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 1.2.002

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 1.2.003

Collaborative approaches to innovation

Project 1.2.003

Dr Nicholas Pawsey – Project Leader
Charles Sturt University

This project will investigate how farmers who manage their soil well can be financially rewarded. It takes a multi-disciplinary approach, involving soil researchers, farmer groups and the finance industry. Working together, they will establish a shared understanding of the soil-farmer-finance ‘system’.

Existing networks will be strengthened and new ones developed in order to establish an agenda for on-going collaborative studies concerning how consumers value soil management and the financial mechanisms that promote effective and sustainable soil management practices.

The project will demonstrate effective principles of collaboration that can be used by other Soil CRC projects that seek to understand the research needs of farmers and other stakeholders.

The longer term objective is to ensure that agricultural financial decision processes, together with land valuation practices, recognise farmers who enhance soil condition and also recognise the costs of soil degradation. This is ultimately to enable increased access to lower cost finance for farmers who engage in practices recognised as improving soil security, condition and productivity. The project will be executed through a series of three workshops and the use of online collaborative platforms.

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Related Programs

Duration

One year

Participants

Charles Sturt University
Federation University
Murdoch University
University of Southern Queensland
University of Tasmania

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.

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 1.3.001

Risk assessment of new practices

Project 1.3.001

Associate Professor Kala Saravanathu – Project leader
University of Newcastle

Decisions about sustainably increasing soil productivity are often influenced by financial profitability rather than considerations of ecosystem resilience. This project uses integrated risk management software to facilitate collaborative resilience thinking. It will integrate field data about on-farm productivity with farmers’ and experts’ real-world, lived experiences of how farm productivity is affected by the consequences of unsustainable practices.

It maps out the risk profiles for a catchment using farmers’ and experts’ shared meanings of the risks and benefits emerging from the Soil CRC’s research. This in turn will help farmers and their advisers decide on acceptable risk thresholds, which ultimately increases farmer productivity and profitability.

The project will use a web-based, integrated risk platform to socially integrate the multi-dimensional attributes of soil re-engineering interventions. It enables the transfer of knowledge between scientists and farmers as they examine the consequences of re-engineering.

Related Programs

Duration

Two years

Participants

University of Newcastle
Birchip Cropping Group
Central West Farming Systems
Charles Sturt University

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.

Related Programs

Duration

One year

Participants

Charles Sturt University
Four farmer groups (tbd)

Project 2.1.003

Bioindicators for high performance soils

Project 2.1.003

Associate Professor Pauline Mele – Project Leader
Agriculture Victoria

There is a lack of relevant biological indicators of high performance soils in Australian agriculture. This project will identify soil biology measures that grain growers and advisers can use to benchmark and improve soil performance and farm productivity. It will establish correlations with existing chemical and physical data and spectral data and connect grower, adviser, and research communities to define soil biology measures that distinguish low and high performing soils.

Only a quarter of all Australian farmers are testing their soil, with much of this testing focussing on macro-nutrients rather than soil biology. To monitor soil with the intent of improving performance, farmers need to look at specific biological functions such as nutrient cycling, disease suppression and structural maintenance. By overcoming problems in soil, we can achieve significant improvements in productivity.

In collaboration with grain growers, advisers and researchers, the project will design a framework to select biological indicators for low and high performing soils. This will provide farmers with robust information and locally relevant bioindicators of soil performance for enduring grain production. It will establish thresholds with existing chemical and physical data and spectral data, showing links with biological data.

A design framework for targeting ‘best bet’ bioindicators and for developing a “soil performance simulator” will be developed for medium to high rainfall grain production regions of western Victoria. It will account for both soil types and management. Key activities include: engaging with farmers on their use of indicators (including biological measures); co-developing indicator thresholds; testing and evaluating the robustness of field kits and indicators for soils and training farmers in the application of the ‘soil performance simulator’ for their purposes.

The project will focus on cropping regions in western Victoria as they have the largest yield potential gap in Australia. If successful, future work will be expanded to other regions.  Ultimately, it will lead to an increase in soil monitoring across Australia’s agricultural landscapes. This will be achieved through the development of bioindicator metrics and thresholds that can be easily measured and used to assist in decision making by farmers.

Related Programs

Duration

Three years

Participants

Agriculture Victoria, Federation University

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.

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.

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.

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.

Related Programs

Duration

Three years

Participants

University of Newcastle
Burdekin Productivity Services
Herbert Cane Productivity Services
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.

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.

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.

Related Programs

Duration

Three years

Participants

South East Water
University of Newcastle

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.

Related Programs

Duration

Three years

Participants

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

Project 3.3.002

New products for subsoil constraints

Project 3.3.002

Project Leader: Dr Ehsan Tavakkoli
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.

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.

Related Programs

Duration

Three years

Participants

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

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.

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.

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.

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.

Related Programs

Duration

Two and a half years

Participants

Manaaki Whenua Landcare Research NZ
Charles Sturt University
Agriculture Victoria
NSW Department of Primary Industries
Primary Industries and Regions SA
Southern Cross University
Southern Farming Systems
University of Newcastle
University of Southern Queensland

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.

