural practices.

This project will engage sugarcane famer groups from HCPSL and Burdekin Productivity Services to develop a controlled release insecticide system through collaborative research activities in organisations including University of Newcastle, Griffith University and University of Southern Queensland.

This project will develop a pesticide product that can efficiently control cane beetles using cost-effective, low residue, controlled release of a pesticide delivery system. Following glasshouse evaluation, the product will be demonstrated to farmers groups for future field trails, and manufacturing companies.

Farmers can potentially save resources and gain productivity, reducing economic losses due to cane beetles. Soil functions, such as enzyme activity and nutrient bioavailability, can be improved through limiting the residue of pesticides in soils.

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Related Programs

Duration

Three years

Participants

University of Newcastle
Griffith University
Herbert Cane Productivity Services
Burdekin Productivity Services

Project 3.3.002

New products for subsoil constraints

Project 3.3.002

Dr Ehsan Tavakkoli – Project Leader
NSW Department of Primary Industries

The majority of Australian soils have constraints such as sodicity, acidity, and salinity that limit agricultural productivity. These limitations in the subsoil can adversely affect the ability of plants to access and extract stored water and nutrients, resulting in major financial losses for growers.

Current amelioration techniques have limited effectiveness. This project will harness recent advances in chemical engineering techniques and development of innovative organic based amendments to more effectively address subsoil constraints that affect many Australian agricultural soils. It will improve our understanding of the interactions of these novel products with different soil types and crops. The project will also address zone specific placement of amendments by using advanced formulations and application machinery. 

The current use of chemical solutions to ameliorate these constraints is a critical part of the management practice to maintain the productivity and profitability for farmers, yet the effectiveness of these practices is extremely low.

Although gypsum and lime are widely used as the main soil amendments in addressing soil sodicity and acidity, they are sparingly soluble salts which reduces their effectiveness to ameliorate subsoil constraints. Therefore, more effective amendment formulations are needed to address these subsoil constraints.

This project aims to develop a new generation of submicron organic-based amendments with the ultimate aim of correcting subsoil constraints and thereby increasing crop production. These outcomes will constitute new knowledge and significant contributions in the use of a new generation of agricultural amendments to address the most challenging problems such as managing hostile soils, improving crop production and providing enough food for a rising global population.

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Related Programs

Duration

Three years

Participants

NSW Department of Primary Industries
University of Newcastle
University of Southern Queensland

Project 3.3.003

New amendments for sandy soils

Project 3.3.003

Professor Richard Bell – Project Leader
Murdoch University

Crop productivity is generally lower on sandy soils than on loam and clay soils under the same environment and technology. Sandy soils cover over 11 million hectares of agricultural land in southern Australia. The focus of most research to improve performance of sandy soils is on their limited capacity to supply water and nutrient resources to the roots of crops.

While sandy soils vary across a continuum, they have a number of distinctive limitations including poor pH buffering capacity, low biological activity, low water holding capacity, high water repellence, and a high susceptibility to compaction. These all combine to limit crop production.

This project proposes that step changes towards high performance sandy soils will come from permanently raising their reactive surface area, with added clay or recalcitrant organic matter or both. The project will design a long-term, multi-site field program for improvement of sandy soils with clay and organic amendments. The results should help farmers to manage their sandy soils more productively.

Previous research has shown that doubling production on these soils can be achieved but that the mechanisms are poorly understood. Due to the high potential for benefit to growers, it is important to understand ameliorative processes to identify the most cost effective treatments.

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Related Programs

Duration

Three years

Participants

Murdoch University
Federation University
Primary Industries and Regions SA
West Midlands Group
Australian Organics Recycling Association

Project 3.3.004

New organic amendments for retaining soil moisture

Project 3.3.004

Professor Chengrong Chen – Project Leader
Griffith University

Persistent drought has been a feature of the agricultural landscape across Australia. Water stress has short- and long-term effects on soil health and therefore productivity. Retaining moisture in these environments is a high priority.

Drought reduces soil water availability and crop nutrient uptake, increases fracturing, crusting and deterioration of soil structure, and causes soil erosion therefore decreasing crop yield. Currently commercially available water retention materials include surfactants which help reduce soil water repellence and improve soil wetting processes. However, the effectiveness and environmental risk of some of these materials has yet to be assessed.

This project will develop novel, highly efficient and environmentally friendly moisture retention materials through evaluating, modifying and activating naturally occurring, locally available organic- and clay-based materials to provide cost-effective practical solutions.

These will enhance soil moisture capture and retention, improve seed germination, crop establishment and farming activity under dry conditions.

