High tech soil research digs grassroots

High tech soil research digs grassroots


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GO AHEAD: Australia can regain its place at the forefront of soil research, which will benefit farmers and the environment, says Professor Ravi Naidu.

GO AHEAD: Australia can regain its place at the forefront of soil research, which will benefit farmers and the environment, says Professor Ravi Naidu.

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High Performance Soil research centre wants to work with farmers

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NEW government funding is driving a research and development collaboration to boost the management and performance one of agriculture’s fundamental elements, soil.

A High Performance Soils Cooperative Research Centre (CRC) will receive $40 million over 10 years, aimed at farmers to bridge the gap between soil science and critical on farm decision making. It will be backed with $137m in cash and in-kind participant contributions.

Newcastle University will head the research effort, lead soil scientist Professor Ravi Naidu.

Prof. Naidu has over thirty years of soil research under his belt. He said he is enthused about the new opportunity in the soils CRC as there is relatively little research conducted into soils in Australia, given all agricultural production and environmental health depends on soil.

“It is very exciting. I have been working with farmers for a long time and this decision by the commonwealth to support soil research is great,” he said.

“There was a time 50 years ago when Australia was seen as leader of soil science. Some of the research we did then was fundamental to the global effort. But with time we have been diminished. This CRC can bridge this gap.”

Like Prof. Briers in the Food Agility CRC, Prof. Naidu aims to generate economic outcomes through cross sectional collaboration.

“ There are so many different ways to do the same thing,” he said.

“The soils CRC can become a centre of excellence for not just soil based research, but also to impact positively on the economy.

“Agriculture can perform far better than it is now, in terms of water use in dryland, acidity, resource integration into farming systems, nutrient deficiencies and so on. Just look at any paddock and there will be patches doing well, and other not so.

“Put it all together and then just imaging how much farmers ability to generate income is impacted by those factors.”

Prof. Naidu wants the CRC to help increase the link between farmers and research.

“When researchers develop solutions it tends to be printed in scientific publications and not connected to farmers,” he said.

“This CRC can ensure that scientists are able to work with farmers so the lab works gets to the field.”

The most recently report on the CRC program, which was initiated by the Commonwealth in 1990, was delivered in 2006. It found the CRCs outperformed the University sector two-to-one in terms of dollars spent and inventions, patents, or licences produced.

The Cotton CRC contributed to development and take-up of transgenic Bollgard II variety, which enabled a significant reduction in pesticide use. Cotton CRC claimed the cotton industry’s average chemical usage fell from 6.5 kilograms per hectare to 2kg/ha between 2000 and 2003.

The Sheep CRC’s e-sheep system, developed in the early 2000s, uses electronic tags, readers, and recording and measurement devices for management of commercial and stud flocks. It claimed the cost davings of up to $4.40 per animal for fine wool Merinos and $1.60 per animal for dual purpose wool/meat Merinos.

Department of Industry Innovation and Science rolls out farm research

Federal government is rolling out more than $150 million in  funding for industry research and development funding and agricultural digital technology is taking centre stage.

Four new Cooperative Research Centres (CRC) have been created, taking the program’s list of bodies to 36.

A High Performance Soils CRC will receive $40m over 10 years, aimed at farmers to bridge the gap between soil science and critical on farm decision making. It will be backed with $137m in cash and in-kind participant contributions.

A Honey Bee CRC will receive $7m over five years, to link unique floral hive sites to product quality control processes and to help boost the industry’s marketability. It will be supported with $19m in cash and in-kind participant contributions

There are four other agriculture CRCs, with Pork, Sheep, Plant Biosecurity and Poultry.

The other CRC which was established in the latest round of funding is also relevant to the agricultural supply chain. The iMove CRC, will receive $55m over 10 years targeting new vehicle technologies to boost traffic, intermodal connections and freight operators. The funding will be matched with $179m in cash and in-kind participant contributions.

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