KEY stakeholders from across the agriculture sector have joined forces to tackle WA’s soil nutrition challenges, with a $14.6 million cross-industry investment.
The first-of-its-kind grain crop and soil nutrition collaboration was announced at the Grains Research and Development Corporation’s (GRDC) State research updates in Perth this week and will see three research projects initiated across WA in a bid to boost farm profitability.
The GRDC has invested $8.3m into the project, while a co-investment of $6.2m has been committed by the Department of Primary Industries and Regional Development (DPIRD), The University of WA (UWA), CSIRO, Murdoch University, CSBP, Summit Fertilizers and The University of Adelaide (UA).
The research will focus on understanding soil nutrient supply to improve fertiliser efficiency, soil amelioration and developing new in-the-field soil sampling methods.
Federal Agriculture and Water Resources Minister David Littleproud said driving Australia’s largest agricultural sector forward was vital, with WA’s grain, oilseed and pulse crop exports worth close to $4 billion per year.
“Healthy soil is as vital to our farms as water and sunlight,” Mr Littleproud said.
“Our farmers want to be able to get the best from their land and these projects will help them do that through the efficient enhancement of soil nutrition to increase yield.”
GRDC chairman John Woods said the corporation initiated the project after grassroots feedback indicated that a greater understanding of WA’s soil nutrition was needed to maximise returns.
“You’ve got a lot of challenges over here in your soils so we want to discover what we can do and this is as much about driving down costs and efficiencies to the grower as it is about increasing profit,” Mr Woods said.
“The GRDC has acted on grower and adviser feedback that improved knowledge is needed about the State’s soils and crop nutrition requirements – especially for the most commonly required nutrients of nitrogen, phosphorus and potassium – in order to maximise crop profitability.
“These investments are unprecedented in WA in terms of scale and level of collaboration and involvement with key industry R&D organisations and stakeholders.
“This will allow the projects to draw on the wide range of specialist skills and scientific knowledge available from the multiple organisations involved.”
The largest of the three projects is a $9.7m, five-year program which will be led by UWA through the SoilsWest alliance with DPIRD, along with Murdoch University and UA.
The program will explore issues surrounding nutrient efficiency and fertiliser requirements.
“The project will improve knowledge about nitrogen cycling and availability, soil phosphorus and potassium storage, sources of nutrient supply and responsiveness of crops,” Mr Woods said.
“Quantifying soil nitrogen supply is crucial for grain growers, given it affects the rate of nitrogen fertiliser required and is one of the few in-season management strategies available to improve returns on all variable and fixed costs.”
A four-year, $3.5m project led by DPIRD, in co-operation with Curtin University, Murdoch University, CSIRO and industry will be conducted to assess the affects of soil amelioration.
“This investment will improve understanding about how ameliorating soil constraints with strategic tillage changes the availability of nutrients in the soil, the duration of the effects and the implications for fertiliser requirements,” Mr Woods said.
“The area of soil mechanically modified in WA to tackle one or more soil constraints is increasing rapidly and to date, the effects of ameliorating soil constraints on soil nutrient availability has seldom been measured.”
The third project will see $1.4m invested into the exploration of soil sampling techniques to enable more accurate nutrition analysis results.
The soil sampling project will run over three years and will be led by the CSIRO with input from DPIRD, UWA and industry.
“Soil sample collection protocols were developed in an earlier era when farming practices differed significantly from those in current use,” Mr Woods said.
“New ways to collect soil samples are needed by WA growers to boost the accuracy of determining what soil nutrients are available to plants and help them make better, more cost-effective fertiliser decisions – ultimately increasing their profitability.”