By developing cost-effective, environmentally friendly moisture retention materials, farmers will be able to increase the productivity of their soils and therefore their profitability, especially in dry conditions.

Related Programs

Duration

Three years

Participants

Griffith University
The University of Newcastle
Australian Organics Recycling Association
Western Australian No Tillage Farmers Association
Herbert Cane Productivity Services

Project 3.4.001

Evaluating alternative rhizobial carriers

Project 3.4.001

Professor Chengrong Chen – Project Leader
Griffith University

Rhizobium inoculation has contributed significantly to the supply of nitrogen in most farming systems, but the availability of peat – the most widely used carrier for Rhizobium – is a non-renewable resource and is becoming increasingly scarce in many regions. As well as this, the existing inoculation techniques often result in low survival rates of rhizobia on the seed and in the soil due to desiccation and heat, and this limits the nitrogen-fixing efficacy of the rhizobial inoculants.

This project will employ a suite of advanced analytical approaches to evaluate the suitability of locally available, low cost organic and inorganic materials, biochars produced from different feed stocks and pyrolysis conditions, and emerging biopolymers as alternative carriers for effectively delivering rhizobia.

The project will also address the issue of capturing and retaining moisture to improve prolonged survival of rhizobial inoculants. There will be new knowledge on cost-effective alternative carriers for formulation of rhizobial inoculants to improve legume nitrogen-fixation and soil productivity in Australian farming systems.
This project will evaluate locally available and newly emerging alternative carriers to provide practical solutions to the desiccation issue through close collaboration with industry and farmer groups.

The key outputs will be the new knowledge on alternative carrier materials for capturing and retaining moisture as well as supporting the growth of rhizobia, and ultimately, other soil performance enhancing bacteria.

Novel alternative carrier products selected and manufactured during this project after glasshouse trials will be gradually adopted in collaboration with inoculant manufacturers to a small scale production for trial by farmer groups.

This project will contribute to economic benefits for farmers through reduced nitrogen inputs, cheaper and more effective inoculants and better crop and pasture yields.

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Related Programs

Duration

Three years

Participants

Griffith University
The University of Newcastle
Murdoch University
Central West Farming Systems
WANTFA
Herbert Cane Productivity Services
Burdekin Productivity Services
Australian Organics Recycling Association

Project 4.1.002

Plant based solutions to improve soil performance

Project 4.1.002

Associate Professor Terry Rose – Project Leader
Southern Cross University

Crop diversity in major cropping systems in Australia is limited, yet diversity in farming systems is recognised for providing multiple benefits including resilience, weed and disease suppression and improved soil health. To reverse the decline in species diversity in cropping, this project will identify rotations that enable profitable integration of a range of species into farming systems.

This project will determine how soil performance and profitability are affected by increased crop diversity in rotational systems in both broadacre grains and sugarcane industries. It will investigate the potential for plant-based solutions to improve soil performance through rhizosphere modification.

In glasshouse and small plot trials, the project will identify differences in root exudation and rhizodeposition, and root depth and distribution, between various crop types and link these to changes in soil biology, porosity and nutrient cycling. These ultimately contribute to the soil’s ability to sustain healthy, high yielding crops.

Long term (greater than 5 years) field experiments will assess the viability of integrating diverse species into the system as winter rotation crops, summer cover crops or perennial legumes depending on the constraints of climate, soils and weeds. Long-term field trials are essential as it has been established that outcomes from rhizosphere re-engineering are not immediate and improvements in productivity and resilience are not seen in short-term experiments.

The project will involve direct adoption of agronomic practices by Grower Group networks and beyond which will deliver improved soil health, increased soil resilience to stressors and improved farm profitability.

The impact of the project will be enhanced soil resilience leading to more profitable and sustainable grain and sugarcane farming systems through the use of diverse cropping rotations.

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Related Programs

Duration

Four years

Participants

Southern Cross University
Central West Farming Systems
NSW Department of Primary Industries
Murdoch University, Charles Sturt University
Burdekin Productivity Services
Herbert Cane Productivity Services
Farmlink
Hart Field Site Group
Riverine Plains
WANTFA

Project 4.1.003

Evaluating soil functional resilience

Project 4.1.003

Dr Mehran Rezaei Rashti – Project Leader
Griffith University

Compaction and drought can affect soil fertility and health which in turn can lead to a decline in crop yield and profitability. There is a lack of practical protocols for measuring soil health indicators. In order to drive practice change, growers need access to simple, robust and affordable methods for measuring their soil health status.

This project will assess the resilience of soil against the environmental stresses of compaction and drought in agricultural ecosystems.