Related Programs

Duration

Three years

Participants

NSW Department of Primary Industries
Murdoch University
Southern Cross University
WANTFA
Hart Field Site Group
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.

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.

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.

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

Completed Projects

Project 1.1.01

Activating markets to create incentives for improved soil management literature scoping study.

Project 1.1.01

Professor Mark Morrison – Project Leader
Charles Sturt University

The project developed a user manual for selecting, adapting and where necessary, creating and implementing market-based instruments.

Market-based instruments involve the identification or creation of financial or other incentives and, where needed, the removal or reduction of disincentives, for improved soil management within consumer or other markets.

The team of researchers from CSU, UTAS, USQ and UON working on this output developed potential project ideas in this area. They identified key issues and stakeholders, clarified program objectives and scoped out potential project areas.

They liaised with Soil CRC industry partners to clarify issues, provided an overview of market-based incentives, gauged their support for proposed projects and got insights into potential modifications to future projects.

Related Programs

Fact Sheets

Project 1.1.02

How better soil management could affect property prices*.

Project 1.1.02

Professor Mark Morrison – Project Leader
Charles Sturt University

The goal of this project is to understand how soil management practices influence property prices, so farmers can better understand the pay-off from investments in improving soil management. A hedonic pricing model that uses internal and external factors to determine a property’s value or price will be applied.

Hedonic pricing models measure the effect of identified factors on future property prices through statistical analyses that determine the relationship between different data points. To build a hedonic pricing model, it is critical to collect data about property prices and the identified factors. This is what this project will primarily seek out to achieve.

The project has three components:

  1. Data collection of property sale prices
  2. Data collection of contributing factors from a farmer perspective
  3. Training of a research officer in hedonic pricing model analysis

The project team will collect and build datasets on the following:

  • Sources and availability of data required for hedonic price analysis,
  • Soil feature and soil management databases and geographic information system (GIS) layers,
  • Property sale prices,
  • A range of other property characteristics including (farm size, fencing, slope, yield, vegetation, presence of a house, farm infrastructure, accessibility etc.), and
  • Farmer contact details.

The project will involve interviews with farmers and property agents to better understand the factors influencing farmers when purchasing properties.

*This project has additional funding provided by the NSW Government Department of Industry’s Research Attraction and Acceleration Program (RAAP).

Related Programs

Project 1.2.01

Scoping systems of acceptance of improved soil management, with a focus on decision support systems and tools.

Project 1.2.01

Associate Professor Catherine Allan – Project Leader
Charles Sturt University

The Soil CRC wil produce various outputs and products with the potential to increase the performance of agricultural soils in Australia. Farmers will only adopt and invest in products that are relevant, and to do this they need access to decision support systems (DSS). A comprehensive review determined the range, availability and suitability of existing DSS relevant to soil management.

The objective was to indicate the scope for the Soil CRC to use existing farmer decision support interfaces for the uptake and use of research outputs.

This scoping study review considered the broader context as well as scoped the existing DSS, and therefore supported the outputs of the Soil CRC.

They ran 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.

Related Programs

Fact Sheets

Project 1.4.01

Innovation capability building*.

Project 1.4.01

Professor David Falepau – Project Leader
Charles Sturt University

Through this project, the Soil CRC will build long term innovation capability within the participating organisations. It will establish innovation partnership agreements and complete innovation strategic plans with Soil CRC partner farmer groups. Innovation programs are often generic, so to avoid this, a program will be tailored to the needs of the Soil CRC participants (including farmer groups) and innovations will be targeted towards achieving greater economic returns on investment in good soil stewardship.

Over the longer term, it is intended the program will integrate across all of the Soil CRC Programs, and participants creating an innovation eco-system targeted at high performance soils.

The building of long term innovation capability within participating organisations is intended to extend the benefits of the Soil CRC investment well beyond the life of the Soil CRC.

*This project has additional funding provided by the NSW Government Department of Industry’s Research Attraction and Acceleration Program (RAAP).

Related Programs

Project 2.1.01

A review of indicators of soil health and function: farmers’ needs and data management.

Project 2.1.01

Associate Professor Peter Dahlhaus – Project Leader
Federation University

The aim of this review was to determine which indicators would be most practical to improve profitability for Australian farmers.

This included examining whether we have suitable data available to measure and monitor trends, the tools to store, share and make this data available as well as determining what additional data is required, how they are best collected and ensuring that the data and tools are available beyond the life of the CRC.

As a scoping study, the outcomes will guide future CRC projects by providing a comprehensive review of the relevance of reliable, easily measurable and practical soil health and function indicators and their ability to link soil measurements with yield, productivity and profitability.

Project 2.1.02

Is the isotopic composition of bulk soil carbon and nitrogen a robust indicator of agricultural soil health?*

Project 2.1.02

Dr Naomi Wells – Project Leader
Southern Cross University

The goal of this project is to identify indicators of carbon and nitrogen status in soils that can be used across a wide range of soil types, whilst minimising any possible laboratory bias and also being measurable on archived soil samples.

