Funding boost for UWA to improve soil condition and plant productivity

By Shannon Beattie
May 6 2022 - 10:00am
Federal Agriclture Minister David Littleproud (centre), with UWA Institute of Agriculture senior honorary research fellow Lynette Abbott (left), Institute of Agriculture director Kadambot Siddique, vice chancellor Amit Chakma and deputy vice chancellor (research) Anna Nowak.

THE University of Western Australia (UWA) is the beneficiary of Federal government funding into soil science.

Last Thursday, Federal Agriculture Minister David Littleproud, who was in Perth, said Australian universities would receive $21 million to tackle key research questions which would push forward agricultural productivity and underpin lower cost carbon sequestration.

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UWA received the biggest chunk of funding, with $4.34m for a project to improve soil condition and plant productivity.

The funding, to be used over three years, will see UWA partner with the University of Adelaide and University of Western Sydney to investigate soil physical and chemical processes in response to biological inputs that complement chemical fertilisers to maximise productivity.

Speaking at the Perth event, Institute of Agriculture senior honorary research fellow Lynette Abbott said soil provided essential ecosystem services that contribute to Australia's economic, environmental and social wellbeing.

"Our changing climate, pressure to produce more food and fibre and growing population pose major challenges for the successful management of our fragile soil," Dr Abbott said.

"This explains the growing interest in the use of biological soil amendments - that is any material added to a soil to improve its physical properties, such as water retention, permeability, water infiltration, drainage and aeration - to increase the productivity of Australian crops."

Mr Littleproud said the innovative research project was funded under the Soil Science Challenge.

"The project will push the frontier on soil science questions relating to agriculture, climate change and soil health," Mr Littleproud said.

"Farmers right across the country - from graziers and cattle producers in northern Australia to cropping farmers in southern Australia - will ultimately benefit."

According to Dr Abbott, waste technologies such as anaerobic digestion, composting and pelletisation, convert organic materials into soil improvers which can complement chemical fertilisers and contribute to soil resilience beyond just overcoming nutrient constraints.

"Our project will look to identify the most efficient and cost-effective ways of combining biological and chemical fertilisers and determine the underlying mechanisms involved," she said.

"Our ultimate aim is to improve soil health and crop performance for farmers across Australia."

The UWA funding allows for more ground-breaking research to help address fundamental gaps in soil science and improve our understanding of how to better manage soil, ultimately making a difference not only in this country but globally.

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