New soil testing options are on the way

New soil testing options are on the way

Grains
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"We're trying to provide alternatives to traditional soil testing..."

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NEW innovations for soil testing and overall health are on their way, with the Soil Co-operative Research Centre (Soil CRC) working on potentially game-changing ideas.

The research, products and technologies being looked into by Soil CRC was presented by chief executive officer Michael Crawford at Wheatbelt NRM's Talkin' Soil Health conference in York last Thursday.

Soil CRC is a collaborative research centre operating across Australia which combined 40 participants, including eight universities, one of which is Murdoch University, four State agencies and 20 grower groups, including seven from Western Australia.

It has funding from the Australian government for 10 years, with the organisation currently 2.5 years in and trying to be aspirational and looking towards the future, without duplicating the work of the Grains Research and Development Corporation and other similar bodies.

Dr Crawford said a lot of the work Soil CRC was doing was based on measuring and monitoring soils.

"We're trying to provide alternatives to traditional soil testing where you take many soil samples across a paddock, send them to a lab and wait three weeks to get the results," Dr Crawford said.

"So we're looking at how we could use various types of sensor technologies to help give farmers useful soil information in close to real time with reasonably accurate results."

The organisation is looking into various technologies including proximal, near-infrared (NIR) and mid-infrared (MIR) spectroscopy.

"We're also looking at electrochemical sensors that help to measure different aspects of the soil nutrients and looking at a lab on a chip type technology," Dr Crawford said.

"Another concept is around an electronic nose which can smell the soil, because we all know a good soil smells good.

"So what are the volatile organic compounds that are being released in microbe quantities from the soil through the biology and can we characterise a signature that is being released and associate that with a good and healthy soil."

Another area being looked into by Soil CRC is alternative soil products and amendments.

Dr Crawford said they're looking for alternatives to the traditional suite of chemical and inorganic fertilisers and looking into making better use of recycled and organic nutrients.

"The easy way to do that is through compost and mulches," he said.

"But the issue with them is low nutrient concentration, high bulk, high water content and expensive transport costs.

"We're looking at how we can extract from those sources and re-package them into a more concentrated organic fertiliser."

Soil CRC is hopeful some of these new products and technologies will be available to farmers by 2025.

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