Scientists scoop $4.34m in Soil Science Challenge

Soil Science Challenge

Researchers from The University of Western Australia will investigate ways to improve soil condition, including the use of waste technologies, as part of a project funded by the national Soil Science Challenge.

David Littleproud, Federal Agriculture Minister announced the $4.34 million three-year funding grant at UWA on Thursday.

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.

She said there is a 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.”

Amit Chakma, UWA Vice-Chancellor Professor 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 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,” Chakma said.

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.

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