Researchers from The University of Western Australia have received a $4.34 million grant for a project to improve soil condition and plant productivity as part of the national Soil Science Challenge.
Federal Agriculture Minister the Hon David Littleproud MP announced the three-year funding grant at UWA.
The Soil Science Challenge is part of the Federal Government’s commitment to a $214.9 million National Soil Strategy which sets out how Australia will value, manage and improve its soil for the next 20 years.
UWA will partner with Western Sydney University and The University of Adelaide for the research project, which will investigate the mechanisms that underpin the effects of biological amendments on soil health, productivity and resilience.
Emerita Professor Lynette Abbott, Senior Honorary Research Fellow at the UWA School of Agriculture and Environment and The UWA Institute of Agriculture, said soil provided essential ecosystem services that contribute to Australia’s economic, environmental, and social wellbeing.
“Our changing climate, pressure to produce more food and fibre and growing population pose major challenges for the successful management of our fragile soil,” Professor Abbott said.
“This explains the growing interest in the use of biological soil amendments – that is any material added to a soil to improve its physical properties, such as water retention, permeability, water infiltration, drainage and aeration — to increase the productivity of Australian crops.”
Professor Abbott said waste technologies such as anaerobic digestion, composting and pelletisation converted organic materials into soil improvers that can complement chemical fertilisers and contribute to soil resilience beyond just overcoming nutrient constraints.
“Our project will look to identify the most efficient and cost-effective ways of combining biological and chemical fertilisers and determine the underlying mechanisms involved,” she said.
“Our ultimate aim is to improve soil health and crop performance for farmers across Australia.”
UWA Vice-Chancellor Professor Amit Chakma congratulated the UWA research team for their “passion and dedication in working to secure and protect Australia’s soil for the future”.
“The funding announced today (28/04/2022) will allow for more ground-breaking research to help address fundamental gaps in soil science and improve our understanding of how to better manage soil, ultimately making a difference not only in this country but globally,” Professor Chakma said.
Minister Littleproud said these projects would push the frontier on soil science questions relating to agriculture, climate change and soil health.
“Project focus areas include improving soil carbon sequestration, improved fertiliser strategies, and high-resolution mapping to improve soil management across our vast landscape,” he said.
The UWA project team includes Emerita Professor Lynette Abbott, Dr Sasha Jenkins, Professor Nanthi Bolan, Hackett Professor Kadambot Siddique, Dr Zakaria Solaiman, Dr Bede Mickan, Dr Marit Kragt, Associate Professor Louise Barton and Associate Professor Matthias Leopold.