It aims to provide an improved process based understanding of relationships between compaction and drought stresses, soil ecosystem resilience and functionality and sustainable crop productivity and profitability. The knowledge generated will be critical for Soil CRC partners and farmer groups that work towards adoption of best management practices for re-engineering of stressed soils for higher crop productivity and farm profitability. In the longer term, the tests and protocols produced in this project will have broader application across Australian farmer group networks and agricultural industries.

There are three major research components developed in this project to provide an improved process based understanding of how soil systems function, change and adapt to compaction and drought stresses.

  1. Identification of main indicators of soil functional resilience in grain and sugarcane cropping systems against compaction and drought stresses.
  2. Improvement of soil functional resilience to compaction and drought stresses for re-engineering of higher performance soils.
  3. Development of robust and affordable protocols for evaluation of soil resilience against compaction and drought stresses in grain and sugarcane cropping systems.
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Related Programs

Duration

Two years

Participants

Griffith University
Facey Group
Herbert Cane Productivity Services
NSW Department of Primary Industries

Project 4.1.004

Regenerative farming systems

Project 4.1.004

Dr Gwen Grelet – Project Leader
Manaaki Whenua Landcare Research NZ

A growing number of innovative farmers are attempting to restore or improve the performance of Australian soils using regenerative practices that are designed to build soil carbon. However, up until now, evidence of success has been largely anecdotal. This project will take a co-innovation approach, including researchers, farmers and extension practitioners to quantify the effectiveness of regenerative farming systems for improving soil performance across defined soil and climate constraints. Through a series of workshops, shared research needs will be defined and prioritised, and a collaborative research program will be developed and implemented to help farmers better understand how regenerative agriculture practices might be used in Australian agriculture.

Regenerative agriculture seeks to enhance synergetic relationships that build organic matter and increase soil carbon, using a range of practices including no-tillage, cover crops, crop rotations, intercropping, integrated livestock management, increased biodiversity and diversification, reduced inputs of synthetic fertilisers and biocides, addition of biological products such as compost, seaweed extracts, fish hydrolysates and vermicast. These practices are aimed at optimising soil carbon functionality, with the ultimate result being an increase in plant and animal performance.

The effects of individual practices have sometimes been studied in isolation, but regenerative farmers adopt a whole-system approach that has been mostly overlooked by research scientists. The lack of engagement between scientists and regenerative farmers is partly due to (i) the variety of practices are difficult to classify, (ii) the knowledge being context-specific and scattered amongst practitioners; (ii) regenerative management strategies (holistic) being viewed as too complex and time consuming to become mainstream.

This project will promote collaboration between scientists and regenerative farmers, in order to study carbon functionality in regenerative farming systems and quantify key farm performance outcomes.

At the core of the project is a co-innovation platform seeking to progress relationships between researchers, farmers and extension practitioners, from engagement to collaboration. This platform enables co-delivery of a research program focussed on characterising carbon functionality in regenerative farming systems. The program is investigating whether soil carbon functionality can be improved using regenerative farming practices (including extremely carbon poor soils), and whether regenerative farm management strategies do indeed increase farm performance across multiple key outcomes.

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Related Programs

Duration

Two and a half years

Participants

Manaaki Whenua Landcare Research NZ
Primary Industries and Regions SA
Soils for Life
Wheatbelt NRM

Project 4.2.001

Improved management of herbicide residues in soil

Project 4.2.001

Dr Michael Rose – Project Leader
NSW Department of Primary Industries

The loss of productivity due to herbicide residues as a soil constraint has not been accurately determined due to the complexity and lack of tools to quantify herbicide damage. However, it is thought to be significant, particularly in sandy soils.

Herbicides are a valuable tool for controlling weeds and realising crop yield potential. Currently, herbicide label guidelines are general and unable to account for the combinations of soil types and weather conditions that can affect herbicide persistence in soil. Herbicide residues in soils can limit crop performance if not managed correctly. It is difficult for growers and advisors to know whether herbicide residues will cause issues, because the persistence and behaviour of these residues depends on numerous site-specific factors, including soil and climatic conditions.

Increased weed resistance to herbicides means that many growers are increasing application doses and frequency, increasing the range of herbicides used and importantly, returning to pre-emergent residual herbicides.

Growers need evidence-backed guidance on the site-specific persistence of herbicides to allow for flexible crop selection and avoidance of plant-back damage, and field-validated information on the potential long-term effects of herbicide residues on soil and crop health.

There are currently very few tools to assist growers to determine the level of herbicide residues present, and if they negatively affect soil and crop performance. This project will develop new knowledge and tools to better understand the factors regulating herbicide persistence and bioavailability. This will give farmers an increased confidence in crop choice, timing of sowing and herbicide management to ensure soil and crop performance are not limited by herbicide residues.

