Grains Research and Development

Date: 01.06.2002

Underground economics: the GRDC Soil Biology Initiative

UNDERGROUND CONSTRAINTS to crop performance are a major impediment to the continued health and strength of Australian grains industry. As a result, the GRDC has committed funds of $10 million over five years initially, to establish a National Soil Biology Initiative. This should lead to collaborative and joint funding commitments from other parties.

The GRDC hopes the initiative will lead to a suite of practical methods and cost effective products, based on a sound scientific understanding of crop root-soil interactions, which will overcome limits to crop performance and significantly improve profit margins in grain cropping systems.

Greg Bender has been appointed coordinator for the initiative and further information is available from Dr Bender on 02 6020 2061;email zorander@bigpond.com.

Dr Bender told Ground Cover: "The soil has commonly been viewed as 'something you and your livestock walk on' or 'the thing that holds up your crops and pastures' or 'a hydroponic medium within which one manages nutrient supply to plants'. The truth is not that simple. Growers and their technical advisers are now realising that the soil is their most fundamental resource. In some cases it is a vanishing resource threatened by salinity, sodicity, acidity and other problems.

"Topsoil is the most densely populated area on earth. Underground livestock often weigh more per hectare than livestock above ground. While science has accumulated a considerable body of data, the role of soil biology in crop productivity is still a new field of research. This is especially true for how we apply our knowledge, in a practical sense, for the benefit of growers and the environment.

"The complexity of soil biology and the absence of scientific tools for analysis and experimentation have hindered progress. Most people, scientists included, have regarded this area of research as too difficult. Recent advances in technology are beginning to change this and some have taken on the challenge. The purpose of the GRDC Soil Biology Initiative is to support the efforts of the brave and build research capacity towards delivering real benefits for grower stakeholders."