To establish farm-relevant indicators of soil health, the complexity of overlapping effects of climate, soil type and management practices need to be considered. Data is required on baseline soil nutrient cycling capacity to connect on-farm measurements to soil health.

It is anticipated that the proposed research will outline the local ‘soil health’ definitions that will underpin the next 10 years of Soil CRC research of managing high performance soils across Australia’s diverse climatic growing regions.

*This project has additional funding provided by the NSW Government Department of Industry’s Research Attraction and Acceleration Program (RAAP).

Related Programs

Project 2.2.01

Soil sensor technologies – which ones are most useful for smarter farming?

Project 2.2.01

Dr Marcus Hardie and Assoc Prof John Bennett – Project Leaders
University of Tasmania and University of Southern Queensland

The purpose of the review was to identify existing and prototype soil sensors for consideration by the Soil CRC for investment in research and development.

The review focused on proximal (installed in or immediately above the soil), point scale and mobile sensors and sensory systems. The review considered potential chemical, physical and biological sensors for indicating soil health, function or performance.

Emphasis was placed on reviewing sensors for priority soil attributes identified by growers in Project 2.1.01

Related Programs

Fact Sheets

Project 3.1.01

Review and meta-analysis of waste-derived fertiliser products, nano-porous materials for pesticide delivery, and moisture retention and microbial carrier technologies.

Project 3.1.01

Professor Chengrong Chen – Project Leader
Griffith University

Intensive agriculture has led to land degradation in some areas. Together with inefficient use of fertiliser and pesticides/herbicides, the productivity and sustainability of many agricultural systems in Australia is greatly limited.

The aim of this scoping study was to undertake a comprehensive review and meta-analysis of potential values of waste by-products and natural resources in Australia to be used for manufacturing new fertilisers, nano-porous materials for pesticide/herbicide delivery, and moisture retention and microbial carrier products.

The outcomes provided recommendations on the priorities for future research investment to meet Program 3 Milestone Output 1 (novel high performance fertiliser products), 2 (new low residual pesticide/ herbicide delivery systems) and 4 (effective delivery of beneficial microorganisms).

Related Programs

Project 3.1.02

Is the isotopic composition of bulk soil carbon and nitrogen a robust indicator of agricultural soil health?*

Project 3.1.02

Dr Dane Lamb – Project Leader
University of Newcastle

The goal of this project is to understand the reactions of phosphorous fertilisers in soils and the various chemical and biological processes involved in unlocking phosphorous so that crops can use it, thereby increasing the productivity of Australian agricultural soils.

Although phosphorous is present in significant quantities in many agricultural soils, a majority proportion exists in strongly adsorbed or insoluble inorganic forms, and therefore is not bioavailable to agricultural crops.

Most modern agriculture systems are heavily reliant on recurrent inputs of nutrients including nitrogen, phosphorus, potassium, sulphur, calcium, magnesium and trace elements. These nutrients are derived primarily from synthetic fertilisers using nutrient rich mineral resources such as phosphate rock and elemental sulphur. With increasing costs of fertiliser production and decline in the supply of natural mineral resources, farmers face the challenge of ensuring crops have sufficient access to the nutrients they need to thrive.

*This project has additional funding provided by the NSW Government Department of Industry’s Research Attraction and Acceleration Program (RAAP).

Related Programs

Project 3.3.01

Mapping projects on ameliorating soil constraints, and review of soil constraints, products and technologies.

Project 3.3.01

Dr Susan Orgill – Project Leader
NSW Department of Primary Industries

This project identified the location, scope and impact of current research investigating soil constraints to agricultural production, and reviewed the major soil constraints to Australian agriculture and the amelioration products and technologies to manage these constraints.

This project produced a report based on an objective needs assessment using an economic framework for prioritisation that will be critical in deciding the future research directions for Program 3.

Related Programs

Fact Sheets

Project 4.1.01

Scoping study to identify and prioritise regional soil constraints.

Project 4.1.01

Diana Parsons – Project Leader
Central West Farming Systems

This scoping study consulted with end users to identify the key issues that are contributing to lower production due to soil constraints so that the future research of program 4 (with aspects informing Program 3, output 3) can be directed and targeted to deliver outcomes in these areas.

A key deliverable of this study is the establishment of formal engagement between researchers and growers in the identification and prioritisation of issues. The on-ground relationships this scoping study established are critical to the successful adoption of future Soil CRC outcomes.

Related Programs

Fact Sheets

Project 4.3.01

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

Project 4.3.01

Dr Keith Pembleton – Project Leader
University of Southern Queensland

The suite of decision support systems (DSS) needed to be reviewed and assessed to ensure their effectiveness and their usefulness and longevity beyond the life of the Soil CRC.

This scoping project mapped, reviewed and assessed the landscape of the DSS, models and data. Recommendations have been made on how DSS developed through the Soil CRC can build on past research to have impact and longevity.

Related Programs

Fact Sheets