The outcome will be that farmers are better informed and equipped to react to variable environmental and soil conditions, which will reduce risk and increase crop diversity, yields and economic returns at a lower environmental cost. Importantly, major losses after planting will be eliminated and farmers will have greater flexibility in crop rotations to further build soil health.

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Related Programs

Duration

Three years

Participants

NSW Department of Primary Industries
Murdoch University
Southern Cross University
WANTFA
EPARF
Birchip Cropping Group

Project 4.2.002

Addressing complex soil constraints

Project 4.2.002

Dr Jason Condon – Project Leader
Charles Sturt University

Soils often exhibit multiple constraints that limit their productivity. Historically, attempts to address these constraints have been conducted via research that addresses each constraint individually. Each problem has an industry “best practice” solution but when these are applied in combination to handle multiple constraints, the input costs and practicality of application often create barriers to adoption and the constraint remains.

The eradication of these limitations requires complex solutions rather than treating each constraint in isolation. An opportunity exists to introduce novel amelioration methods that seek to address multiple constraints with a single application.

This project will determine the mechanistic mode of action of novel soil re-engineering methods to fix complex soil constraints. It will facilitate increases in plant productivity and develop more resilient cropping systems.

The project findings will allow farmers to identify the upper limit of production from their soils and inform site and amendment selection for future field studies. Project data will be utilised by Soil CRC researchers to inform economic modelling and construction and refinement of decision support systems which in turn can inform farmers how to best manage their soil.

Collaborating grower groups will identify their priority soils, exhibiting multiple constraints to production, for inclusion in controlled environment studies conducted in glasshouse facilities. Small plot studies will also be conducted on selected soils.

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Related Programs

Duration

Two and a half years

Participants

Charles Sturt University
Birchip Cropping Group
Agriculture Victoria
Facey Group
FarmLink
Hart Field Site Group
NSW Department of Primary Industries
Riverine Plains Inc.
Central West Farming Systems

Project 4.2.003

Overcoming soil constraints in highly calcareous soils

Project 4.2.003

Dr Nigel Wilhelm – Project Leader
Primary Industries and Regions SA

Calcareous soils are prevalent across south eastern Australia, occupying 60% of the cropping soils in the region. Calcareous soils are high in calcium carbonate which results in multiple constraints including low phosphorous, low water holding capacity, poor nitrogen cycling, high rhizoctonia burdens, severe fertiliser toxicity during germination and extreme pH, sodicity and salinity at depth. These can all result in severely limited crop productivity.

With co-investment from GRDC, this project will examine soil limitations in calcareous soils in innovative ways and within a farming systems context so that the outcomes will be realistic and easily implemented on farm. It will develop innovative physical and chemical management packages which are expected to include activated and nutrient enriched organic matter and chemical amendments to manipulate pH and redox potential. It will also provide information on threshold levels for constraints in highly calcareous soils and may use novel amendment products being developed in other Soil CRC projects.

The ultimate aim is to improve the soil conditions on calcareous soils and increase water use efficiency and crop performance.

Related Programs

Duration

Two and a half years

Participants

Primary Industries and Regions SA
NSW Department of Primary Industries
MacKillop Farm Management Group
Agricultural Innovation and Research Eyre Peninsula

Co-funders

Grains Research and Development Corporation (GRDC)

Project 4.2.004

Integrated solutions for accessing soil moisture

Project 4.2.004

Dr Ehsan Tavakkoli – Project Leader
NSW Department of Primary Industries

Many Australian agricultural soils contain multiple physical and chemical constraints that limit effective root growth which limits water and nutrient use by crops. As a result, yields are significantly less, resulting in major opportunity costs for growers.

The ability of roots to grow through soil unhindered by physical or chemical constraints is key to making full use of the available water resources.

Subsoil constraints are likely to have large effects on the how much water crops need. Quantifying how subsoil constraints affect a crop’s ability to use soil water is important for productivity and water-use efficiency, because yield is linked to transpiration.

This multi-state, field-based project will utilise recent advances in soil amelioration techniques to address multiple soil (especially subsoil) constraints. This will improve our understanding of the interactions of these strategies with how plants use soil water in different soil types and farming systems.

The project will establish four long-term (5+ years) experiments to assess how amelioration strategies will improve crop rooting depth, water use and productivity by re-engineering soils with multiple constraints.

