National project brings together soils research

Image of seedlings

Sodium-induced calcium deficiency is one possible issue with sodic soils, caused by an excess of sodium relative to other cations in the soil.

PHOTO: CSIRO

The new GRDC-funded ‘Soil constraints initiative – coordination and communication’ project has been providing a national approach to the diagnosis and management of soil constraints

Almost 75 per cent of Australian cropping soils contain at least one significant constraint to crop growth and many areas contain several potential constraints. The annual value of lost agricultural production in Australia caused by soil constraints including compaction, sodicity, salinity (dryland and primary/transient), acidity, alkalinity, and toxicity of boron, chloride and aluminium is estimated to be between $1.5 billion and $2 billion a year.

Besides direct loss from reduced grain yields and quality, there are indirect costs from wastage of expensive inputs (especially fertiliser), soil loss, increased weed populations and contribution to the further development of dryland salinity.

The nature of these constraints is highly complex, varying significantly from soil to soil, region to region, season to season, and according to crop type. Grower attitudes to risk also vary – there is no simple one-size-fits-all solution that all Australian grain growers can adopt.

There is a vast body of information and knowledge on the diagnosis and management of these constraints developed through various research programs over the years. However, accessing this information is not always easy.

A pressing need was identified to bring together projects – designed to diagnose and manage soil constraints for increased productivity and profitability – for the benefit of the Australian grains industry as a whole.

In response, the GRDC has funded the ‘Soil constraints initiative – coordination and communication’, an overarching project designed to provide a national approach to coordination, integration and communication of new knowledge stemming from individual soil constraint projects.

These projects are:
  • 2014.05.30 Costs of edaphic stress to the Australian grains industry
  • 2015.05.05 Soil constraints initiative – management of non-wetting soils
  • 2015.05.06 Soil constraints initiative – management of sodic and magnesic soils
  • 2015.05.07 Soil constraints initiative – innovative approaches to managing subsoil acidity.

The umbrella project will also develop informal linkages with other soil constraints projects in the broader GRDC portfolio.

Australian experts in the identification and management of soil constraints are members of the project team, and communications specialist Coretext will manage the link between research schedules and timelines, and communication with growers and other stakeholders.

The project will ensure the delivery of consistent and effective messages that account for regionally specific differences and the range of capabilities, attitudes and aspirations of grain growers who manage soil constraints daily.

It is expected that grain growers will become more profitable and sustainable through better understanding and cost-effective management of soil constraints.

The project, which started in July 2015, has already developed a monitoring, evaluation and reporting framework to check attitudes towards, and use of, existing technologies related to soil constraints.

Early in 2016, the project will distribute a baseline survey to assess drivers of change to achieving maximum profitability, providing a benchmark as well as a review of the drivers and barriers to adopting improved management practices.

A follow-up survey later in the five-year project will evaluate the project’s effectiveness in the form of changes in knowledge, skills and practices.

More information:

Ram Dalal,
07 3170 5766,
ram.dalal@dsiti.qld.gov.au

Yash Dang,
07 4529 1245,
y.dang@uq.edu.au

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GRDC Project Code DAQ00199, DAQ00200, CSP00195, UQ00081, DAW00242

Region National