Polymers probed in novel non-wetting research

Author: Natalie Lee | Date: 08 Aug 2014

Image of non-wetting soils in WA. Photo taken by Stephen Davies, DAFWA

Researchers are developing new polymer-based wetting agents in a bid to help broadacre farmers cost-effectively manage water-repellent soils.

Non-wetting or water-repellent soils cost Australian farmers hundreds of millions of dollars each year through lost production. WA losses alone are estimated to be up to $330 million each year.

The effects of these soils include poor crop germination, staggered weed germination (making weed control difficult) and an increased risk of water and wind erosion.

The research into chemical surfactant polymers is being conducted as part of a five-year project funded by the Grains Research and Development Corporation (GRDC) and the CRC for Polymers, with support from chemical company BASF.

Research organisations involved include The University of Western Australia (UWA), CSIRO, the University of New England and Swinburne University of Technology.

Researcher Daniel Murphy, of UWA, says the collaborative work is focusing on finding solutions for sandy soils with a clay content of less than 5 per cent, as these have the greatest susceptibility to water repellency.

 “We’re aiming to get a better understanding of how chemical surfactants interact with organic molecules and the soil, and how we can improve these products so water can be absorbed quickly by the soil,” he said.

“While soil wetting agents aren’t new, this research aims to improve the efficiency of these polymer-based products so they can be used more effectively and economically in broadacre farming systems.”

Professor Murphy said he believed that improved wetting agents would be particularly useful for farming areas where mechanical soil amelioration techniques – such as spading or mouldboard ploughing – were not suitable.

Non-wetting soils have been identified by the GRDC Western Regional Panel and Regional Cropping Solutions Networks (RCSNs) as one of the top GRDC research, development and extension (RD&E) priorities in WA.

Information about the research into non-wetting polymers is also contained in a GRDC GroundCover TV video available at http://www.grdc.com.au/GCTV13-PolymerPotential.


Caption: A paddock showing the effects of patchy crop germination caused by non-wetting soils. Photo by Stephen Davies, DAFWA.

Contact Details

For Interviews

Daniel Murphy, UWA
08 6488 7083


Natalie Lee, Cox Inall Communications
08 9864 2034, 0427 189 827

GRDC Project Code PO100001

Region West