Economic assessments of amelioration strategies will be developed to guide the adoption of better soil management strategies by farmers. By maintaining experiments for more than five years, the project will address the most challenging problems of managing hostile soils to deliver solutions that improve the profitability of crop production in Australia.

Related Programs

Duration

Three years

Participants

NSW Department of Primary Industries
Agriculture Victoria
Murdoch University
Burdekin Productivity Services
Charles Sturt University

Project 4.3.002

Improving decision support systems

Project 4.3.002

Dr Keith Pembleton – Project Leader
University of Southern Queensland

Farmers face multiple, complex soil constraints that are difficult and costly to diagnose, assess and ameliorate.

Following on from the scoping study Soil models, tools and data: Current state of play, future directions and setting up for longevity and a legacy from the CRC for High Performance Soils, this project will address the issue that most Decision Support Systems (DSS) do not allow for complex soil constraints in their modelling.

Currently, the models and DSS used in Australian agriculture have a limited ability to represent a diversity of soil constraints and how these constraints interact to affect crop and pasture production. Essentially, only nitrogen fertility and soil water dynamics in dryland environments is well represented.

This project will improve already existing and widely used DSS (ARM Online, Yield Prophet and Soil Water App) through developing soil constraint modules to increase the reliability of predictions that can be used in the paddock.

Focusing on DSS with existing user bases will ensure early and rapid adoption and will provide enhanced decision support to the agricultural industry for addressing complex soil productivity and constraint challenges that limit farm productivity. Ultimately, this will help farmers and advisers to formulate interventions and new management strategies to improve productivity.

Incorporating developments into existing DSS will ensure that the project has a direct payoff to Australian farmers and will enable them to identify efficient strategies to address soil constraints to production for their specific circumstances. This represents a significant user base that will facilitate the early uptake of the projects outputs leading to rapid impacts.

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Related Programs

Duration

Two and a half years

Participants

University of Southern Queensland
Federation University Australia
University of Tasmania
NSW Department of Primary Industries
Burdekin Productivity Services
Birchip Cropping Group
West Midlands Group
Riverine Plains

Project 6.1.001

Building Capacity Project

Project 6.1.001

Felicity Harrop – Project Leader
North Central Catchment Management Authority

As farmers better understand the importance of sustainable soil management for their productivity and profitability, they need advice, technical assistance and expertise from their local grower groups.

This project is co-funded by the Australian Government through the Building Landcare Community and Capacity component of the Smart Farms Program. It will deliver increased soil technical capacity and capability in grower groups, Landcare groups and NRM organisations, both within and outside of the Soil CRC.

The project is building technical capacity of these groups to deliver soil health information to farmers. It is leveraging the significant skills, expertise and collaborative partnerships within the Soil CRC to build the soil health technical capacity of these groups.

Three communities of practice (CoPs) have been established across Australia, each one made up of 10 participants from groups in areas of common interest. The three CoPs cover the West – WA; South – SA, Vic, Tas and Southern NSW and North – Northern NSW and Qld.

Of the 30 groups that are represented, 15 are farmer groups and 15 are NRM organisations. Nineteen of the participants are from groups outside of the Soil CRC. They have analysed the existing soil science knowledge, skills and confidence of the participants and where they currently source knowledge on soil science practice and trends.

Each of the three CoPs are developing a capacity building plan that best addresses the gaps and needs of the individuals within each CoP and the CoP as a whole. These plans will reflect the existing knowledge bases of individual participants, the needs and priorities of the groups for whom they work, the delivery needs of the projects that they are responsible for (i.e. Smart Farms projects), and the soil and farming systems issues of the region.

In the medium term, these three communities of practice will have positioned themselves as knowledge hubs driving adoption of sustainable, productive soil stewardship at the farm level.

Duration

Two years

Participants

North West Local Land Services
Northern Slopes Landcare Association
North Coast Local Land Services
Central West Local Land Services
Northern Grower Alliance
Burnett Catchment Care Association
Central Highlands Regional Resources Use Planning Cooperative (CHRRUP)
Hunter Local Land Services
Burdekin Productivity Services
Herbert Cane Productivity Services
Perth NRM
South West Catchments Council
WA Hemp Growers’ Co-op Ltd (HempGro)
South Coast NRM
Northern Agricultural Catchments Council NRM
Morawa Farm Improvement Group
Southern Dirt
The Gillamii Centre
West Midlands Group
Wheatbelt NRM
Upper Hopkins Land Management Group
Natural Resources SA Murray-Darling Basin
Eyre Peninsula NRM
Northern & Yorke NRM
Holbrook Landcare Network
Riverine Plains
Farmlink Research
Central West Farming Systems
Southern Farming Systems
Birchip Cropping Group