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Global soil alert

The 2012 recipient of the International Soil Science Award, Professor Ravi Naidu from the University of South Australia, has called for a global effort to reverse the degradation and contamination of the world’s food-producing soils and for Australia to take a leading role.

The call came as Prime Minister Julia Gillard announced the formation of an Australian Working Group on Water, Soil and Food, to be headed by the former Governor-General, Major General Michael Jeffery.

Estimates show the world is losing 75 to 100 billion tonnes of agricultural and pastoral soil annually – and new soils require thousands of years to form.

Professor Naidu says such rates of degradation risk exhausting the world’s food-producing soils within two to three generations. The concern is echoed in the Food and Agriculture Organization’s most recent State of the World’s Land and Water Report, which estimates more than half of the Earth’s land surface is now degraded while only 10 per cent is improving.

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Cropping achievement

Australia’s cropping sector is in positive shape despite dry seasonal conditions in 2012, according to an Australian Bureau of Agricultural and Resource Economics and Sciences (ABARES) Australian Crop Report, released in December.

The ABARES report estimated an Australian crop 14 per cent higher than the five-year average despite the near-drought rainfall in many regions. The report flags a winter crop of 35.1 million tonnes, down 23 per cent on last year’s record, with wheat expected to reach about 22 million tonnes, barley 6.9 million tonnes and canola 2.6 million tonnes.

The strong performance has been praised by the Minister for Agriculture, the Hon. Joe Ludwig, who said that while he was pleased with the forecast he was aware that growers in some areas were not doing so well. The report also forecast a strong summer crop, with production to remain largely unchanged from the past season at about 5.5 million tonnes.

The area planted to summer crops is estimated at just below 1.6 million hectares. Favourable grain prices and falling cotton prices have favoured sorghum over dryland cotton, with the area planted to grain sorghum up about 16 per cent to 762,000ha.

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CSIRO appointment

CSIRO has a new chief of the Land and Water Division – Professor Paul Bertsch. Professor Bertsch was selected from a field of national and international candidates to head one of CSIRO’s largest divisions, with more than 500 staff based at nine laboratories around Australia.

He was previously director of the Tracy Farmer Institute for Sustainability and the Environment and held the chair in Environmental Chemistry and Toxicology at the University of Kentucky, Lexington, in the US.

Professor Bertsch is among the world’s pioneers in molecular environmental science and a lifetime national associate of the US National Academy of Sciences. He sees soil and water resources as being at the nexus of every major global ‘grand challenge’ from climate change and food and water security, to biodiversity and the function of natural, managed and built ecosystems.

His new Brisbane-based role at CSIRO starts at the end of February.

More information:

Ben Creagh, CSIRO,

A picture of a man with an iPad leaning against a fence post. Tractor in background.

Australia's national soil databases can now be
accessed in real time online through a new iPad
app called SoilMapp

Online soil profiles

The national soil database can now be accessed in real time online through the iPad app SoilMapp. The app has been developed by the Australian Collaborative Land Evaluation Program (ACLEP) and CSIRO, with funding from the GRDC, because understanding soils is essential for sustaining healthy, natural environments and productive agricultural landscapes.

SoilMapp provides open access to the most up-to-date information for soil at any location in the country.

Information includes soil depth, acidity, salinity, carbon and water-holding capacity. The mobile-device technology was designed to deliver detailed scientific information on soils directly into the hands of growers, rural consultants, agronomists and potentially other soil enthusiasts such as real estate agents and keen bushwalkers.

The app taps into soil information from the Australian Soil Resource Information System (ASRIS) and APSoil, which is the database behind the farming systems model the Agricultural Production Systems SIMulator (APSIM) that is used worldwide.

More information:

Claire Harris, CSIRO,
0428 116 185

Grain price app

A new smartphone app designed to simplify the pricing and sale of grain products has been developed by GrainCorp for growers in eastern Australia. The app provides real-time access to commodity pricing from a range of grain buyers.

It also includes comprehensive site and segregation information for all GrainCorp sites in eastern Australia. Users who have delivered grain into the GrainCorp system can view summaries of their deliveries and manage grain in warehousing, including transfers to contracts.

Merchant contacts are also included so users can speak with grain buyers at the touch of a button.

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