We are facing great challenges, but I believe the Soil CRC is well placed to face some of these head on and make significant steps forward for Australia’s soils and agriculture.DR PAUL GREENFIELD, SOIL CRC CHAIR
SOIL ON NATIONAL POLICY AGENDA
Soil is very much on the national policy agenda this year, with the Prime Minister acknowledging that soil health is so important to Australian agriculture that he is reappointing Major General Michael Jeffery as the National Soils Advocate. We look forward to working with General Jeffery again not only in his role as Patron of the Soil CRC but also in his role as the National Soils Advocate.
DROUGHT AND CLIMATE CHANGE
One of the emerging challenges for a number of the Soil CRC participants is how to achieve soil improvements in changing and increasingly difficult climatic conditions, including the current ongoing and expanding drought affecting many parts of Australia. These issues are at the forefront of research at the CRC. Part of the challenge will be to reinforce and educate the broader community on the value of improved soils.
There is no way to drought-proof our soils, but we are investing in research to make soils more resilient to pressures of drought, looking for long-term sustainable answers to farming in an ever changing climate.
COLLABORATIVE APPROACHES TO INNOVATION
Dr Nick Pawsey – Project Leader Charles Stuart University
Taking a multi-disciplinary approach involving soil researchers, farmer groups and the finance industry, this project establishes how these groups can work together to promote effective and sustainable soil management practices.
The project provides a blueprint of the principles for collaboration for future Soil CRC research. It is an example of how Soil CRC projects are collaborating across industry, disciplines and being informed by farmers from their inception.
The longer-term objective is to ensure that agricultural financial decision processes, together with land valuation practices, recognise farmers who improve soil condition and identify the costs of soil degradation.
Ultimately this will enable increased access to lower cost finance for farmers who engage in practices that improve soil security, condition and productivity.
So far the project has involved farmers, farmer groups, banks, land valuers, farm suppliers, soil scientists, farming and corporate advisors, conservation and carbon farming organisations and government agencies in a series of workshops.
As part of the workshops, a number of research opportunities and leverage points to activate financial markets to reward soil stewardship have been identified. These include how to improve communication between soil researchers and the finance industry and how to measure and define best practice for soil management.
Duration: 1 year
VISUALISING AUSTRALASIA’S SOILS
Associate Professor Peter Dahlhaus – Project Leader Federation University Australia
The project aims to establish a community – or federation – that will bring together data from Australia and New Zealand, from public and private sources, according to the access control rules set by the owners of the data.
There are a few challenges to achieving this:
- Working out the value proposition – determining what the participants would like to achieve from the project
- Creating the right social architecture – establishing trusted and secure data management and working out the rules by which data could be accessed by different end-users
- Technical architecture – how to provide interoperable access to the data over which each of the federation members has control
The first priority is understanding what researchers, agronomists and farmers really want to get out of the project. To this end, the project has run workshops involving participants from Western Australia, Queensland and New Zealand.
According to participants, the most valued data sets are the ones that are identifying trends in soil properties and benchmarking in their region. Participants also value having access to an online system to securely store, organise and query their own data. The ability to use federated data to identify research gaps, provide evidence for funding grants, create collaborative opportunities (especially funded collaborations) and report to investors and members is also seen as important. Many groups saw how the soil data federation could grow their membership and information delivery services, especially if bespoke tools were developed that would empower their members with practical insight into soil improvement on their farms.
The data stewardship framework and pilot portal will both be launched in December 2019.
Duration: 2 years
INJECTING LIQUID BIOSOLIDS
Dr Aravind Surapaneni – Project Leader South East Water
Finding innovative uses for biosolids in agriculture is challenging.
South East Water gained an approval from the Victorian EPA to trial injecting liquid biosolids into soil at the Longwarry Water Recycling Plant in Victoria with an aim to improve soil structure, fertility and function.
The project established a summer forage sorghum crop and a winter maize crop on five different paddocks at the Longwarry site. Crop growth, soil and groundwater were tested both during crop growth and after harvesting.
In May 2019, a very successful Field Day was held to demonstrate the initial outcomes of this project, showcasing the potential benefits of injecting liquid biosolids into the soil.
The results from pre and post-injection groundwater and soil monitoring indicate minimal accumulation of nutrients and contaminants in the vicinity of the trial site. However, a localised area near the trial site and other treatment infrastructure exhibited increases in nutrient levels and other parameters, which warrant further investigation.
The purpose of this pilot trial is to conduct a study of soil injection of T3 grade biosolids in the field. This is to determine the feasibility of soil injection of these biosolids under Victorian conditions.
It will also identify and quantify potential on and off-site environmental risks and impacts. It will identify potential contaminant and emission sources, pathways and endpoints. It will generate scientific knowledge and understanding on biophysical and chemical processes associated with soil injection, with a particular focus on the injection of T3 grade biosolids.
The project will continue monitoring soil, groundwater and herbage samples through different seasons and cropping until January 2021. A final post injection monitoring and post-harvest monitoring report will be submitted which will:
- Demonstrate and establish impacts (especially environmental) and costs (financial and carbon) associated with direct injection of sludge into soil at a well-controlled and confined test site. This will occur under prescribed management practices as well as prevailing environmental conditions for the specified evaluation period.
- Provide regulatory authorities and the water industry with evidence-based scientific information on alternative courses of action relating to utilisation of biosolids, with a particular emphasis on soil injection of sludge.
- Provide detailed knowledge and understanding of risk factors, extent of impacts (if any) and costs incurred to enable development of;
- risk mitigation through application of science, and,
- best management guidelines on soil injection of sludge leading to significant environmental, economic and social benefits for the farming community and greater water industry in general.
Duration: 3 years
PLANT BASED SOLUTIONS TO IMPROVE SOIL PERFORMANCE
Associate Professor Terry Rose – Project Leader Southern Cross University
Having a diverse farming system provides multiple benefits, including resilience, weed and disease suppression and improved soil health. However, in Australia, crop diversity is often limited.
This project aims to investigate soil chemical and biological changes in cropping systems through increasing species diversity, greater soil microbial abundance, disease control and increasing soil fertility.
This project identifies crop rotations that will enable profitable integration of a range of species into farming systems, which will increase diversity.
It is determining 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 to improve soil performance through rhizosphere modification using plant-based solutions.
Long-term field sites have been established across the country – in Wagga Wagga NSW, Burramine Vic, Condobolin NSW, Hart SA, Wickepin WA and Ingham Qld. These 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 outcomes from rhizosphere re-engineering are not immediate and improvements in productivity and resilience are not often seen in short-term experiments.
The results 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.
It will also provide a platform for the Soil CRC and key stakeholders for practicing cropping rotation and increasing cropping diversity to maintain long-term soil function.
Duration: 4 years